assertive communication improves confidence

Assertive communication – how to improve confidence, relationships and get more out of life

1 September 2023

Do you find it difficult to be assertive at home or at work?  Are you tired of feeling like your voice isn’t heard? Do you wish you could express your needs and concerns with confidence and respect? Has working from home made you more likely to take on extra work and work longer hours, even though you don’t want to?   With the move back into the office are you finding it harder to say no to taking on extra tasks, even though you know you’re already working more than you should?

Perhaps it’s at home where you want to be able to assert yourself more.  Do you feel that you’ve taken on the majority of the domestic load?  You may find it challenging to assert yourself when you’re at home a lot of the time, wanting to keep the peace.

Or it may it’s in friendships that you’d like to be more assertive.  Maybe you’re the one who takes time to listen to your friend talking about her break-up and then having to work late into the night.

Getting needs met

You may worry about damaging your relationships with others.  Before you know it,  you’re putting your own needs last and not saying anything because you’re concerned about what may happen.  Then you end up feeling frustrated, irritated and resentful.  (For more on how to deal with this, have a look at how to stop people pleasing.)

You may even try to get your needs met through other means such as drinking or eating more than you would like.  If this is you, don’t worry, you are not alone.  We all need help to be assertive from time to time.

What is assertiveness?

Assertiveness is being able to express yourself effectively.  When you assert yourself, you stand up for yourself calmly and clearly, making sure to respecting others’ rights and beliefs too.  Being assertive helps you to avoid feeling obliged to do things you don’t want to do and end up saying yes when you want to say no.

Nonetheless, it’s not easy to be direct.  You may find it hard to ask for what you want, especially if you’re not used to it . It’s normal to worry about upsetting or angering the other person, causing inconvenience or seeming demanding or unreasonable. If you do ask for what you want, you often end up feeling guilty about putting yourself first.

The role of anxiety

Or, it could be anxiety that’s holding you back.  You may plan to be assertive, but in the heat of the moment get overcome with anxiety.  So, it becomes hard to think clearly and take the action you had planned and practised.

For more on this check out how to stop overthinking.

So, you end up avoiding anything you think could cause discomfort or tension, putting other people’s needs before your own. If you do ask, you do it in such a roundabout way, the other person isn’t clear what you’re asking, and doesn’t act on it

Often your hints, expressions and hidden meanings don’t get understood. And you end up feeling disappointed because your needs haven’t been met. So you withdraw and keep silent, leaving others to guess what it is you want. Over time, not asserting yourself can leave you feeling angry and frustrated, building up resentment that makes it more difficult to act assertively. What starts as a passive reaction, can end up as an explosion of anger when you gradually reach boiling point and explode.

Assertiveness matters

Research shows that learning to be assertive can have a profound impact on quality of life. Learning to communicate clearly and confidently has been shown to reduce anxiety. Social anxiety has repeatedly been linked to a lack of assertiveness. Assertiveness training has proven beneficial in reducing and gaining control over anxiety. It can also help improve confidence, self esteem and how people view themselvesi. When people go through assertiveness training, they tend to worry less about what others’ think of them and become more self-assured.

For more help with social anxiety go to when social situations are scary

i Speed, B. C., Goldstein, B. L., & Goldfried, M. R. (2017). Assertiveness training: A forgotten evidence-based treatment. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 25(1).

assertive communication helps you to feel valued

Assertiveness makes life easier

Being assertive is a key life skill. It helps you to be more effective in saying what you want to get across, without upsetting the other person. Being clear about what you’re asking for cuts down on misunderstanding and makes it easier to listen to the other person’s point of view.

Assertiveness is a key skill that helps you to:

  • make requests of others (such as asking your partner to empty the dishwasher)
  • say no to requests  (for instance, staying late at work without notice)
  • giving honest feedback (on something you don’t like or that makes you feel uncomfortable)
  • expressing your opinions (for example stating something that is important to you or you believe deeply, even when others don’t share the same opinions)
  • setting personal boundaries (around time, money, your possessions, touch, etc)

By becoming more assertive, you can begin to express your true feelings and needs more easily. You may even find that you get more of what you want as a result.

