ATD Blog

Self-Direction: The Key to Assertive Communication

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Check the box that best describes you:     You lack direct and honest communication skills. You fail to stand up for yourself, and you avoid conflict.  

 You humiliate or put others down by dominating them. You get what you want at the expense of others. 

  Your communication is indirect, not open. You do not take responsibility for your behavior. 

  You are direct, honest and stand up for yourself without violating the rights of others, knowing what you want to accomplish. 

Box 1: You are passive, allowing others to choose for you, unclear about your own verbal messages to others. You hold your feelings inside or express them indirectly, and are insecure, apologetic, and make excuses for yourself. You may be holding resentment, and feel sorry for yourself.  

Box 2: You are aggressive. You make choices for yourself and others, getting what you want at any cost. You are clear, but in a demanding manner that puts others down, resulting in anger, guilt, and alienation. 

Box 3: You are passive-aggressive, a communication style similar to aggressive, but in a covert manner. Rather than being directly critical, you take pot shots at others from behind.  

Box 4: You are assertive, and make choices for yourself with honest, direct communication. You allow others to express their feelings and you are comfortable letting others know you. 


Your ability to be who you are and respond accordingly in various situations determines your degree of self-direction.  

Let’s Talk About How to Be More Assertive  

The ability to be self-directing is key to establishing a habit of assertive behavior. Communicating assertively allows you to be charge of yourself and can also positively affect those around you. 

 Listed below are three situations. Consider how you’d respond to each. 

  •  You are cooking dinner and need the table set. 
  •  You have been asked to take charge of making arrangements for the annual company social affair. 
  •  You are presenting a report at a leadership meeting and have been interrupted three times by the same person.  

These are all great opportunities to practice assertive communication. If you need the table set, do you just let it slide, command someone to do it brusquely, glare at your potential helper and the empty table without articulating what you need, or ask for help in a firm but polite manner? How could you apply those same attitudes to the two workplace examples? 
Here are some helpful methods for becoming more assertive: 

  • Break into an ongoing conversation during natural pauses, without interrupting. 
  • Resist interruption by another by raising your voice slightly to signal that you would like to finish your comment. 
  • Disagree by acknowledging the other person’s point of view, or at least your perception of their position. For example, begin by saying, “I see your point as being . . . ; however, I still think,” or, “It sounds like that is important to you because . . . , and I . . . ” 
  • To say “no,” be as brief as possible. Give a legitimate reason for your refusal, but avoid long, elaborate explanations and justifications. 
  • To handle criticism, respond with opinion statements rather than you statements. For example, say, “In my opinion . . .” instead of, “Your interpretation is wrong.” 
  • Be specific when giving constructive negative feedback by giving examples; cite situations and what the person said or did. It may be helpful to write out what you would like to say to lower anxiety.  

Here are some helpful assertive statements to use: 

  • “I want to work this out with you.” 
  • “I’m not comfortable with or willing to listen to evasiveness.” 
  •  “I want to make sure I understand what you are saying.” 
  •  “How would you solve or take care of this situation?” 
  • “If you are not willing to work out this agreement with me, what is your suggestion for how we could solve this problem?” 
  • “You have the right to your doubts.” 
  • “I want to explain my reasons for . . . ” 

To be assertive, it is important to know your purpose, motives, and goals in a given situation, to know what you want to accomplish. However, being assertive is not a guarantee of always getting what you want.  
Let’s practice what you have learned. Rehearse your assertive response to the following scenarios: 

Scenario 1: Your area has been challenged to take on new responsibilities. This means each person of your four-person team will need to handle a little more. Two people on the team are eager to take on more; the other two people do not want more and resent being asked. 

Scenario 2: Don, the team leader, can let his emotions get the best of him, and he has a hard time keeping them in check. His team knows the type of day they will have the minute Don walks out onto the shop floor. Upon seeing Don in a bad mood, the team members are hesitant to approach Don with problems that come up. Don’s emotions can slow people down, and there is a lot of guessing about what is wrong. 

Being assertive is about knowing yourself and what you need, and knowing your options for responding in any given situation. Feel free to contact me to review your responses to these two scenarios 

About the Author

Carrie Van Daele is president and CEO of Van Daele & Associates (, which features her Train the Trainer System for trainers and subject matter experts. Her company was founded in 1996 as a training and development firm in the areas of train the trainer, continuous process improvements, and leadership. It is a Certified Woman-Owned Business. Carrie is the author of  50 One-Minute Tips for Trainers. She is also a public speaker and a featured writer for several publications and organizations, such as the Association for Talent Development,  Women of Achievement magazine,  Quality Digest magazine, and  FM & T magazine. Her degrees include an AA from Evangel Bible College, a BS from Indiana University, and an MSM from Indiana Wesleyan University. 

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