Assertiveness - Tips & Techniques
This page provides some simple tips and techniques that you can use to improve your assertiveness skills and also help others to express themselves in a more assertive way.
Sometimes the way we react and respond to others can make us feel inadequate, guilty or regretful. These may be signs of passive behaviour. We may also feel angry and critical of others during conversations - this may be a sign of more aggressive behaviour.
This page details some ways that both passive and aggressive communication can be reduced and replaced with assertive communication, which in turn will lead to more positive interpersonal interactions.
When practising these assertiveness techniques it is important to remember what assertiveness is and its importance in the communication process.
Being assertive is not the same as being aggressive; on the contrary, assertiveness means standing up for what you believe.
Assertiveness is expressing your thoughts, emotions, beliefs and opinions in an honest and appropriate way. As assertiveness should be encouraged in others it is also important to remember that we should always respect the thoughts, feelings, opinions and beliefs of other people.
Assertiveness allows individuals to assert their personal rights without undermining the rights of others. Assertiveness is considered a balanced response, being neither passive nor aggressive, with self-confidence playing an important part. An assertive person responds as an equal to others and aims to be open in expressing their wishes, thoughts and feelings.
General Techniques of Assertiveness
Two key techniques that can aid assertiveness are known as "Fogging" and the "Stuck Record" technique.
Fogging is a useful technique if people are behaving in a manipulative or aggressive way.
Rather than arguing back, fogging aims to give a minimal, calm response using terms that are placating but not defensive, while at the same time not agreeing to meet demands.
Fogging involves agreeing with any truth that may be contained within statements, even if critical. By not responding in the expected way, in other words by being defensive or argumentative, the other person will cease confrontation as the desired effect is not being achieved. When the atmosphere is less heated, it will be possible to discuss the issues more reasonably.
Fogging is so termed because the individual acts like a 'wall of fog' into which arguments are thrown, but not returned.
“What time do you call this? You're nearly half an hour late, I'm fed up with you letting me down all the time.”
“Yes, I am later than I hoped to be and I can see this has annoyed you.”
“Annoyed? Of course I'm annoyed, I've been waiting for ages. You really should try to think about other people a bit more.”
“Yes, I was concerned that you would be left waiting for almost half an hour.”
“Well... why were you late?”
The Stuck Record Technique
The Stuck Record technique employs the key assertive skill of 'calm persistence'.
It involves repeating what you want, time and time again, without raising the tone of your voice, becoming angry, irritated, or involved in side issues.
Imagine that you are returning something that is faulty to a store. The conversation may go as follows.
“I bought these shoes last week and the heels have fallen off. I would like a refund please.”
“It looks like they've been worn a lot and these shoes were only designed for occasional wear.”
Stuck Record technique response:
“I have only had them a week and they are faulty. I would like a refund please.”
“You cannot expect me to give you your money back after you've worn them out.”
Stuck Record technique response:
“The heels have fallen off after only a week and I would like a refund please.”
... and so on.
Continually repeating a request will ensure the discussion does not become side-tracked and involved in irrelevant argument. The key is to stay calm, be very clear in what you want, stick to the point and not give up.
Accept a compromise only if you are happy with the outcome.
You may also find our page: How to Complain useful.
Positive and Negative Enquiry
Positive enquiry is a simple technique for handling positive comments such as praise and compliments.
People often struggle with responding to praise and compliments, especially those with lower self-esteem as they may feel inadequate or that the positive comments are not justified. It is important to give positive feedback to others when appropriate but also to react appropriately to positive feedback that you receive.
Positive enquiry is used to find out more details about the compliment or praise given, and agree with it:
“You made an excellent meal tonight, it was delicious!”
“Thanks. Yes, it was good. What did you like about it in particular?”
This is different from a passive response that may have been:
"It was no effort" or "It was just a standard recipe"
The opposite of positive enquiry is negative enquiry. Negative enquiry is a way to respond to more negative exchanges such as receiving criticism.
Dealing with criticism can be difficult, remember that any criticism received is just somebody's opinion. See our page: Dealing with Criticism for more information.
Negative enquiry is used to find out more about critical comments and is a good alternative to more aggressive or angry responses to criticism.
“That meal was practically inedible, I can't remember the last time I ate something so awful”
“It wasn't the best, exactly what didn’t you like about it?”
This is different from an aggressive response that may have been:
"How dare you, I spent all afternoon preparing that meal" or "Well that's the last time I cook for you"
See our page: Assertiveness in Specific Situations for more information.
Further Reading from Skills You Need
Learn more about the key communication skills you need to be an effective communicator.
Our eBooks are ideal for anyone who wants to learn about or develop their communication skills, and are full of easy-to-follow practical information and exercises.
Learn to think about your responses and how you behave when you communicate with others.
By using techniques designed to make you more assertive you will find that your communication and other interpersonal interactions are generally more positive.
Follow the links below and explore our other pages which will help you to learn more about assertiveness and the communication processes.