Practice makes it easier

The good news is assertiveness is a skill you can learn and practice. It can take time to change your communication style, but the more you practice, the easier it becomes. By becoming more assertive, you can begin to express your feelings and needs more easily. You may even find that you get more of what you want, more of the time.

When I work with clients who want to become more assertive, we work together to develop the skills they need to be confident.  We look at the lifelong beliefs they hold about assertiveness, and develop ways to give them choices in the way they communicate.  If clients know how to be assertive, but get stressed at the thought of communicating so directly, we work on ways of managing the anxiety and reducing the physical symptoms in the body.  Check out understanding how your body responds to stress for more details.

Client story

Take Alex, for instance, a 45 year old Deputy Head and mother of one. Alex wanted to stop feeling drained and overwhelmed.  She felt constantly under pressure to take on more and more at work. As she did so, Alex became resentful about not being able to spend time with her family. She was also overeating as a way to cope with her feelings.

We worked together to help Alex improve her assertiveness.  Now, she no longer feels she has to say yes whenever she is asked. Instead, she now takes time to pause and think ‘how will taking on this extra work affect me’. She uses her new assertiveness skills to explain to her manager, “I will take that on, but it can’t be done in the timeframe you are suggesting.”

Alex reports she is not taking on nearly as much extra work these days.  When she does it’s much more on her own terms. She has developed the confidence to say no.  Alex now stand up for her reasons as to why she can’t take on additional responsibilities. She is happy to report she is no longer spreading herself too thin, and she now has more time and energy to spend on herself and her family. This helps her to relax and recharge, so when she is working she can give her work more energy and focus.

As Alex says,

Learning the ability to say ‘no’ and being more assertive has taken work. I now feel that I am managing work, home and family a lot better. I have more control over my over eating and now have strategies that I can utilise instead of turning to food.

food diary can help you to lose weight

Here are my top five practical ways to help you to become assertive. Developing assertiveness skills can take time. Each step can be learnt and built upon. By taking these steps one by one, you can start to develop your assertiveness muscles.  Over time they strengthen and assertiveness becomes part of your way of life and helps you to be able to live your life on your own terms.

1. Practice saying no

Try saying “No, I’m sorry I really can’t at the moment” aloud, and use it next time someone asks you to do something you don’t want. You may need to repeat yourself a few times. The more you practice, the easier it becomes.

The more you respond confidently with no when you’ve been asked to do something you don’t want to do, the more others will get used to hearing you refuse their requests.

Learning to say no is vital for your wellbeing. Saying yes to things because you feel obliged to can drain you of energy and make you feel resentful and ‘unseen’. If you keep saying no, over time you should start to notice people putting on you less.

2. Have a role model

Think about someone you respect and who you think communicates effectively. Choose someone who is assertive, warm and friendly, and shows respect for others and themselves. This could be someone you know, someone famous or someone fictional. Imagine them dealing with a particular situation. How would they do it? What would that look like? Imagine yourself acting in a similar way. Then do it. Keep practicing.

3. Use your imagination

Your imagination is a powerful tool you can harness to help yourself to become more assertive. Close your eyes and relax your body completely. Stay connected with the feelings of relaxation and imagine a situation in which you are acting assertively. (If you can’t imagine one, focus on a situation in which you’ve seen someone else acting assertively and imagine yourself doing the same.)Notice your posture, expression and tone of voice. Notice how it feels to be assertive.Now, keep those feelings with you as you go about your day. Over time and with practice you’ll start to act more assertively in day to day life as your mind takes on board a new way of acting.

4. Reward yourself

Changing the way we communicate is not easy. Really acknowledge every little improvement as you make it. Small differences will lead to long-term change. Notice, recognise and reward your efforts to change. Remind yourself what a good job you are doing every time you respond in a more assertive way.

5. Stop worrying

Try not to conduct a postmortem analysis after a situation that didn’t go well. It is more helpful to briefly review how assertive you were and plan how you’ll handle it next time.

For more ways to improve your confidence have a look at

Would you like to make living life easier, right now? Get your free Live Life on Your Terms recording here and begin to live your life with confidence.

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