A Step-by-Step Guide to Having an Assertive Conversation

Maintaining an assertive conversation will allow you to achieve your interpersonal goals and avoid unnecessary conflicts. Learn how to do it.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Having an Assertive Conversation
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 30 November, 2023

Communicating assertively is key to stating our opinions, negotiating, and expressing ourselves with respect. This strategy is very useful in our affective, personal, and professional relationships, but we don’t always know how to implement it. For this reason, we want to share a step-by-step guide with you so that you can learn to maintain an assertive conversation.

Different techniques, exercises, and proposals help us communicate firmly and respectfully. It’s important to remember that assertiveness is more than a set of steps; it’s an attitude and a style of relating with others. It’s closely associated with self-esteem and empathy, and it’s also applied in various ways (González & Kasparane, 2009).

If you don’t know where to start, this article will provide you with the basics to make changes to your interactions.

The importance of assertive communication

Before explaining how to maintain an assertive conversation, we want to emphasize the multiple benefits that this mode of communication brings us. Remember that it’s a style that shows a balance between passivity (submitting to the other) and aggressiveness (making the other submit). Therefore, it allows us to firmly express our opinions, desires, and needs without ever disrespecting the interlocutor.

This ability brings benefits to different areas and reports a series of interesting advantages (Postolatii, 2017):

  • Assertiveness promotes balance and justice in human relationships.
  • It allows us to defend our rights and interests without fear and without harming others.
  • It helps us make better decisions and achieve greater success in our professional careers.
  • Assertiveness cultivates emotional intelligence, and it helps us to be happier, honest, healthy, and less manipulative.
  • Assertive people feel more capable and self-confident and achieve their goals more easily.
  • It favors interpersonal success, whether it’s in friendship, romantic relationships, family, or professional relationships.
  • It prevents conflicts, misunderstandings, and discrepancies and, therefore, allows us to enjoy more positive and satisfactory relationships.

You may be interested in: How to Be Assertive with Your Family

A man and woman having an assertive conversation.

A step-by-step guide to having an assertive conversation

In summary, this guide to maintaining an assertive conversation is useful if you have work conflicts with your bosses or colleagues, you find it difficult to set limits, or you want to improve how you communicate with your loved ones, avoiding unnecessary damage to the relationship.

The steps that we’ll suggest, although with some modification, are based on the non-violent communication model proposed by Marshall Rosenberg. We hope you can take advantage of them.

1. Base yourself on objective facts

How many conversations have you started with phrases like “You always treat me badly” or “This company doesn’t value me”? You may feel that way, but saying it this way will only make your listener take it as a personal attack and become defensive. Therefore, the main key is to express concrete and objective facts without passing judgment.

This implies a neutral dialogue about something that has just happened. For example, “Yesterday you raised your voice when talking to me,” “We haven’t seen each other for several days,” or “The report you gave me is missing some important information.” In this way, you refer to indisputable facts and you aren’t judging or issuing assessments in this regard.

2. Speak from the “I”

A second step is to become aware of and take responsibility for your own emotions. Many times, we tend to focus on the other person and what we believe is wrong, but we forget that these are only interpretations, and the only truth we can talk about is what we feel.

Telling your partner that they always ignore you is interpreting their actions from your own perspective and placing the blame and responsibility on the other. On the contrary, saying “I feel lonely” speaks of your internal perceptions and sensations, something that doesn’t give the option of debate and doesn’t place blame.

It’s important to understand that, as Rosenberg points out in his work The Surprising Purpose of Anger, anger is a healthy emotion because it makes us aware that we have an unresolved need. If we expose it appropriately, we’ll make the other person empathize with us, as we show ourselves vulnerable.

For example, when you say, “I feel anxious and restless when the house isn’t picked up”, it’s easier for the other person to empathize and listen to you than if you just say, “The house is a mess and you’re a slob.”

3. Express specific requests

The purpose of an assertive conversation is to help us reach that point of mutual understanding in which both parties are respected and taken into account when reaching a resolution. And for this, it’s important to make specific requests. That is, communicate to the person how they can contribute to solving the need.

The request must be clear, specific, and expressed positively. Examples like “I want you to stop ignoring me” or “I’d like you to do your job,” aren’t efficient communication options. Instead, it’s better to say things like “I’d like to talk for a while each day” or “I’d appreciate it if you would review the items on this list before turning in a report.”

4. Highlight mutual benefit

However, a request shouldn’t be confused with an imposition or requirement. The fourth step during an assertive conversation is to communicate to the other person how we feel and what changes can be made in this regard.

However, it’s their decision to accept the request or not, even partially, or to set their own conditions. The fact is that our rights, opinions, and needs are worthy, but so are those of others.

The interlocutor is more likely to be willing to collaborate if we emphasize the benefit that this change can bring to both parties and not just to ourselves.

For example, “If we keep the house tidy, we could spend more time together doing something fun instead of cleaning up” or “By reviewing the report before it’s delivered, we speed up deadlines and save ourselves from having to repeat the work.”

Keep the enemies of an assertive conversation at bay

As you can see, by applying only four simple points, we can maintain an assertive, positive, and efficient conversation oriented toward the expected results. These steps are a convenient guide when communicating your opinions but, as we said, assertiveness is more of an attitude.

Therefore, according to an article in the Journal of History Culture and Art Research, you’ll achieve good communication if you avoid interpretations and judgments, blaming others, evading responsibility, making comparisons, or trying to impose your desires and needs. A firm and respectful attitude, in which a fair balance prevails in the relationship, is essential to achieve the goal.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Azgın, B. (2018). A Review on “Non-Violent Communication: A Language of Life” by Marshall B. Rosenberg. Journal of History Culture and Art Research7(2), 759-762. http://kutaksam.karabuk.edu.tr/index.php/ilk/article/view/1550
  • Gaeta González, L., & Galvanoski Kasparane, A. (2009). Asertividad: un análisis teórico-empírico. Enseñanza e investigación en psicología14(2), 403-425. https://www.redalyc.org/pdf/292/29211992013.pdf
  • Postolatii, E. (2017). Assertiveness: Theoretical approaches and benefits of assertive behavior. Journal of Innovation in Psychology, Education and Didactics21(1), 83-96. https://jiped.ub.ro/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/JIPED_21_1_2017_7.pdf
  • Rosenberg, M. B. (2005). The surprising purpose of anger: Beyond anger management: finding the gift. PuddleDancer Press.
  • Rosenberg, M. B., & Chopra, D. (2015). Nonviolent communication: A language of life: Life-changing tools for healthy relationships. PuddleDancer Press.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.