Assertiveness is the ability to express one’s feelings, opinions, beliefs and needs directly, openly and honestly, assert one’s rights whilst respecting the feelings and rights of another (Lloyd, 1998). Non-assertive individuals may be passive, aggressive or passive-aggressive. Passive clients appear to be unconcerned with their own rights and are more likely to allow others to infringe on their rights than to stand up and speak out (McBride, 1998).

Instances of passive-aggression (or indirect anger expressions) are attempts at covert sabotage. Intentionally ignoring a coach’s suggestions and purposely failing tasks set by the coach are examples of expressions of passive-aggression and, as such, should not be ignored by the coach.

On the other hand, overtly aggressive clients are likely to defend their own rights and work to achieve their own goals. They are likely to disregard the rights of others. Additionally, aggressive individuals insist that their feelings and needs take precedence over other’s (Shelton & Burton, 1994).

Assertive communication demands the use of direct, honest and appropriate expression of personal opinions, needs or desires. By communicating assertively, it is more likely to achieve the purpose of the communication. Using more forceful strategies such as verbal attack or harsh criticism ignites negative responses from others and may cause relationship tension. Put simply, assertiveness is teaching a client how to “get what they want from others by not infringing on their or the other person’s rights.” (Shelton & Burton, 1994)

Generally speaking an individual who communicates assertively:

  1. Feels empowered
  2. Does not feel that they are unjustly controlled by others
  3. Projects dignity and calmness in their dealings with other people
  4. Are proactive. They make things happen, rather than reacting or responding to the words and actions of others
  5. Know their own rights and responsibilities when they deal with others
  6. Avoid apologetic dialogue or submissive language and tone
  7. Are able to resist the aggressive, manipulative and passive ploys of other people (Downing, 1995).

How Does Assertiveness Compare to Other Behaviour?

“Clients can often confuse aggressiveness with assertiveness, because both types of behaviour involve standing up for one’s rights and expressing one’s needs. The main difference between the two communication styles is that individuals behaving assertively will express themselves in ways that respect the other person. They assume the best about people, respect themselves, and think “win-win” and try to compromise. In contrast, individuals behaving aggressively will tend to employ tactics that are disrespectful, manipulative, demeaning, or abusive. They make negative assumptions about the motives of others and think in retaliatory terms, or they don’t think of the other person’s point of view at all. They win at the expense of others, and create unnecessary conflict” (Impact Factory, 2006).

Why Learn To Be Assertive?

Assertive individuals have fewer conflicts in their dealings with others, which translates into less stress in their lives. It also results in stronger, more supportive relationships which can assist clients with stress management (Downing, 1995).

Passive clients avoid conflict by not communicating their needs and feelings, but these behaviours can damage relationships over time. They can feel like victims, avoiding confrontation. The other party doesn’t know there’s a problem until the formerly passive individual reacts with explosion (Stress, 2006).

Aggressiveness, in contrast, can alienate others and create undue stress. Those on the receiving end of the aggressive behaviour can feel attacked and frequently avoid the aggressive individual.

Over time, people who behave aggressively have more failed relationships and little social support. They don’t understand that this is often related to their own aggressive tendencies. Interestingly, they often feel like victims, too. (Stress, 2006)

The Communication Style Continuum

The communication style continuum illustrates how communication can range in aggressive intensity from passivity, through assertiveness to aggressiveness.


Passiveness has occurred when others have violated another’s rights by regarding their own needs, opinions and rights as more important. Passivity demonstrates an individual’s lack of respect for their own needs and can lead to feelings of hurt, anxiety and anger. Passive clients do not stand up for themselves and often feel victimised or bullied by others (Shelton & Burton 1994).


Assertiveness is the direct and honest communication of opinions, feelings, needs, and rights in a way that does not violate the personal rights of others. It involves a client standing up for their own rights, while acknowledging the rights of others, and working towards a win-win solution (Lloyd, 1988).


Aggressiveness is the opposite of passiveness. It involves expressing and pursuing a clients own rights at the expense of others, which creates the impression of disrespect, and bullying for the other person. In effect, aggressive clients getting their own way, no matter what other people think (Shelton & Burton, 1994).

Reference List

  1. Bower, G. H., & Bower S, A. (1991). Asserting yourself: A practical guide for positive change, Massachusetts: Perseus Publishing.
  2. Downing, J., (1995). Finding your voice: Reclaiming personal power through communication. NSW: Allen & Unwin.
  3. Lloyd, S, R. (1988). Developing assertiveness. California: Crisp.
  4. Shelton, N., & Burton, S., (1994). Assertiveness skills. Illinois: Minor Press.