picture that displays assertiveness

Assertiveness. We’ve all heard about it before, but what exactly is it? I’ll tell you exactly what assertiveness is and what you can do to become more assertive.

A lot of people who want to be assertive make the mistake of being rude. Luckily, that’s not necessary at all if you’re smart about it. However, it is very important that you understand what assertiveness is.

I’ve come to understand assertiveness better and I’ve seen again and again how liberating it is for people to be able to be more assertive.


In this article I explain what assertiveness is and what you can do to become more assertive.

So, what’s assertiveness?

If you want to become assertive, it is very important to understand what assertiveness is exactly.

When we look at the meaning of assertiveness, it is of primary importance to understand that assertiveness is a concept that is about communication. You can’t assertively sit on the couch by yourself at home.

Assertiveness is the way you interact with someone else.

We are able to distinguish three ways to interact with others:

  • Sub-Assertive: Sub-Assertive people attach little value to their self-interest, but a lot of value to the importance of someone else.
  • Assertive: assertive people value the importance of themselves as much as the importance of someone else.
  • Aggressive: aggressive people find their own importance much more important than the importance of someone else. (This does not have to be accompanied by physical aggressive violence)

An example may help. Now, suppose there’s a delicious pie to divide.

  • A sub-assertive person will say: “you eat as much as you want, I’ll just have what’s left.”
  • An aggressive person will first take what he needs and shift the leftovers to the other person.
  • An assertive person will say how much pie he wants. The other then gets the chance to do the same. After that they will see if they can come to a distribution that makes both parties satisfied. 

In this respect, assertiveness has a lot of common ground with self-confidence. It assumes that you are worthwhile and that you can expect others to take you into account. If you have low self-esteem, that is of course quite difficult. You could see assertiveness as a form of ‘social self-confidence’.

The definition of assertiveness is:

“Assertive behaviour is defined as any action that defends one’s own interests. This includes: standing up for yourself without intense fear, expressing your feelings in a comfortable way and standing up for your own rights without harming those of others.

It is not a law of nature that you have to be assertive. It is not at all wrong to be aggressive or sub-assertive from time to time. However, if all you are doing is being sub-assertive, it will very likely cause problems. That’s what I’m going to talk about below.

Being subassertive, you have the conviction that you always have to take the other person into account over yourself.

That’s why you spend a lot of time figuring out exactly what the other person wants. In addition, you are always afraid that you have not done enough for the other person and that they will get angry about it.

The conviction that everyone should like you is the most common and the most harmful thing I have come across in my work.

When you have these thoughts, you create a very frightening world for yourself. You have to be on guard at all times so that you don’t overlook anyone. It also takes a lot of energy. After all, you have to constantly make an effort to make sure that the other person is served at his beck and call.

If you can put all that behind you, it will give you a lot of peace. 

A more enjoyable life

You probably already noticed that the other person is much less concerned with your interests than you are with theirs. 

You always make sure that you help the other person, but others often don’t try to help you at all. This makes it so that it is never your turn to be on the receiving end of consideration.

Many sub-assertive people say that they don’t really care what happens. They just don’t have strong preferences and therefore like to do what others want.

However, if you look deep inside your heart, you will see that you are lying to yourself. You do have preferences, desires, and dreams. If you learn to recognize that this is not wrong, it will make your life a lot more fun.

Working overtime

There’s a story about a lady who worked overtime every day. This was the standard in the company where she worked and had been for two years. She found it difficult to indicate that she wanted to stop doing this. After all, the company needed her because it was very busy.

In the end, she realized that this was subassertive behavior. She let the company’s interests take precedence over her own. That’s why she decided to raise the issue of overtime. She wanted to help the company with overtime, but not on a daily basis and also not as standard. Moreover, if she worked overtime, she wanted to be paid for it. At the time of writing, two years later, she still has the job.

Of course, the company didn’t react very positively to this, but didn’t want to lose her either. That’s why they agreed with her request. From one day to the next, she worked more than ten hours less per week without any consequences.

Explode less often

If you’re subassertive, the following situation may seem familiar to you:

“Your partner always puts the scissors in the cutlery drawer when clearing the dishwasher. This is of course wrong because scissors are not a knife and therefore do not belong in the cutlery drawer.

Every time you see this, you patiently put the scissors in the right place. After twenty times, however, it starts to irritate you. At the fortieth time you are fed up with it and after sixty times you tell him/her the truth.

You seize that moment to explain what other things are going wrong as well.

What happens here is that very often you don’t say what you want. That’s why the irritation piles up. When that irritation is no longer manageable, you let it all, and I mean ALL out. 

It therefore is more practical to express what you want right away. That way you give the other person the opportunity to take that into account. By doing so, you can often come to an agreement without too much effort.

Hint: Don’t assume that the other person knows how it should be done. If the other person does something wrong in your opinion, explain to them how you want them to do it. 

There are of course many more advantages of assertive behavior, but these are often the most important. The question remains can you become more assertive?

Read this article to see what you can do.

If you want more help with becoming assertive we highly recommed the following training on Udemy.