Learn Assertive Communication in 5 Simple Steps

Assertive communication is a style of communication where individuals clearly express their thoughts, feelings, and needs respectfully, confidently, and directly.

It emphasizes mutual understanding, respects others’ rights while defending personal boundaries, and promotes open, honest, and constructive dialogue.

a leader placing his hand up in front of their colleagues, being assertive
Bear in mind, being assertive doesn’t ensure that you will always achieve your desired outcome, nor does it guarantee that the other party will comprehend your concerns or react positively to your statements. However, assertiveness does heighten the likelihood of the other person grasping your desires or feelings, thereby enhancing the probability of successful communication.

Learning to speak assertively enables one to respect everyone’s needs and rights, including one’s own, and to maintain boundaries in relationships while helping others feel respected at the same time.

For instance, instead of saying “I can’t stand it when you’re late,” which might sound accusatory, an assertive communicator might say, “When you arrive late, it disrupts my schedule. Could we work on improving punctuality?”

This approach acknowledges feelings, addresses the issue directly, and suggests a resolution, all while respecting both parties’ perspectives.

5 Steps of Assertive Communication

Communicate your needs or wants directly, avoiding ambiguity, while still respecting the other person’s rights.

  1. Identify and Understand the Problem: This first step involves recognizing the issue. It could be a behavior, a situation, or an event that’s causing distress or conflict.

    Critical thinking skills are applied to analyze the problem accurately. Understanding the problem helps avoid assumptions, misconceptions, or biases and gives a solid foundation for assertive communication.
  2. Describe the Problem Objectively and Accurately: The next step is to clearly articulate the issue. Use specific, concrete language to describe who is involved, what is happening, when and where it’s happening.

    Tell the person what you think about their behavior without accusing them.

    It’s crucial not to over-dramatize or pass judgment but to provide a candid description of how the other person’s actions have affected the situation or you. Rather than saying, “You ruined my whole night,” specify the consequences, e.g., “Due to the delay, we now have less time to discuss our important matter.”

    The key here is to stick to observable facts and avoid judging or blaming language. For instance, instead of saying, “You’re always late,” you might say, “I noticed you’ve arrived late to the past three meetings.”

    Rather than using emotionally charged language, or applying labels and value judgments to the individual you are addressing, refer to concrete and factual aspects of the behavior that have upset you.

    For instance, if your friend was late for an important discussion, avoid making derogatory comments. Instead, provide a clear account of the situation, e.g., “We were supposed to meet at 17:30, but it’s now 17:50.”

    The formula “When you [other’s behavior], then [result of conduct], and I feel [your feelings]” gives a more detailed picture of the situation.

    For example, “When you override my rules with the children, my parental authority is undermined, and I feel disrespected.” This approach helps articulate your feelings while maintaining a respectful tone.
  3. Express Your Concerns and How You Feel: Tell them how you feel when they behave a certain way. Tell them how their behavior affects you and your relationship with them.

    To prevent the other person from feeling attacked, express how their actions have affected you using “I” statements.

    These help you take ownership of your feelings and communicate them without escalating conflict. Instead of saying, “You must stop!” say, “I would feel better if you didn’t do that.”

    For instance, “When you arrive late, I feel disrespected and worried because it interrupts our schedule.”
  4. Ask the Other Person for His/Her Perspective (Then Ask for a Reasonable Change): Invite the other person to share their perspective. This shows respect for their feelings and thoughts, and can help you understand their point of view.

    It could require asking more questions, listening more carefully, or getting creative and exploring more prospects.

    Whatever it is, it is worth one’s time because, in the end, both parties leave feeling good, and no one ends up hurt.

    The secret to effective communication and forming better relationships is being mindful of what the other individual is trying to say.

    This requires trying not to bring up issues from the past or let one’s mind get distracted. These actions show disrespect and can cause one to lose focus.

    Thus, one cannot give a reasonable answer or be assertive. Mindfulness means being present and not thinking about anyone else who is not currently around oneself.

    Afterward, suggest a reasonable change that could resolve the issue. Make sure this is a specific, realistic action they can take, like, “Could we agree to start our meetings on time?”
  5. List the Positive Outcomes That Will Occur if the Person Makes the Agreed Upon Change: Explain the benefits of making the change. This encourages cooperation by showing how the change is mutually beneficial.

    The example above might be, “If we start our meetings on time, we’ll be able to adhere to our schedule and finish our work efficiently, reducing stress for everyone.”

The XYZ* Formula for Assertive Communication

The XYZ formula is a technique for assertive communication that’s designed to help express your thoughts, feelings, or needs more clearly and effectively without causing unnecessary conflict.

The aim of the XYZ formula is to articulate your emotional responses (your internal reality) to the actions of others (the external reality) within certain contexts. You are the sole proprietor of your emotions; others cannot perceive your inner state unless you communicate it to them.

