Stand Up: Guidelines For Assertive Behavior

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry
Updated February 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Many of us have found ourselves in situations where we believe it’s necessary to dance around the truth or keep our feelings to ourselves for the sake of others. While this can be harmless in some cases, it may be possible for conflict-avoidant behavior to spill over into other aspects of a person’s life and lead to difficulty communicating, as well as challenges with self-esteem. It can be better to practice assertive communication, which is generally based on mutual respect and effectiveness. You can become more assertive by using “I” statements, not being afraid to say no, using body language, and exercising emotional control. For more personalized guidance in becoming assertive, consider working with a therapist online or in person.

Getty
Learn the skills you need to become assertive

What does it mean to be assertive?

Assertive behavior is generally a core communication style that can be defined by the expression of thoughts, feelings, and needs in an open and respectful way. Assertiveness can often be associated with hostile or controlling behavior by those who were taught to be deferential or conflict-avoidant early in life. 

While these negative associations can be difficult to overcome, assertive behavior is often crucial to healthy, long-term relationships and self-esteem due to its basis of honesty and straightforwardness.

Examples of assertive behavior are often highlighted in the workplace. People who speak their minds, won’t take no for an answer and are willing to request the resources they need usually get ahead in certain careers and industries. 

While self-confidence can be a necessary aspect of assertive behavior, maintaining respect for others may be equally as important. When someone is unable to express their emotions or needs without disrespecting others, this behavior can spill over into outright aggression, potentially resulting in the common conflation between assertiveness and outright rudeness.

This is often due to a misunderstanding of individual communication styles. Since communication style is frequently one of our earliest learned behaviors, identifying our own can be difficult to do, as it has likely been deeply ingrained in us. 

Read on to learn more about cultivating an attitude of confidence and conviction. Below are some tips on how to stand up for yourself in certain situations.

The four communication styles

Every person may have a unique communication style that can be defined by the ways in which they interact and exchange information with others. In general, there are four basic types of communication styles

While assertiveness has generally been found to be the most effective, being aware of all four communication styles can be helpful in understanding others, as well as identifying what you can improve in yourself. 

1. Passive communication

Passive communication is typically classified as extreme conflict avoidance. Someone who communicates passively may appear to “go with the flow” or constantly give in to the requests of others at the expense of their own needs. This often leads to pent-up resentment, feelings of being taken advantage of, or a general inability to set boundaries.

2. Aggressive communication

Someone with an aggressive communication style will often issue commands, ask questions rudely, and fail to listen to others. An aggressive communicator may yell, blame, or intimidate others in a desperate bid to get their wants or needs met. Typically, aggressive communication stems from deep insecurity, but it can easily damage interpersonal relationships and lead to anger-related issues.

3. Passive-aggressive communication

Passive-aggressive communication tends to happen when a person verbally expresses thoughts or feelings that do not actually align with their true wants or needs. Emma McAdam describes passive-aggressive communication as “a way to get what you want without taking responsibility for what you want.”

Someone with a passive-aggressive communication style may employ gossip, sarcasm, or the undermining of others in a misguided attempt to get their needs met.

4. Assertive communication

The assertive communication style tends to be the most effective as it is generally based on mutual respect and effectiveness. Effective assertive communication typically shows a level of self-respect, as you are willing to stand up for your personal interests, while still demonstrating that you are aware of the interests of others and willing to work together to resolve problems. 

The benefits of being assertive

Getty

Thanks to its honest, respectful, and straightforward nature, adopting an assertive communication style will typically lead to healthier interpersonal relationships overall, but this may not be the only benefit. Practicing assertiveness can help control anger, reduce stress, and improve coping skills. 

Behaving assertively can help you:

  • Gain self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Gain a sense of empowerment
  • Understand and recognize your feelings
  • Earn respect from others
  • Improve communication
  • Create win-win situations
  • Improve your decision-making skills
  • Create honest relationships
  • Gain more job satisfaction

How to become more assertive

Becoming more assertive typically begins with identifying your current communication style. This may require a certain level of self-assessment. You may want to evaluate your behavior in environments such as the workplace, asking yourself questions like, “Do I voice my opinions or keep my head down?” and “Am I quick to place blame on others?”

When you can assess your communication style, you may be better able to understand what actions and behaviors you’d like to change. Some practical tips for becoming more assertive can include: 

Use “I” statements

Using I statements such as “I disagree,” instead of “You are wrong,” can be helpful in the expression of thoughts and feelings without sounding accusatory. 

Say no

It can be important to remember that the word “no” can be a complete sentence. If you are someone who tends to overcommit and take on too much, it can be helpful to practice saying no. If an explanation is needed, brevity and honesty will often be met with understanding. 

Rehearse what you want to say

If you are anticipating a scenario where assertive behavior may be required, such as a meeting with a boss or a serious conversation with a friend or partner, it may be helpful to rehearse what you would like to say. Making clear notes or role-playing with a friend beforehand may help.

Use body language

Even when you are not feeling confident, maintaining an air of confidence through body language can help you feel assertive. For example, keeping an upright posture and maintaining an even tone when speaking can convey assertive behavior quite well.

Employ emotional control

Addressing conflict and standing up for yourself tends to bring up an array of emotions, potentially including anger, sadness, and frustration. While these emotions can be perfectly understandable, it’s usually helpful to remain calm and do your best to keep emotions controlled when attempting to resolve problems.

Start small

While developing an assertive communication style will likely lead to positive changes in your life, the process of learning and implementing it will likely take time. It can be important to be patient and allow yourself to start small. For example, you may practice assertiveness by asking a restaurant employee to correct a wrong order, rather than accepting the incorrect dish you were given.

Getty/AnnaStills
Learn the skills you need to become assertive

Getting professional help with assertive behavior

Due to the often introspective nature of self-assessment, it can be challenging to identify your individual communication style and recognize what to do to improve it on your own. If you are someone who struggles to stand up for yourself and be assertive, a therapist or mental health professional can offer helpful and often necessary guidance. 

Benefits of online therapy

A lack of assertiveness can lead to difficulty communicating, which tends to affect nearly every aspect of life. Working with a therapist can not only help to develop an assertive communication style, but also to address the root causes of your communication difficulties.

Online therapy services tend to offer all the benefits of in-person therapy with added flexibility and convenience. You can get help from any location with an internet connection at a time that fits your schedule.

Effectiveness of online therapy

Although not much research exists on the efficacy of online therapy for developing assertive communication skills, studies show that, in general, online therapy is typically as effective as in-person therapy.

Takeaway

There are generally four communication styles: passive, passive-aggressive, aggressive, and assertive. Assertive communication is normally viewed as the most effective style. You can become more assertive by rehearsing what you want to say, knowing that “no” can be a full sentence, using body language, exercising control over your emotions, and using “I” statements. A licensed therapist can guide you on your journey to becoming a more assertive communicator.

Target disruptive behavior in therapy

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started