DO YOU HAVE an "assertion hero/ine" - i.e. someone you regard as exceptionally adept at asserting her or his needs, feelings, opinions, and boundaries? Would others name *you* as a world-class asserter?

The American Management Association once defined "assertion" as communicating in a way that others can hear (understand and accept, vs. agree with) you. How does that compare with your definition?

Popular alternatives to assertion are aggression ("I put my needs and worth above yours") and submission ("I rank my needs and dignity below yours").

Effective assertion is a vital key to mutually satisfying relationships and group harmony - yet few people study this essential skill. Even those that DO study it often miss four powerful keys to effectiveness. Can you name them?


A "need" is one or more psychological, spiritual, and/or physical discomforts, so we're all "needy" much of the time. A primary reason all living things (like you) communicate is to fill local needs - reduce our fluctuating discomforts.

One key to effective assertion is your ability to *identify* what you need accurately, via personal awareness. This includes using the learned ability to "dig down" below surface needs ("I need you to stop interrupting me.") to the primazry needs causing them ("I REALLY need to feel you want to respect me.")

Another key is evolving and living by a personal Bill of Rights -and according all other adults and kids the same rights. For an example, see

Believing you are a person of equal dignity and worth to any other person - regardless of social role, education, gender, ethnicity, or age -is essential for effective communication and satisfying relationships. That's why "shame-based" (wounded) survivors of low-nurturance childhoods are often aggressive, submissive, or numb.

The third key is having an "assertion strategy" - i.e. specific steps you follow to assert yourself in various situations. You've probably developed a strategy that is so familiar as to be automatic (unconscious). Observe it!

The effectiveness of your strategy can be gauged by how often you (a) get your current primary needs met, (b) in a way that leaves you and others feeling "good enough" about yourselves, each other, and the process between you.

The fourth key is often overlooked in self-help suggestions on
"successful assertion." It is to calmly EXPECT the other person to "resist" (disagree, deflect, ignore, ridicule, criticize, minimize, etc.) your assertion. Do this with empathy, rather than with resentment or combativeness. Can you do this?

Be prepared to acknowledge each "resistance" with a brief, nonjudgmental, respectful, "empathic listening" statement - also called mirroring, and active or reflective listening.

Then calmly and firmly re-assert with stable eye contact, and be ready for the next resistance. Do this as often as necessary, until (a) you run out of time or patience, (b) the other person finally hears (vs. agrees with) you, or (c) you both shift into win-win problem solving.

An unseen fifth key is keeping your true Self steadily in charge of your personality - but that's the subject of another article.

Can you imagine trying this assertiveness strategy with key adults and kids in your life? If not - why not?

It can be said that awareness, assertion, and empathic listening are required for effective social problem-solving - i.e. filling your and your partner's primary needs well enough, and feeling good about doing so. Do you agree?

How does this assertion strategy compare with your current habit? Are you willing to try these keys? Could you become someone's "assertion hero/ine"? Are the young people in your life learning to assert effectively?

For more perspective on seven effective-communication skills, visit (nonprofit).

Pause, breathe, and reflect - did you get what you needed from reading this article?

Author's Bio: 

I've studied, taught, and practiced interpersonal and innerpersonal communication basics and skills - including clinical hypnosis - for over 40 years. My unique book summarizing what I've learned is "Satisfactions - 7 skills you need to know" (, 2002). I'm still learning!