Ten things to do to be more assertive

SINGLE FLOWERONE Know your personal rights. Post this list on your refrigerator and read the items every morning. Consider adding a few more items to personalize the list:

You have the right to ask for what You want.
You have the right to say no to requests or demands You can’t meet.
You have the right to express Your feelings, positive or negative.
You have the right to change Your mind.
You have the right to make mistakes and not have to be perfect.
You have the right to determine Your own priorities.
You have the right not to be responsible for others’ behavior, actions feelings, or problems.
You have the right to expect honesty from others.
You have the right to be angry at someone You love.
You have the right to feel scared and say “I’m afraid.”
You have the right not to give reasons for Your behavior.
You have the right to make decisions based on Your feelings.
You have the right to Your own needs for personal time.
You have the right to be playful and frivolous.
You have the right to be healthier than those around you.
You have the right to be in a non abusive environment.
You have the right to make friends and be comfortable around people.

TWO Be aware of techniques other people may use to disregard or avoid your requests. Either intentionally or not, people may deny your rights by:

Changing the subject.
Responding with a strong display of emotion (including anger).
Joking or making fun of your request.
Trying to make you feel guilty about your request.
Criticizing or questioning the legitimacy of your request.
Asking you why you want what you asked for.

THREE Practice using the “Broken Record Technique” when meeting with resistance or indifference. The broken record technique consists of stating repeatedly what you want in a calm, direct manner with the persistence of a broken record. You can use this technique in situations where you’re unwilling to do what the other person suggests. Using this technique, you stay focused on what you want and don’t give in to the others person’s will. You simply state what you want as many times as you need to, without change or embellishment. Do NOT back down or give reasons justifying your opinion. Start with “I want…” or “I would like…”

FOUR Fogging is another technique to use with someone who is being critical of you. It involves agreeing in part with the criticism. You honestly agree with some part of the criticism even when you don’t believe all of it. You need to do this in a calm, quiet tone of voice without being defensive or sarcastic. If you don’t agree with the specific criticism, you can agree with the general principle behind the criticism and simply say,”You may be right.” When you agree with people, they have little tendency to come back and criticize or argue with you further. Fogging effectively stops communication before the other person can escalate a disagreement.

FIVE A technique to use when the other person becomes angry or hostile is defusing. It’s a bit like defusing a bomb. Defusing is a delaying tactic best used when someone responds to your assertive request with intense anger or any other extreme display of emotion. In close relationships, it’s important to allow other people to express their strong feelings. Yet at such times they are unlikely to be open to hearing your assertive request. It’s better to say, “I can see that you’ve very upset – let’s discuss this later,” or “Let’s both take a few minutes to calm down.”

SIX An important aspect of being assertive is your ability to say no to requests that you don’t want to meet. Saying no means that you can set limits on other people’s demands for your time and energy when such demands conflict with your own needs and desires. It also means that you can do this without feeling guilty. Although not always necessary, there are some situations (such as in the workplace) when you may want to give the other person some explanation for turning down a request:

  • Acknowledge the other person’s request by repeating it (rephrasing.)
  • Explain your reason for declining the request in simple terms.
  • Say no without apologizing.
  • If appropriate, suggest an alternative proposal where both your and the other person’s needs will be met.

SEVEN Practice nonverbal assertiveness. When asking for something, or when turning down an unreasonable request, do the following:

  • Maintain eye contact.
  • Face the person you are speaking with.
  • Be aware of good posture.
  • Adapt an “open” posture (no folded arms or hands in pockets).
  • Speak slowly, calmly, and deliberately.
  • Take your time in formulating a response.
  • Silence can also be a very effective assertiveness tool.

EIGHT When asking for something, or making any kind of request to other’s, keep your request simple. Use one or two easy-to-understand sentences. Avoid asking for more than one thing at a time. This will have the effect of having the other person focus on what you are saying, and not perceive your important requests as just another “list of complaints.”

