25 thoughts on “The 5 Skills of Assertiveness – And How to Get Them

  • October 29, 2017 at 10:55 am

    Knowing that I struggle with CEN, I also realized that I had a huge hole in this particular area of communicating my needs effectively—no skills at all! This lack of skills was constantly tripping me up in my attempts to get my needs spoken up and heard…especially with it triggering defensiveness in the hearer! Even though I kept trying, the anger and defensiveness I received back only worked to strengthen my belief that my needs didn’t matter. It shut me down again and again.

    After reading Running in Empty, I understood many things about myself that I then started to work on. But this assertiveness stuff came up like a road block. Someone recommended another book to me, “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes Are High”. After reading it, let me just say, I realized that every attempt at talking for me was an emotionally high stakes conversation because I was trying to overcome my CEN. This particular book is full of tools that hit on what Jonice Webb is talking about here in this article on assertiveness. If you’re looking to understand what communication tools are available to you as a CEN person who is lacking these tools, then check out this “Crucial Conversations” book. Read it with your CEN struggles in mind. Thank you again Jonice for another insightful article!

    • October 29, 2017 at 11:33 am

      Thanks for sharing your recovery story Jen. That book sounds really helpful. Keep up all the great work you’re doing!

  • October 29, 2017 at 5:29 pm

    Words cannot describe the amount of impact you have made on my life, nor the appreciation I have for you.
    Thank you soooooo much. You are truly a Super Hero. ( Believe That ).
    Dave – forever indebted. 🌺

    • October 29, 2017 at 5:45 pm

      Dear Dave, I’m very happy to hear that. But you’re the one doing it!

  • October 29, 2017 at 5:57 pm

    I need SO much work in this area! Do you have suggestions for talking to someone who is always defensive? Are there some people you should not try to be assertive with?

    • October 29, 2017 at 7:43 pm

      Dear Mukkove, I do have a suggestion. Think about how the other person might be able to hear it best. If you think and plan beforehand, maybe try to say it with some humor, or mixed in with some positive (and true) feedback. There is usually some way to say most things.

      • October 30, 2017 at 11:20 pm

        Thank you, I will keep trying. Your articles about CEN are so insightful into so many of my struggles. I look forward to reading both of your books.

      • October 31, 2017 at 8:01 am

        I’m glad to be of help! And glad you’ll keep trying. All my best to you!

      • November 3, 2017 at 5:23 pm

        In response to being assertive with people who are extremely defensive, I don’t think it is always possible to get through to people whose defenses are so strong, that it prevents them from being open enough to listen and engage. I often have to simply stop when that happens. But, I do believe they hear me, and often think about what was said later when they are alone and feel safe to think about it.

      • November 3, 2017 at 7:54 pm

        I agree Pattiekat. I think of it as sowing seeds that may take root when the person is ready.

  • October 29, 2017 at 6:30 pm

    I can’t believe the emotional can of worms discovering CEN has opened up for me. Being assertive is really difficult for someone with CEN and now I understand why. I am/was always the peacemaker, walking on eggshells so no one around me ever gets upset no matter what the situation–this is how I grew up and how our family was. I think back on all the things I have internalized, large and small, such as my mother’s passing in January, and many other unpleasant events and experiences. Having CEN plus being a Type C personality and being married to a Type A husband is very difficult. He can be brash (his word) at times and I don’t have the tools to defend myself. I have a lifetime of trapped emotions. Most days I feel like a volcano of emotion on the inside but have a smiling face on the outside. If I could cry for about a week, I think it might help. I also read some things about being avoidant and I see myself there too.

    • October 29, 2017 at 7:46 pm

      I’m sorry Dove, that does sound like a lot to deal with. I hope you can get a therapist to help you. And also you can work through all the CEN recovery exercises in my first book, Running on Empty. They will help you. It will take time, but you can deal with all of these challenges.

  • October 29, 2017 at 8:19 pm

    Thanks Dr Jonice. Another great article. I now use some “scripts” which I find helpful. If for instance I’m speaking with my parents and they bring up something which I’m not comfortable with I have already formulated an answer. They are not very good with my boundaries and will often try and talk me around to get the “right” answer or the “should” answer. But I’ve learned that having the “scripts” works for me. The more I use the “scripts” the more confident I feel.

