Assertiveness is a communication style that involves direct and appropriate expression of one’s feelings, beliefs, and opinions. Assertiveness involves recognizing one’s right to let others know how their behavior affects you and respectfully asking them to change that behavior. By behaving assertively, you create an opportunity for honest communication and compromise. Assertiveness is an interpersonal communication skill that can be learned and practiced in an ongoing way.


Passive behavior may result in a person's rights being violated. Passivity may consist of hesitant speech, avoiding eye contact, being overly apologetic, and not expressing one’s honest opinion. Passive behavior often reflects a belief that one’s feelings are unimportant or a desire to avoid conflict at all costs.

In aggressive behavior, a person stands up for their rights in a way that violates the rights of others. The aggressive person may appear tense and angry and may connote an air of superiority. Aggressive behavior can be experienced by the other person as humiliating, dominating, or controlling. Aggressive behavior can damage relationships and interfere with effective communication.


Assertiveness involves being aware of your own needs and expressing those needs in a calm, respectful, and direct manner. The other person may have had no intention of violating your needs and may graciously make a change that makes both of you feel better. Assertiveness may also cause others to adjust their expectations of you and can make it less likely for similar situations to arise in the future.

In becoming more assertive, it is helpful to have situations in mind that create conflict for you. For example, are you feeling pressured to attend a friend’s birthday party when you have a major exam to study for? Does an organization you are a member of continuously assign you responsibilities that you are unable to complete alongside other demands on your time? Are you in need of an extension for a valid reason but avoiding speaking with your professor? Improving your ability to be assertive may help you navigate relationships and manage the many demands of college life.


Behaving assertively involves both what you say and how you say it. Assertive body language consists of direct eye contact and a relaxed, upright body posture. Speech is clear and audible, and polite but firm. Regarding what is said, there is a simple effective formula you can practice in any conflict situation:

1. An empathy statement in which one recognizes the other person’s needs. This begins the interaction on a positive note.

2. A direct statement of one’s own needs in the situation. This should be brief and clear and should indicate to the other person that there is a conflict that exists for you.

3. An action statement, or proposed way to resolve the conflict. This can be an offer to discuss the situation further if needed.

When responding assertively, be sure to stick to the main point and avoid being sidetracked by other issues. While assertive behavior increases the odds of better communication, it does not guarantee that the other person will respond as you hope they would. Remember, assertiveness is a skill that improves with practice.


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