NINE Use I-statements . These type of statements avoid putting other people on the defensive, and avoid blaming the other person for the problem (even when it is their fault.) Practice beginning sentences with the following:

“I would like…”
“I want to…”
“I would appreciate it if…”
“It would make me feel great if…”
“I need more…”

TEN Give yourself reinforcement after you have successfully acted assertively, even if the outcome was not exactly what you wanted. It is very important to be “self-rewarding”. It encourages you to try again and protects you from being overly affected by situations out of your control. Rewards do not have to be monetary. Try listening to a favorite CD, playing a game, or calling a long-distance friend.
These suggestions are only the beginning! For a few more specific examples of assertiveness techniques in action, click on the next button below. As with all the advice on these pages, the suggestions are not meant to be a substitute for individual therapy or counseling, but can be used as a starting point for improvement. If you feel that you have a serious problem with poor self-esteem, self-worth, lack of confidence, or being taken advantage of, please inquire about services available through this website, at the private practice of Fred L. Holtz, Ph.D., or seek other professional sources near you.


INSTRUCTIONS: Place a check next to the statements that you AGREE with.

I am quick to say yes to requests before taking the time to consider what the task involves, or the time it may take.

I have a difficult time telling family members and friends that they have done something that offends me.

Sometimes it is hard to hang up on telemarketers, or to tell salespeople in stores that I am just window shopping.

Voicing my opinion when a group is discussing an important matter is difficult, even when I think my opinion is valuable.

Having to ask for clarification when I am confused about what someone has said makes me feel incompetent.

I do not accept criticism well. I often get resentful or overreact to others who find fault in my performance or actions.

I have difficulty accepting compliments and sometimes downplay my accomplishments, appearances or abilities.

Requesting favors from others is something I do not often do.

I have trouble informing people that I have changed my mind after I have agreed to do something for them.

Returning an improperly prepared meal in a restaurant (or a defective item purchased in a store) is difficult for me.


INTERPRET YOUR SCORE: These scores are designed to give you an indication of difficulties you may be having. The tests on this website are NOT intended to replace actual consultation with a professional, nor to result in actual clinical diagnoses. If your symptoms are intense, persistent or uncontrollable, you are encouraged to follow the therapeutic advice on these pages, discuss your difficulties with family and loved ones, and seek professional assistance through the services available from this website or elsewhere.

0 to 3 - A score of 0 indicates general comfort in expressing your preferences and opinions, as well as a generally high confidence level. If you checked a few items on the list, you may have difficulty asserting yourself in some specific circumstances and not in others. Look at the items again and see if there are any patterns of certain types of situations which make you uncomfortable. Work on these first, using the advice on these pages, to improve your effectiveness in communication.

4 to 6 - Scores in this range may indicate a general discomfort in requesting what you want, difficulty refusing what you don't want, and hesitation in expressing your feelings. Use the advice on these pages as a start in becoming more assertive and persuasive in your interpersonal communication. If unassertiveness is a result of low self-esteem, lack of self-confidence, or depression, you may want to contact a mental health professional.

7 to 10 - Your responses have indicated that you may have a great deal of difficulty asserting yourself in wide variety of situations. Assertiveness is not just a matter of "getting what you want". It's communicating effectively and learning not to give in when you don't want to. A serious problem with lack of assertiveness and low self-esteem can lead to being taken advantage of or, in the worst case, being abused. Lack of assertiveness can be a sign of more serious personal problems. These pages can help get you started, however, if you find that low self-esteem or lack of confidence is seriously preventing you from achieving your goals, contact a professional through this web page or elsewhere.

Examples of Assertiveness in action

SINGLE SPHERE-editBROKEN RECORD TECHNIQUE This technique is used to persistently get your request across, even in the face of resistance or evasiveness. The technique is not intended to foster intimate, long term communication, but rather to make sure your requests are clearly responded to. In the following example, you wish to return an expensive shirt to a department store and receive a refund.

Salesperson: May I help you?
You: Yes, I would like to return this shirt and I would l like a refund.
Salesperson: We don’t usually refund money. Why are you returning the shirt?
You: I would like to return this shirt and I would like my money back.
Salesperson: Didn’t you try the shirt on in the store?
You: I would like to return this shirt and I would like my money back.
Salesperson: Well, if you’re sure you don’t want the shirt, I can give you store credit.
You: I don’t want credit, thank you. I want my money back.
Salesperson: Perhaps you would like to exchange the shirt for another one. Let me show you some of the other shirts that would look nice on you.
You: No, thank you. I would like to return this shirt and I would like my money back.
Salesperson: I’ve never done that before. I might get into trouble.
You: I understand this is a problem for you. However, I would like to return this shirt and I would like my money back.
Salesperson: I ‘ll have to get some authorization from the manager.
You: O.K.
Manager: May I help you?
You: Yes, thank you. I would like to return this shirt and I would like my money back.
Manager: Is there something wrong with the shirt?
You: No. I would like just to return it and I would like my money back.
Manager: I’m sorry that you don’t like the shirt. Here is your refund, and I do hope you will find something else you like in the store.
You: Thank you very much.

