How To Become More Assertive

Updated January 5, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

There can be some situations in which communicating with kindness may not be effective, and this is where assertiveness is often helpful. You may need to be assertive if someone’s safety is at risk, if there is no other way to get your point across, or if someone is unable to grasp reality. Mastering your emotions, making a plan, and choosing your words carefully while maintaining healthy boundaries can help you be assertive. If you find it challenging to embrace assertiveness, even when the situation calls for it, you may benefit from working with a licensed therapist, either in person or online.

When You Need To Stop Being Kind

Learn To Embrace Assertiveness.

Few people may desire to be mean to others. Still, there can be situations in which kindness simply may not be effective. However, being direct can be perceived as being mean, so it may be important to differentiate between the two. There will likely be times in life when you need to be direct, and failing to do so can have consequences well beyond being perceived as rude.

Though being stern, direct, or assertive may not be considered kind, it is generally not the same as being mean. In many cases, it can be the best way to be kind to yourself or others. The following situations may require you to be more direct than usual:

  • When someone's safety is at risk (this could include your own safety)

  • When someone cannot understand what is being said

  • When someone is unable to grasp reality and may physically, emotionally, or financially harm themselves or others

If someone is at risk, it can be a good idea to speak up and put an end to a dangerous situation. They might be in physical danger, but there can be other types of danger as well. For instance, if a colleague at work is forcing another employee to do something that could jeopardize the person's job, it could be important and appropriate to speak up. You may need to use your judgment to evaluate circumstances like this, but if you decide to say something, you should be direct.

When Someone Is At Risk

When someone's life or physical well-being is in danger, then you may need to be clear, forceful, and rational when speaking up. It can be best not to hesitate or worry about being rude if someone could be harmed. Regardless of how your speech is perceived, it can be important to know that you're making the right choice by preventing harm.

Be Assertive

Part of being direct can be knowing how to be assertive. This can be challenging when you're clashing with people you see regularly or people you love. Being kind, however, can have negative consequences in some circumstances, so sometimes you may need to speak up. 

For example, when you're in a situation where you must confront coworkers or business partners, you may need to consider your job and the health of the business. Very rarely may it be worth sparing their feelings when something important is at stake. That's why you may need to learn to say things like, "Your idea is not going to work," or "I don't think that's in our best interests right now."

If the person tries to ignore you, you might escalate your rhetoric to something as blunt as, "I don't want to hear your opinion right now." This approach may be the only way to communicate with someone who is determined to cross the line. The silent treatment is not usually recommended for loved ones, but it could be effective in this theoretical work situation. If you establish solid boundaries early on in relationships, you may be less likely to find yourself in situations where they're constantly being violated.

Set Boundaries

There are many types of boundaries that people may try to manipulate or violate. These include:

  • Physical

  • Mental

  • Sexual

  • Spiritual

  • Time

  • Money

When you notice that a boundary is not being honored, you may need to firmly communicate what's happening. You might assert your rights by informing others when they've done something that's unacceptable. They may not realize the impact of their actions. 

Assertiveness can be a skill, and you can learn how to affirm your boundaries and communicate in a self-assured way. Sometimes that might mean saying "no" so you can find an alternative that works for everyone or prevent a situation that might cause harm. For some people, simply saying "no" can be difficult, especially if they're not used to saying it. However, you may always have the right to say "no," even when you're unsure why something doesn't feel right for you.

To make difficult conversations more successful, you might focus on the situation at hand. Many times, a conversation infused with emotion or history can spiral far off-topic when people start generalizing or talking about the past. Highlighting a single issue can prevent either person from feeling bombarded, so the other person may be more likely to hear your point. You might be direct about the feelings you're experiencing because of this situation in particular. It may be helpful to make it clear you empathize with them and understand their view, but don't be dissuaded.

Alternatively, there may be times when your safety may be directly threatened, or someone may be purposefully ignoring your boundaries. In these situations, it may not be wise to say something that may trigger the other person further. If you're in an abusive relationship, lashing out at the abuser may result in further challenges*. Instead, it can be best to stay calm and try to find a way out of the abusive situation as quickly as possible without further aggravating the abuser.

*If you or a loved one is experiencing abuse, please know that help is available. You can reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline anytime at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

Three Tools To Help You Be More Assertive

The following tools can help you better handle situations where kindness isn't working. These are basic concepts that can help you be more assertive and communicate clearly.

1. Master Your Emotions

Remember that there can be a line between being assertive and needlessly aggressive. As much as you want someone to listen to you, it may be necessary to listen to them as well, and it's usually best to stay calm. If emotions rise on either side, you might tell the other person you can revisit the topic at a later time. They may agree on a time when you can reconvene. Otherwise, you might determine a time when you will follow up with them and do so.

When a situation gets heated, taking some time apart can work to your advantage. It can be beneficial to be able to think clearly. Plus, it can be hard for people to listen if you're screaming at them. In fact, disappointment often works better than anger if you truly want someone to understand how you feel. If you're particularly frustrated in a conversation and the situation is escalating, it may be best to stop the discussion and find another person to mediate.

2. Make A Plan To Be Assertive

It can help to take the time to be prepared for a conversation or confrontation. Knowing what you will say ahead of time often helps you work up the nerve to say it. Having a plan may also allow you to be clearer in your requests and make you more likely to stand your ground. This can be a very useful practice if you are the type of person who finds it difficult to articulate their thoughts or feelings in the moment.

3. Make Language Work For You

One of the most effective yet subtle things you may do to drive a point or emotion home is to choose different verbs to emphasize your intent and control the emotions of a conversation. Understanding the power of language can assist you in sending clear messages to the other person, so they may better understand what you want from them. If you can effectively manage your emotions, it may be easier to use controlled language. Working regularly with a therapist can help you learn to control your emotions and express your needs clearly as you navigate day-to-day life.

Therapy Can Help You Become More Assertive

Learn To Embrace Assertiveness.

If you want to learn to be more assertive, talking with a licensed therapist can help. However, if you don't have the time or energy to travel to an office for therapy, you may find that online therapy is a better fit for you. You may be able to connect with a licensed therapist from the comfort of your home or anywhere you have a stable internet connection.

As this study explains, online therapy can be effective in increasing self-esteem and self-compassion, which can both be important for those who desire to become more assertive. Research has also shown that online therapy can be effective in treating a wide variety of mental health concerns, so if you believe you’d benefit from working with a therapist, please don’t hesitate to reach out for the help you deserve.


When someone cannot grasp reality, you cannot get your point across, or someone’s safety is at risk, assertiveness may be more effective than kindness. You may find that making a plan, managing your emotions, and selecting the words you use intentionally while maintaining healthy boundaries can help you communicate assertively. For some people, it can be particularly difficult to be assertive. If that’s the case for you, working with a mental health professional through traditional or online therapy may be helpful.

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