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Assertive Communication

Do you find it hard to communicate in a calm, adult way when someone pushes your buttons?
When there is stress or tension in a relationship, most of us resort to a habitual communication style that tends to be either passive or aggressive - which of these do you tend to be?
Passive and aggressive communication look different on the surface, but are both ways we react from a child ego state, rather than our adult self. Instead of helping to resolve the issue, this keeps us stuck in unhelpful patterns.
There is a more empowering alternative – learning to be assertive. Assertiveness is a skill designed to help you embrace and express who you are without being destructive to others.


It's important to understand that what happens for most of us when negative feelings come up in a relationship is that we focus on trying to work out who’s right and who’s wrong.

This leads us to either (a) blame ourself by judging, criticizing or doubting ourself or (b) blame, judge or criticize the other person. Sometimes we go back and forth between these two.
A different way to look at it is that negative feelings - such as anger, fear, jealousy or hurt – are not about who is right or wrong, but tell us something about ourselves and our own needs, wants and values.

Most of us could learn to become better interpreters of our own feelings. But even then, when we are clear about how we feel and where we stand, expressing our feelings in a constructive way can be very challenging.

Many of us find we communicate differently in certain situations or with some people. For example, we can be assertive or aggressive at work, but avoid any conflict in personal relationships. Or our family tells us we're too aggressive, but our boss tells us to be less passive.

Try the quiz below to get a better sense of your current style.


If you scored more odd numbers, you tend to be passive in your communication, while if you scored more even numbers, you tend to be more aggressive in your communication.
What does this look like in practice and what's really going on?
When we communicate passively, we avoid expressing our feelings and needs. In situations that might evoke anger or some other response, we stay silent, or become tearful, self-critical, hurt or guilty. We tend to withdraw and distance ourselves, or become vague and questioning of ourselves.
What we are trying to do when we communicate passively is to avoid confrontation or conflict, or even displeasing others. We may fear that too much clarity or self-assertion could make others uncomfortable and expose differences between us. Too much separateness feels frightening, and we don’t trust we can stand our ground, so it’s safer to be vague and conciliatory.

When we communicate aggressively, by contrast, we attempt to express our true feelings but can end up in ineffective fighting, venting and lashing out at others. A part of us feels that others are to blame for our feelings, but when we express ourselves from this perspective, others hear criticism and invest their energy in self-defense of counter-attack. Even if the other person has done wrong, by consistently making them feel bad we damage the relationship – we may win the battle, but lose the war.

In passive communication, we strive to be ‘nice’, easy-going and accommodating, but at the expense of our self-esteem, self-confidence and self-direction. Through aggressive communication we may get us some of the things we want in life, our hurt feelings beneath the surface often remain unseen and unattended to. And we may later have to deal with the fallout of harsh words and damage our relationships.

More odd numbers:

Passive communication style

Tendency to judge and blame self  - feel bad about self. ‘I’m not ok - You’re ok’  

  • Compliant, ‘people-pleasing’
  • Emotional distancing - silence, withdrawal
  • Softly spoken, mumbling or apologetic
  • Needless / wantless
  • Vague
  • Wary, watchful of self

Tends towards being self-critical, self-blaming, under-functioning

More even numbers:

Aggressive communication style

Tendency to judge and blame other person – feel annoyed with others. ‘I’m ok – You’re not ok’ 

  • Critical, blaming
  • ‘You made me feel …’
  • Ineffective fighting
  • Venting feelings, lashing out
  • ‘High standards’, demanding
  • Overbearing, opinionated

Tends towards being perfectionist, overly-critical, over-functioning



Learning to deal with negative feelings in relationship neither passively nor aggressively, but instead more assertively, is a skill that takes practice. The first step in becoming more assertive is learning to notice when you've been triggered and STOP - instead of reacting immediately, take a moment to reflect on what you're feeling and why.

In this way, learning to be assertive goes hand in hand with developing a clearer sense of who you are and what matters to you. Whether you choose then to address the problem directly with the other person involved or not, you will have gained something through the experience.


  1. Become a better interpreter of your feelings and understand yourself better
  2. Learn new communication and relationship skills that break the habit of passive or aggressive communication, including how to identify relationship patterns and deal with countermoves from others
  3. Work through and resolve the issues that commonly trigger your negative feelings
  4. Feel better about yourself and build your self-esteem 

The Technique is a practical skill that will help you to learn to STOP in your everyday life. Like meditation, the Technique quietens your nervous system so that you are less reactive to your thoughts, feelings and impulses. In a calmer state, you are able to choose how and when to respond, rather than simply reacting in a habitual way.

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