In the same way, you can only interact with and understand the external behaviors of others, not their internal experiences.

This model can be especially useful in tricky conversations, where emotions might be high and it’s important to communicate clearly and respectfully.

It’s also designed to reduce defensiveness in the person you’re speaking to, which can help the conversation be more productive.

I Feel (X)When You Do (Y)In Situation (Z)I Would Like*
I feel upsetwhen you arrive latefor our dinner plansand I would like you to inform me in advance if you’re running late
I feel frustratedwhen you interrupt meduring our team meetingsand I would like you to wait until I finish presenting before adding your input
I feel ignored
when You check your phone
when we discuss household choresand I would like you to give our discussions your full attention
I feel appreciatedwhen you cleaned the kitchen and prepared dinnerwhen I came home late from workand I would like you to continue helping out when my workload gets heavy
Each row in this table expresses a feeling in response to a behavior in a specific situation, and also proposes a desired change or action. This can help foster constructive conversation and resolution of issues.

The benefit of the XYZ model is that it’s clear, non-threatening, and focuses on specific behaviors and the impact of those behaviors, rather than making generalizations about the person’s character.

This can make it more likely that the other person will be receptive to what you’re saying and be willing to work on a solution.

The 3 C’s of Assertive Communication


Keep your communication brief and to the point. People are more likely to understand and respond to concise messages.

Ensure that the message one wants to portray to another is straightforward to understand. We can take a crazy example like a dance routine – while it may be entertaining, it is not necessarily the most effective way to communicate one’s message.

When one wants to be heard, the messages one sends must be understandable and straightforward.

Most people will try to impress others with big, complicated words or terminology, but we should ask ourselves: does one want to impress the other, or should one be heard and understood?


One has to believe in one’s ability to handle a situation. It can be incredibly frustrating when someone says one thing and then says something different the next day.

Ask yourself: if you’re not convinced what your message is, how can you expect to communicate it effectively?

Over time, inconsistency in the messages one is sending can start to cause distrust in the people one is engaging with.

So in order for one to be taken seriously and earn credibility as a leader and a strong communicator, one has to be consistent in the messages one sends to others.

Before speaking, learn to take a moment and figure out precisely where one stands on the issue.

This will make it easier for other people to understand where they stand concerning their relationship with you.


Assertive communication involves controlling your emotions, tone of voice, and body language. Try to remain calm and composed, even when discussing difficult topics.

Speak in a calm and steady voice, and use non-threatening body language.

Keeping your emotions under control will help keep the conversation productive and prevent it from escalating into an argument.

Examples of Assertive Statements


ScenarioYour teenage daughter is known to get mad every time you attempt to tell her to clean up her room or assist around the house.

Assertive Statement“I feel overburdened when you do not pitch in and help keep the house clean and tidy. I understand that you do not like having me remind you to clean your room, but it is a task that needs to be done, and everyone needs to do their part.”

TakeawaySometimes, we do not express ourselves because we fear how others react. Assertive people understand that they have no accountability for how the other person chooses to respond – that is entirely on them.

A normal human being will know that we all have needs and desires and should be entitled to express them willingly.

ScenarioYour father wants you to come to his house immediately so you can help him sort through things he wants to sell at a garage sale.

However, you had planned to spend the evening relaxing, taking a calming bath, and just lounging around because you had a rough week at work.

Assertive Statement: “I understand you need help, and I would like to help you. Although today, I need to take care of myself because I am very exhausted and overworked. I can better help you tomorrow. Does that work for you?”

TakeawayPart of being assertive is caring for oneself and valuing one’s needs just as much as the other person’s. An assertive person says, “I am worthy of this. I deserve this.”


Scenario: Your friend asks to borrow $1,000, and you doubt she has a history of defaulting on her financial commitments.

Assertive Statement: “My policy is never to lend money to friends or family members.”

TakeawayUsing the term “policy statement” is a great way to express one’s core values and outline what one will and will not do.

ScenarioYour roommate is yelling and complaining that you are not devoting enough time and attention to the household. She launches into a long list of what she perceives to be your character flaws.

Assertive Statement“I see you are angry. I hear you saying that you think I should spend more time doing ___. However, I am afraid I have to disagree with you, and here’s why.”

TakeawayAssertive people do not get caught up in anger or strong emotions. They acknowledge the other person’s thoughts and feelings but frankly express their own.


Scenario: You planned to meet up with your boyfriend to have a nice meal at a restaurant. You get there, but he is late – again.

Every time you make plans, he seems to leave you waiting while he shows up 20-30 minutes after the scheduled meeting time.

Assertive Statement: “Did something happen unexpectedly that made you late? I feel hurt when I have to wait constantly because you are frequently late. It makes me feel uneasy and like I am not a priority for you. Is there something I can do to help you fix this problem?”