    • October 29, 2017 at 8:43 pm

      Scripts are so helpful! Phrases like, “That does not work for me,” or “I’d rather not” can be kept in your mind to use whenever you need them. Thanks for sharing that great suggestion!

  • October 30, 2017 at 11:42 am

    Does anyone have a resource they can direct me to re emotion words?

    • October 30, 2017 at 12:52 pm

      Dear CNR, yes I do. There is an extensive list of emotion words in the back of my first book, Running on Empty. Or you can go to my website, emotionalneglect.com and you can download a list of emotion words from The Book tab. Hope this helps!

  • November 1, 2017 at 10:08 am

    Some people are characteristically aggressive in their assertiveness. I’ve found it helpful to consider this. Their take on life is to run everyone over first. It’s OK to be assertive but not to the point where you are ordering even strangers around. I was behind one of these in the checkout line recently. After giving the cashier a hard time in getting her shopping bags packed just right she turned to me and ordered me to back up because I was too close. There was a line of people behind me, if I had backed up I’d have shoved the woman behind me and she would have shoved the one behind her and so on. She was being unreasonable so I said in a calm measured tone that I am not going to push the people behind me. I could have added “to make room for you” but doing so would have no doubt set her off. Just omitting those last few words made all the difference. I am learning. Thank you.

    • November 1, 2017 at 10:24 am

      What a great example Judy! So much of assertiveness is in your tone of voice, word choice, and saying what’s necessary without adding any digs. Well-done!

  • November 1, 2017 at 12:16 pm

    I’m the aggressive/assertive. After reading this and a response from another on here. I realize that I come on locked and loaded when “asserting” myself. I’m in full on defense mode. I understand better now that if I come into a convo on the defense, that’s what I’m doing to the other person…putting them on the defense. I have a lot to learn. TY good reading for me today.

    • November 1, 2017 at 12:21 pm

      That is so great to hear Defensive56. Assertiveness does require that you do it “just right.” It sounds like you have half the formula. All you need to do is work on the other half. Ask yourself how you would like to receive this message, if you were the other person. That can give you a good guideline. Best wishes!

  • November 1, 2017 at 7:46 pm

    Jonice Webb PhD


    Thank You

    • November 1, 2017 at 8:04 pm

      Speaking for all of us at Psychcentral, You are welcome!

  • November 1, 2017 at 11:02 pm

    I struggle with assertiveness but it’s not because I don’t believe in the value of what I have to input, or because I don’t think of the what the other may be feeling. It is because I am TOO aware and empathetic to what the other person may be feeling, and I don’t like to cause hurt, or stress to others, so I often take the weight of a situation on myself to keep from potentially upsetting others or making them feel badly. I have read recently on “The Highly Sensitive Person” and many of those aspects fit me exactly, however, nothing I find helps me overcome this to be more assertive when I need to be. As I am also bipolar, my own ability to deal with seemingly simple things is often hindered, so not being assertive and the internalizing I do causes a snowball meltdown effect. Is there any self help guide or suggestions for learning to be more assertive when the causes are like mine? And as an aside, I came from a loving, demonstrative family, so CEN is not a causative factor in my situation.

    • November 2, 2017 at 8:00 am

      Hi Conflicted, maybe you could concentrate on believing that your feelings are just as important as the other person, since that seems to be the basic problem.

  • November 3, 2017 at 5:16 pm

    First, I just wanted to say that what you call the ‘2nd part of assertiveness’, I simply define as “effectiveness”.
    Effectiveness is something I always think about when it comes to “communication”, and something I’ve found many people fail to recognize. Communication is more than just “saying something”. Communication is about “understanding”. I want to be heard, that is, I want the other person to understand what I’m trying to say– and vice versa. That’s when I think about whether what I’m saying is being effectively communicated. Its also important when I listen to someone else, because I want to make sure I’m ‘responding’ to what they mean, instead of ‘reacting’ to what I heard. So, I try to ask questions, but that doesn’t mean I always do, lol. Hey, I’m as human as the rest of us, and sometimes I just react! But, I try.
    And, I don’t believe “aggression” has anything to do with being assertive. As others have insightfully noted, it’s usually an attempt to make others defensive, which is rarely, if ever, effective.
    Thanks for letting me add to the conversation.


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