Assertiveness training can improve your relationships and mental well-being.

Ever feel too shy to speak up in meetings, tell the waiter he got your order wrong, or address a bothersome issue with your partner? If this sounds familiar, you might benefit from assertiveness training.

As the name suggests, assertiveness training helps you become more assertive. Assertiveness is your ability to express yourself and address issues without disrespecting yourself or others. Being more assertive can help you assert your needs without damaging relationships.

Many people want to avoid conflict. This can lead you to avoid confrontation — even when it’s necessary. A lack of assertiveness can impact your mental health and damage your relationships.

Assertiveness training could help you learn to stand up for yourself and improve your social skills, which can benefit your relationships, work performance, and overall well-being.

Assertiveness training teaches you the importance of assertiveness as well as practical skills for communicating more assertively.

Assertiveness training can help you:

  • express your needs clearly without hurting others
  • communicate respectfully without compromising on self-respect
  • feel less anxious when asserting your needs or views
  • assert and preserve your boundaries
  • deal with rejection and criticism in a healthy, constructive way
  • feel confident in social situations

According to a 2017 review, assertiveness training typically involves behavioral skills training and cognitive restructuring training.

So, while cognitive restructuring training helps you understand and address why you feel uncomfortable, shy, or afraid to assert yourself, behavioral skills training teaches you how to respectfully and effectively communicate with confidence.

In assertiveness training, you might learn to address feelings of inadequacy and anxiety that fuel your drive to avoid confrontation. You might also learn practical skills like:

  • having more confident body language
  • engaging in positive self-talk
  • using “I…” statements to assert your wants and needs
  • pausing before reacting to others
  • listening actively
  • drafting scripts for addressing difficult situations

Does assertiveness training work?

Assertiveness training can yield positive results for your mental health, self-esteem, and relationship satisfaction, according to research.

Studies on assertiveness training for high school students have suggested that assertiveness training could improve self-esteem and social efficacy in bullied students, as well as reduce symptoms of depression.

It might also improve your work performance. In a 2020 study, 36 new psychiatric nurses underwent an assertiveness training program.

The nurses who did assertiveness training not only improved their assertiveness skills, but also experienced better psychological well-being and were more engaged with their work when compared to a control group.

If you’re interested in becoming more assertive, there are a number of assertiveness training exercises that you can try.

Improve your self-talk

Self-talk is the story you tell yourself about yourself. It’s how you perceive yourself.

Many people engage in negative self-talk. For example, you might be overly self-critical. focusing on your mistakes and ignoring your strengths. You might be nasty to your “past self” when cringe-worthy Facebook memories pop up. You might dwell on embarrassing moments and mistakes you regret, telling yourself you’re worthless or foolish.

Engaging in negative self-talk can make it harder to feel confident when you need to assert yourself. The research suggests that positive self-talk can improve your mood, productivity levels, and self-respect.

You can improve your self-talk by:

  1. Try to be more aware of your thoughts: It may help to try journaling to become more aware of your thoughts and what’s on your mind.
  2. Identify your negative thoughts: For example, you might think, “I’m terrible at board meetings: I’m so awkward and I always say the wrong thing.”
  3. Challenge your thoughts: For example, you might think about all the board meetings you’ve had that went well. Remember how you felt and how people responded to you.
  4. Replace your negativity with a positive sentence: For example, you might tell yourself, “I do well in meetings because I’m an engaging speaker and a good listener.”

Positive self-talk gets easier with practice. You can practice this skill by thinking about a negative story you often tell yourself — perhaps it’s that nobody listens to you or that you’re not interesting or funny enough — and replacing it with a positive thought.

Use confident body language

Your nonverbal communication skills, which includes your body language, can help you feel and look more confident. Although nonverbal skills don’t come naturally to everyone, they can be practiced.

Confident body language can include:

  • maintaining good posture
  • making eye contact if you feel comfortable doing so
  • facing the speaker when you’re listening to them
  • using friendly or neutral facial expressions
  • using confident, intentional gestures

Your body language — and the way you interpret others’ body language — can be affected by factors like culture and biology. It’s important to take context into account. If you’re not sure how to interpret someone’s gestures, you can ask, “How do you feel about that?” or “What are your thoughts?”

Communicate succinctly

When people feel shy or unconfident, they tend to avoid clearly stating what they want or need. They might beat around the bush instead of being straightforward. This can leave room for misinterpretation — and it makes you sound less confident in your boundaries and requests.

Try to be succinct, honest, and clear in your communications. For example:

  • Instead of saying, “There’s this thing tonight if you want to come. Not sure if you’re keen,” say, “I’m going to this concert tonight. If you can make it, I’d love for you to join me!”
  • Instead of saying, “I probably won’t get around to sending those emails,” say, “Can you send the emails we discussed earlier? My workload is unfortunately full. Thank you!”
  • Instead of saying, “I generally have things to do on Fridays,” say, “Sorry, I can’t babysit on Friday — I have other commitments.”

You can be polite and compassionate while still being succinct. Keeping your answers precise and clear helps to avoid miscommunication and ambiguity so that the listener understands what you mean.

The three Cs of assertive communication are confidence, clarity, and control.

Effective, assertive communication is:

  • Confident. You’re comfortable in asserting yourself, even if you’re not sure how the other person will react.
  • Clear. You’ll express your needs in a forthcoming, succinct, and honest way.
  • Controlled. Instead of being emotionally reactive and losing your temper, you’ll be calm and intentional with your thoughts, words, and body language.

These principles are helpful to keep in mind when communicating.

It can be difficult to differentiate assertiveness from aggression, regardless of whether you’re on the giving or receiving end. Learning the difference can help you communicate more effectively, avoid needless conflict, and take criticism more easily.

Here are some of the differences between aggression and assertiveness:

  • Aggression is emotionally charged. Assertiveness comes from a place of calm and rationality instead of working from anger, hurt, or resentment.
  • Aggression is hostile, but assertiveness can be friendly or neutral.
  • Aggression causes or aggravates conflict, while assertiveness addresses and resolves conflict.
  • Aggression can involve being disrespectful or intimidating, while assertiveness is about expressing yourself while being respectful and considerate of others.
  • Aggression can be mean-spirited, while assertiveness can be done with kindness and compassion.

Assertiveness training can improve your relationships, your work life, and your mental well-being. By learning to be more assertive, you can become more confident and effective at communicating with others.

If you’d like to become more assertive, consider looking for a therapist or coach with experience in helping their clients improve assertiveness and confidence.