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Key points

  • assertiveness skills help you stand up for yourself and advocate for your needs
  • you might have difficulty with assertiveness if you’re too passive or too aggressive
  • improving your self-confidence and your communication skills can help you to be assertive.

What are assertiveness skills?

Assertiveness skills are the skills you need to stand up for yourself.

They help you express and advocate for your needs.

Being assertive can also help you say “no”.

Why are assertiveness skills important?

Assertiveness skills are important because they help you meet your needs. Without them, you can end up in situations that don’t meet your needs.

What’s the difference between being assertive, aggressive or passive?

  • an assertive person expresses their needs in an honest and respectful way, while equally considering other people’s needs too
  • an aggressive person expresses their needs in a way that can be seen as hostile or tactless, while putting their own needs before other people’s
  • a passive person doesn’t effectively express their needs, or puts other people’s needs before their own.

How do you develop your assertiveness skills?

To improve your assertiveness, focus on building your self-confidence and your communication skills.

Developing assertiveness can take a lot of practise.

You may need to use some trial-and-error methods. This means trying different strategies to see what works best for you, and to see what doesn’t work.

A practical strategy is to create a script of phrases to help you assert yourself.

For example, if you find yourself being interrupted a lot, you could have a script to read that says something like, “I’m sorry, I wasn’t done talking. Could I please have a moment to finish?”.

Some people might find a script is not helpful, or is distracting. Instead, you could try role-playing situations before they happen.

A big part of assertiveness is balancing your needs and other people’s needs.

One strategy to improve this skill is called DEARMAN:

  • Describe: explain the facts of the situation without judgement
  • Express: tell the person how you feel about the situation
  • Assert: tell the person what you want (or don’t want)
  • Reinforce: express thanks when the person responds well to your request
  • Mindful: try to stay on topic and don’t get side-tracked by other issues
  • Appear confident: this means different things to different people and it may not be feasible or desirable – you still deserve to have your viewpoint heard
  • Negotiate: consider if you can reach a compromise. Be clear on your limits and boundaries.

What are the common challenges with assertiveness skills?

Being assertive means using direct and matter-of-fact communication.

So, some autistic people may find it easy to be assertive.

However, if you’re too firm in your demands or dismissive of other people, you might be seen as aggressive.

Some people may struggle with being passive and ‘people-pleasing’. This is common if you have anxiety.

Case Study

Jade struggles in meetings when people talk over the top of each other. He can’t understand what people are saying, and it makes him feel overwhelmed and left out of the group. 

The next time Jade is in a meeting and people start talking over the top of each other, he politely asks, “Would you please be able to take turns speaking one at a time? I’m having trouble following the conversation and the overlapping noise makes me anxious.”

Real Life Story

Story description

I have lower mental capacity on some days than others. If I’m feeling overloaded or overwhelmed by my work tasks, I need to assert myself. 

For example, I might feel that I have too many tasks assigned to me in one day. In these situations, I tell my manager that this workload isn’t realistic for my current capacity, and I try to offer solutions (such as completing the tasks over two days).