Assertive Communication: Learning How to Respectfully Say No

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Assertive Communication: Learning How to Respectfully Say No
Assertive Communication: Learning How to Respectfully Say No
Apr 13, 2021

Assertive Communication: Learning How to Respectfully Say No

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Being able to say no is an important life skill. Many people want to please others and not disrupt the harmony of any situation. However, learning to assess individual needs and vocalize those needs is critical for effective communication and building self-confidence. Assertive communication emphasizes the importance of both an individual’s needs and others’ needs. 

When engaging in assertive communication, a person stands up for their own needs, wants, and feelings and listens to and respects others’ needs. Some people tend to be overly assertive to the point of controlling the situation, which is characterized by aggressive communication. There is a delicate balance between being a passive communicator and being an aggressive communicator. Assertiveness does not mean being rude or selfish; it means allowing your voice to be heard while also considering other people's perspectives. 

Passive Communication

Passive communication is exactly what it sounds like — submissive and complacent. Passive people observe the action around them without ever being involved in the action. When engaging in passive communication, a person prioritizes the needs, wants, and feelings of others, even at their own expense. The person does not express their own needs and does not stand up for themselves. The quiet, subdued nature of passive individuals can lead to being taken advantage of, even by close friends or family. Without proper communication, people are unaware of the passive communicator’s needs and wants. 

Passive communication can be recognized relatively easily. The individual will most likely have poor eye contact or look down or away during a conversation. They may have a lack of confidence and can be socially awkward in public situations. They may be soft-spoken or quiet, and they let others take the lead. For example, let’s say a friend asks to borrow the passive communicator’s car. This request is a significant inconvenience because they had plans and needed their vehicle that day. Instead of explaining that they need their car, they say, “I guess that is fine. Do you need me to fill the tank?” Not only are they giving up their plans, but they are offering more resources to help the other person; this will open the door to future situations where they may be taken advantage of. 

Aggressive Communication

We all know an assertive, dominating control freak. You know, the people who have to have their way, or there will be a nuclear meltdown. Aggressive communication emphasizes the importance of only one person’s needs and disregards the other. They believe that only their needs, wants, and feelings matter. The other person is typically bullied, and their needs are ignored. 

Aggressive communicators get easily frustrated when they cannot get their way. They speak in a loud, overbearing manner, and they frequently disrupt others or simply do not listen. They use criticism, humiliation, and domination to direct the conversation. They are unwilling to compromise and are disrespectful to others. If a friend asked to borrow the aggressive communicator’s car, they might respond like, “You? Borrow my car? That is never happening”. This response works to belittle the other individual and make themselves feel superior.

Assertive Communication

Assertive communication is defined by confidence, self-assurance, and a willingness to compromise. It emphasizes the importance of both an individual’s needs and others’ needs. When engaging in assertive communication, a person stands up for their own needs, wants, and feelings and listens to and respects others’ needs. Assertiveness is the ability to openly express our thoughts and feelings in an Honest, Appropriate, Respectful, and Direct way. It can be HARD to do, but it gets easier with practice. 

With assertive communication, both individuals are considered to be equally important. Assertive communicators listen without interruption and are willing to compromise. They maintain good eye contact and have a confident tone when they speak. They can stand up for their own rights by clearly stating their personal ideals and values without stepping on anyone’s toes. When we take the same scenario of a friend asking to borrow an assertive communicator’s car, they would be likely to respond like, “I need my car that day, but I will have time to drop you off.” This response demonstrates self-confidence and respect simultaneously. 

When you find yourself struggling to say no, it is essential to remember assertive communication. There may be a way to compromise the situation to tailor to both of your needs, but if not, then it will be best to communicate why you are saying no. It can be difficult at first, but once you have mastered the art of respecting yourself, it will come naturally.


Passive, aggressive, and assertive communication are modes of communication that we have all experienced. When our coworker is hesitant about working extra on our behalf, we can sense their struggle about saying no. This happens because people want to be kind and please others. On the flip side, aggressive communicators are focused on their own personal gain. When these two communicators mesh, the outcome is typically the passive communicator being taken advantage of. It is crucial to evaluate your own way of communicating and changing, if needed, to prioritize both your needs and the needs of others. At Achieve Medical Center, we offer a range of mental health services that are aimed to support you and your unique journey. We know how important communication is, and if you require relational therapeutic interventions, we would be happy to help. If you are interested in a free consultation, call us today at (619) 375-3977.