Of course, it doesn’t always go as well or as smoothly as in the previous example. Often, more drastic measures are needed, such as informing the store manager that you intend on canceling their store credit card, writing a letter to the main office, or demanding to speak with someone who can help you more efficiently. Try not to feel silly repeating the same sentence over and over. With practice, however, the technique can be very effective.

FOGGING This method is used to combat criticism. It basically involves agreeing with the other person just enough to let them think you will follow their advice. In this example, someone is criticizing the way you look:

Other Person: Your skirt is kind of short. Don’t you think you should wear them longer? The style is longer skirts now.
You: You’re probably right. The style is longer skirts now.
Other Person: I think that if your hair was shorter, it might be easier to take care of.
You: You could be right. Short hair is easier.
Other Person: You’d look much more feminine if you used lip liner.
You: You’re right. I hadn’t thought about it. I might look more feminine with lip liner.
Other Person: You really should set a good example for your daughter. She copies you.
You: Yes, she does copy me.
Other Person: Let’s go out to lunch.
You: I’m ready, let’s go.

Like the broken record, fogging is useful in situations where you want to minimize communication. You don’t want to listen to advice and you don’t want to argue. Fogging is not always good for situations with partners or friends where you wish to keep communication open and give the other an opportunity to get their feelings out. In such instances, it’s best to listen to other people until they’ve spoken their mind. Then you can comment.

REFOCUSING This changes the focus of your discussion with someone from off-topic responses to a description of what’s going on between you. If someone responds to your request in almost any way other than hearing you and replying, you can point out what they’re doing, and refocus back to your request.

You: I’d like you to call me when you know you’ll be getting home late.
Your spouse: Yes, Master!
You: Humor is fine, but it’s getting us off the subject.
Your spouse: So, what’s the point?
You: I’d really appreciate it if you’d let me know when you’ll be getting home late.
Your spouse: You know, I just thought of something. Those nights I get home late, why don’t you just not worry about saving dinner for me. I’ll pick up something on the way home.
You: You’re getting off the point again, and I’m beginning to think that you’re not really listening.
Your spouse: So, you want me to call you if I’m going to be late.
You: Yes. That’s it.

DEFUSING This communication technique is used when emotions begin to get extreme. When you sense that anger or hostility from the other person is getting out of hand, try this:

You: I’d like to have my sister visit for the holidays.
Your Spouse: What!? Not again! You’re going to do this to me again! I absolutely won’t have it! No way!
You: I can see that you’re upset and I can even understand. Let’s talk about it another time.

ASSERTIVE QUESTIONING When someone responds negatively when you for making an assertive request, you can often stop the attack by asking them why they are having such a problem with your request.

You: Could you drive with me to the mall now?
Your Spouse: Why don’t you get off my case!
You: Why is it such a problem for you to take me to the mall now?
Your Spouse: I’m tired of taking you so many places.

Obviously, this did not solve the problem, but it did begin to get at the underlying issues.


Take your time responding to people. Think and clarify what you want to say before responding to someone’s request (for example, “I’ll let you know by the end of the week,” or “I’ll call you back tomorrow morning”).

Don’t apologize. When you apologize to people for saying no, you give them the message that you’re “not sure” that your own needs are just as important as theirs.

Be specific. It’s important to be very specific in stating what you will and won’t do, even when you do agree to do something.

Face the person you’re talking to and maintain good eye-contact. Speak in a calm but firm tone of voice. Avoid becoming emotional.

You may feel the impulse to do something else for someone after turning down their request. Make sure that your offer comes out of genuine desire rather than guilt.

Ask specifically for exactly what you want or the person you’re addressing may misunderstand. Instead of saying “I would like to come home by a reasonable hour,” specify “I would like you to come home by 12:00 midnight.”

Avoid using you-statements. Statements that are threatening (“You’ll do this or else”) or coercive (“You have to…”) will put the person you’re addressing on the defensive and decrease the likelihood of your getting what you want.