TakeawayAssertive people use “I” statements instead of throwing blame or insults at the other person. Offering to support come up with a solution lets the other person know one cares.

Scenario: Every day when you come home from work, your husband ignores you and continues doing whatever they are doing. He does not acknowledge, greet, or ask you how your day was.

Assertive Statement: “I feel sad when I come home, and you do not seem happy to see me or ask how my day was. I feel lonely and not appreciated.”

TakeawayAssertive people always state the problem instead of assuming that others know what they think, feel, or need.

The Workplace

Scenario: Your boss wants you to do your co-worker’s report because he has fallen behind schedule, and your boss knows you work efficiently. This has happened multiple times this past month.

Assertive Statement: “This is the sixth time this month I have been given extra work because Steve has been behind on his work. I want to be a team player, but I am stressed when I am overburdened. What can we do to ensure this does not occur again?”

TakeawayStating the facts and expressing one’s feelings helps avoid making the other person get their defenses up. Offering to help solve the problem expresses one’s concerns.

Scenario: Your co-worker wants you to come in overtime to help her with her portion of work on a project that is due relatively soon, and she has been putting it off. Meanwhile, you have already completed your project share and have plans outside of work.

Assertive Statement: “I understand you need help with your project. However, I already completed my share and I have plans outside of work that I cannot change. I can give you some advice and pointers, but I will not stay overtime.”

TakeawayAgain, stating the facts helps avoid making the other person get their defenses up. Offering to help in any way is also helpful for the other person.

Take Small Steps, but Stand One’s Ground

One should also be aware that if one has not been assertive in the past, one will come up against resistance when one begins taking steps to stand one’s course.

There may be disputes with family members and friends or tension at work, so it is best that one is prepared for various forms of backlash.

For example, if one is discussing with one’s partner and they interrupt, stop them immediately by calmly saying, “please do not interrupt me when I’m speaking.”

Chances are they will get worked up and possibly argumentative, at this point, one can make it clear that one does not interrupt them when they are speaking, and one would like to be granted the same courtesy.

Depending on what kind of individual they are, this could result in tension, but say they are a family member or one’s partner, they will be willing to work things through and grow together.

It is important to remember to not let these situations dissuade oneself. One might need to sit in their room and cry it out, it can be overwhelming when someone who is used to treating one like a doormat, gets put in their place with one’s newfound voice.

Maintain these new boundaries one has firmly in place, and one will find that they will either adapt or walk away.

If this person walks away, they did not work having around in the first place. This risk one will take any time you make a significant life change.

Overall, communication is vital, and it is an excellent idea to sit down and discuss with those closest to you the fact that one is trying to be more assertive and the reasons for doing so.

By asking for and receiving their support and encouragement, one may discover that one has more people on your side than one would likely expect, which will only help to bolster one’s assertiveness and help one’s reach goals.

Here are some critical elements of assertive communication in relationships that you can take away from this article:

  • It is direct, firm, positive, and persistent.
  • It consists in exercising personal rights.
  • It involves standing up for oneself.
  • It promotes an equal balance of power.
  • It acts in one’s own best interests.
  • It does not include denying the rights of others.
  • It consists in expressing necessities and feelings openly and comfortably.

By expressing and communicating in a manner that is consistent with the key elements above, people like you are more likely to cherish lasting and fulfilling positive relationships based on mutual respect.

To have these life-long friendships, partnerships, and relationships, expressing who you are and effectively communicating with others is key to attaining a group of people who will love, respect, and adore you!

The Benefits of Being Assertive

Less Stress

To be honest with ourselves, so much stress can be experienced with either aggressive or passive communication. Likely, one or more people involved in these conversations generally wind up feeling humiliated or threatened.

If one stays on the firm side, one might end up regretting putting one’s need to be heard over the other individual’s right to speak.

However, with assertive communication, you are acknowledging the other person’s feelings and wishes. Still, at the same time, you are openly sharing yours and trying to find the best solution for the situation.

The assertive communication style correlates to very little stress.

More Trust

Trust is crucial in all of one’s relationships, and being assertive helps one arrive there naturally.

Most of the time, passive communication results in others not taking one seriously, while aggressive behavior leads to resentment.

Being trustworthy in one’s communication significantly builds connection.

More Confidence

When one hides their feelings or interacts with others without caring about what they feel or think, one either lowers one’s self-esteem or builds it on the wrong foundation.

While assertive behavior, on the other hand, assertive behavior demonstrates that one is both brave enough to stand up for one’s rights and in control of what one is saying and, more importantly, how one says it).

One can find the balance between clearly stating one’s needs and allowing the other person to do the same and feel equal.

Better Communication

Last but not least, assertive behavior is excellent for everyone involved.

If one communicates wisely, one can get what one wants out of any interaction and leave the other person fulfilled.

Communication Styles

There are three main communication types: passive, aggressive, and assertive.

