Assertiveness is a social skill that relies heavily on effective communication while simultaneously respecting the thoughts and wishes of others. People who are assertive clearly and respectfully communicate their wants, needs, positions, and boundaries to others. There’s no question of where they stand, no matter what the topic.
Individuals who are high in assertiveness don't shy away from defending their points of view or goals, or from trying to influence others to see their side. They are open to both compliments and constructive criticism. People can improve their assertiveness through practical exercises and experience.
A person who is assertive clearly communicates their wishes and sets boundaries, but does not make demands of other people or lash out if requests are not met. The ability to be assertive allows someone to make overtures to other people and stand up for themselves or others in a nonaggressive way. It can also protect them from bullies and other social predators.
From a cognitive standpoint, assertive people experience fewer anxious thoughts, even when under stress. From a behavioral standpoint, assertive people are firm without being rude. They react to positive and negative emotions without becoming aggressive or resorting to passivity.
Being assertive offers a number of benefits, ranging from less anxiety and depression to a greater sense of agency and better relationships. Assertiveness is often associated with higher self-esteem and confidence.
People who are unable to assert themselves may experience sensitivity to criticism, extreme passivity, insecurity, anxiety, or even low self-esteem. They may be treated like emotional doormats whose needs always come second. In extreme cases, they may completely lose sight of what they need and want in life.
Individuals who can’t or won’t assert themselves often believe deep down that they’re less worthy than others. They may doubt themselves and hesitate before taking action for fear of the consequences. They frequently avoid trying new things and tend to let other people’s desires determine their goals.
Assertive people tend to project confidence. They maintain eye contact, have good posture, and use body language effectively. They are able to express their thoughts and beliefs honestly and reasonably—and they encourage other people to do the same.
Being assertive means speaking up for one’s rights without disrespecting anyone else’s. It involves managing stress, solving problems as they arise, and staying calm no matter how the other person reacts.
Assertive people are able to be honest about their thoughts and feelings in a respectful way. They actively listen to and are considerate of other people’s perspectives. Assertive people are able to maintain control over their feelings and admit when they’ve made a mistake.
Concisely state what you want or need from the other person. Listen carefully to their response. Respect their thoughts and feelings; don’t argue or attack if you sense resistance. Instead, offer potential solutions to the problems that come up. If you reach a stalemate where there’s no possible compromise, be prepared to walk away.
People who are more passive will go along with the wishes and desires of others to please them. They let others lead and make most of the decisions. They tend to lack confidence and often belittle and put themselves down. As a result, they don’t advocate for themselves and may lose sight of their own goals.
Aggressive behavior may include using offensive language, telling instead of asking, and either ignoring or trying to shame the other person into submission. Aggressive people need to win at all costs, often resulting in a pushy attitude and bullying. They can seem superior, intimidating, and even physically threatening.