Assertive Techniques for Conflict Resolution

January 27, 2020
Being assertive in your interactions with others can help you avoid conflict while protecting your interests and others' rights.

Communication often doesn’t flow as well as you’d like. Misunderstandings and conflicts are common and can affect relationships and cause frustration. In that context, assertive techniques are simple procedures that help protect your own rights and avoid affecting other people’s.

If you learn and practice these simple techniques, they’ll eventually become a part of your repertoire of natural responses. In the beginning, they might feel a little fake, but that sensation will go away with practice.

Two women practicing assertive techniques.

What’s assertiveness?

Assertiveness is a communication style that allows an individual to express their desires, needs, and opinions without hurting or offending the listener. This concept is easier to understand if you keep in mind these three basic types of communication:

  • Passive. In this case, the individual is incapable of expressing their opinions or defending their rights. They don’t tend to disagree because they’re afraid of confrontation. Their need to please often leads them to feel manipulated or misunderstood by other people.
  • Aggressive. On the other end of the spectrum are people who communicate in a commanding way and show no interest in another point of view. They try to impose their criteria and tend to use intimidation, accusations, or anger.
  • Assertive. This communication style is the best, as it’s characterized by the ability to disagree and express opinions while respecting other people’s points of view. People with good self-esteem tend to use this communication style. Assertive communication is satisfying for everyone involved.

Assertive techniques for conflict resolution

Assertiveness isn’t an abstract concept. You can put it into practice in your relationships with others. You should use a basic sequence when you want to approach a potential conflict:

  • Start by stating concrete facts, instead of generalities. Instead of saying “You never spend time with me anymore”, try saying “In these past few weeks, we’ve only seen each other twice”.
  • Express how the situation makes you feel instead of blaming or labeling the other person. Saying “This makes me feel sad” is better than saying “You’re selfish”.
  • Make a concrete proposal. For example, “I’d like us to pick a day of the week to see each other”.
  • Explain how that plan would improve the situation. For example, “That way, we’d have more time together and wouldn’t fight so much”.

Broken record technique

This technique involves repeating your affirmation over and over in a calm, collected voice.

“It’s your fault we’re always late.”

“I had to leave work late because I had a meeting.”

“Well, you always do the same thing.”

“Again, I had to leave later than usual because we had a meeting.”

Fogging, one of the assertive techniques

You can use this technique when the other person is criticizing you or giving you advice with the intent of manipulating you.

In this case, the technique involves acknowledging that what they’re saying is partly true, but keeping the final decision in your hands:

“You never go out with us anymore. You’re forgetting about your friends.”

“You’re right, I don’t go out with you anymore because it’s not possible for me to due to my new work schedule.”

A man talking to a woman.

Assertive agreement technique

In this situation, you accept what you did wrong without accepting any labels. In other words, you reject the label that the other person is putting on you but you accept your mistake.

“You always leave a mess. You’re so inconsiderate.”

“It’s true, I didn’t clean up the house because I left in a hurry but I don’t always do that.”

Ignoring

You can use this technique when the other person is overly upset or angry. It involves ignoring the reason for the argument.

“I feel like you’re really angry right now and we could end up hurting each other with our words. Let’s talk about this later, when we’re calmer.”

These are some examples of the multiple techniques that exist to be more assertive in your day-to-day life.

As you can see, the key is to keep your voice calm, even, and respectful. You want to avoid getting heated, while still defending your point of view. With practice, assertiveness can become your most valuable tool for good communication.

  • Caballo, V. E. (1983). Asertividad: definiciones y dimensiones. Estudios de psicología4(13), 51-62.
  • Mayer-Spiess, O. C. (1996). La asertividad: expresión de una sana autoestima. Desclée de Brouwer.