In every conversation, our communication style makes it easier or harder for the other person to understand what we mean.

Therefore, we would suffer the consequences if we did not know which communication style to use. Often, this can lead to accidentally offending people or not conveying the point you are trying to make.


Aggressive communication style is a method of expression where individuals assert their opinions, needs, or feelings in a manner that infringes upon the rights of others.

It can involve speaking in a loud, demanding tone, employing harsh or disrespectful language, ignoring others’ viewpoints, or using non-verbal cues like invading personal space.

While it can help achieve personal goals, it often results in strained relationships due to its lack of respect for others.

Aggressive communication can prevent you from having stable friendships because no one enjoys the company of someone who constantly judges, disputes, disagrees, and does not allow others to share their views.


This style can lead to misunderstanding, resentment, and a lack of personal fulfillment, as it inhibits effective interpersonal exchange and self-advocacy.

On the other hand, passive communication may lead to feelings of being misperceived and misheard. You may feel like no one truly hears you or respects your input. 


A passive-aggressive communication style is characterized by indirect expressions of hostility or negativity. Instead of openly expressing feelings or needs, individuals may use sarcasm, silent treatment, procrastination, or subtle sabotage.

This style can create confusion and conflict as the communication is covertly aggressive, making it hard for others to address the real issues, leading to ineffective resolution and strained relationships.


We should all strive for an assertive communication style because it is the best of both worlds.

You not only meet your needs, but you also meet the needs of the person you are engaging with, so everyone is happy. An assertive communication style is a balance between the other two communication styles.

An awareness of assertive communication can also help one handle complex family, friends, and co-workers more efficiently, decreasing drama and stress.

Ultimately, assertive communication empowers one to draw essential boundaries that allow anyone to meet their needs in relationships without excluding others and letting anger and resentment creep in.

Of course, occasionally, it can be challenging to create this habit and stay away from other, less productive communication styles. There needs to be a healthy amount of self-control.

Fortunately, some innovative and easy ways exist to improve your assertive communication skills.

Before this, let us examine why you should prioritize aiming for a more assertive communication style.

What is the difference between assertive communication and passive communication?

Passive communication is an avoidance style that is considered inefficient, as it does not communicate the person’s sentiments. The person will avoid expressing what they mean to evade conflict.

They will prioritize the needs of others over their own and are often taken advantage of. This avoidance causes inner turmoil to build up and may lead to bursts of anger.

Assertive communication is an effective way to communicate with another person honestly and is the recommended style. An assertive communicator is transparent in their intentions and necessities and is firm without becoming aggressive.

They endorse themselves and remain respectful and empathetic to the other person(s).

What is the difference between assertive communication and aggressive communication?

Aggressive communication is volatile, high-emotion, high-energy communication where the communicator is focused on being right.

The opposite of passive, these communicators are only concerned with their gains and will bully and compel others to “win” the conversation.

These communicators are not compassionate and do not appreciate the boundaries of others in the exchange. Again, assertive communication is transparent in intentions and is firm without becoming aggressive.

Respect and boundaries are maintained with every conversation, and keeping emotions in check.

Are assertive communication and dominating the same thing?

No. People trying to “dominate” the person they are interacting with will speak loudly, use physical force, and frequently interrupt the other person. They will blame and embarrass others, and these communicators get enraged quickly.

Their behavior is discourteous, inappropriate, and alienating. This type of communicator is usually unwilling to make compromises in arguments, looms over the other person, and uses direct, lengthy eye contact.

They will make the discussion one-sided and not listen to the other person. Assertive communicators are engaged listeners and keep a calm voice when talking.

They do not escalate the situation, bully, or use manipulation tactics. This communicator creates relationships and does not allow others to exploit them.

These people make a discussion where others feel comfortable joining.

When should assertive communication be used?

Assertive communication involves transparent, honest statements about your beliefs, needs, and feelings. Considering a healthy compromise between aggressive and passive communication is good.

When you communicate assertively, you share your beliefs without judging others for theirs. You endorse yourself when necessary and do it with courtesy and consideration because assertiveness involves respect for your views and those of others. This communication style helps solve conflict collaboratively.

Whether you have a concern you want to discuss with your partner or need to let a co-worker know you cannot offer assistance with a project, assertive communication allows you to express what you need productively and work with the other person to find the best solution.


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Saul Mcleod, PhD

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester

Educator, Researcher

Saul Mcleod, Ph.D., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

Olivia Guy-Evans, MSc

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MSc Psychology of Education

Associate Editor for Simply Psychology

Olivia Guy-Evans is a writer and associate editor for Simply Psychology. She has previously worked in healthcare and educational sectors.

Mia Belle Frothingham

Harvard Graduate

B.A., Sciences and Psychology

Mia Belle Frothingham is a Harvard University graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Sciences with minors in biology and psychology

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