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Liggy Webb

The Learning Architect


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Communication skills: how to be assertive


People who have mastered the skill of assertiveness are able to greatly reduce the level of interpersonal conflict in their lives. Liggy Webb provides some tips on how to be assertive.

Assertive communication is an excellent interpersonal skill to develop. It is the ability to express your thoughts and opinions while respecting the thoughts and opinions of the other person. Assertive communication is appropriately direct, open and clarifies your needs to the other person and it is a skill that can be learned.

People who have mastered the skill of assertiveness are able to greatly reduce the level of interpersonal conflict in their lives and significantly reduce a major source of stress. Being assertive is being able to communicate appropriately in an honest way.

When we allow the needs, opinions or judgment of others to become more important than our own, we may feel hurt, anxious and even angry. This kind of behaviour is often indirect, emotionally dishonest and self-denying.
Many people feel that if they attend to their legitimate needs and assert their rights they are being selfish. Selfishness, however, is being concerned with only our own rights, with little or no regard for others. Implicit in our rights is the fact that we are concerned about the legitimate rights of others as well.   

"It is important to connect to our feelings and use them to help us recognise what we want to change."

Assertiveness is sometimes seen as the mid-point between passive and aggressive ways of being. Understanding the different ways in which we communicate is important and I have outlined the following ways in which different people choose to put their message across.

Being passive

Being passive may be a response to feeling that we must be "nice" people. We may become compliant, believing that certain behaviours will lead to our being judged and rejected, or we may fear confrontation and become anxious to avoid this. Passive behaviour can be perceived as manipulative and may elicit a care-taking, non-challenging response in others.

Being aggressive

Being aggressive may be a response to feeling powerless or insecure or it could be the behaviour of a dominant social style. Aggressive behaviour may be any behaviour which gives us power over others. It may take the form of threats, bullying, sarcasm, fighting and so on. It is likely to elicit a defensive or aggressive response from others.

Behaving passive-aggressive

Sometimes this can happen when we keep feelings locked inside, leading to a state of resentment. If we are always "nice", this can leave us feeling that we are often exploited. If the build-up gets too much, we may get to a point where we explode inappropriately or at the wrong target. We may also say nothing and internalise our anger however, creating an atmosphere around us and ill feeling within ourselves.  

It is important to connect to our feelings and use them to help us recognise what we want to change. It will help if we can express our emotions to an appropriate person in a non-blaming way. Communicating our feelings gives us a chance to be better understood or improve our relationships.

Brooding too long over an incident is only likely to make matters worse. Non-assertive people often assume others should be able to spot their hurt or anger even though they don’t say what they feel. We can set clear boundaries by learning to say no without apologising unnecessarily. Excuses, apologies and explanations may be superfluous. Whilst knowing that our agenda is important, it is helpful to take time to hear another’s point of view and to remember that it is not always possible to get what we want.

Change does not happen overnight, and others may react differently to us as we change. Learning to be assertive is about experimenting with new ways of communicating and having the courage to put your message across appropriately, respectfully and with confidence.

Assertiveness - useful tips:

  • Believe in yourself and other people.
  • Assertiveness doesn’t mean you always win.
  • Be an effective and active listener.
  • State limits and expectations.
  • Observe without labelling or judging.
  • Express yourself directly and honestly.
  • Be aware of other people’s feelings.
  • Avoid judging people.
  • Trust yourself and others.
  • Behave in a trustworthy way.

Life is what you make it.

The above article is an extract from The Happy Handbook - A Compendium of Modern Life Skills by Liggy Webb which  is out now.

Liggy Webb is widely respected as a leading expert in the field of modern life skills and workplace wellness. She is the founding director of The Learning Architect a consortium of niche industry experts. Liggy has developed a range of techniques to support individuals and organizations to cope more effectively with modern living and the demands and challenges of life in the twenty tens and beyond. For more info visit and

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Liggy Webb


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