Business woman looking ahead with quiet determination on her face. Title graphic for Assertiveness for High Achievers

The Foundation of Assertiveness - Believing that You Matter

Confidence in Action = Assertiveness

 The foundation of assertiveness begins inside of your mind. It’s difficult for you to stand up for your needs if you don’t believe you have the right to have needs in the first place. This is the reason that increasing our confidence (internal emotional) helps us to increase our assertiveness (behavior).  The necessary emotional component is the belief that you matter. Your time matters, your preference matters, your feelings matter. If you believe that other people are truly more important than you, there will be no strength behind your attempts to be assertive. You won’t believe it, and neither will they. So if this concept feels overwhelming, keep working on your confidence and the assertiveness will gradually flow from that.


Image of person crossing out the word yes and writing the word no.

You Don't Have to be Aggressive to be Assertive

I often hear this concern –  “but I don’t want to be mean.” First, the statement shows confusion over being assertive versus being aggressive. To be assertive is to act on your own behalf while caring about the others involved. To be aggressive is to intentionally hurt others. Second, I’ve learned that the statement about being mean reflects more than the fear of being mean. It shows concern about the vulnerability of using one’s voice. “What will happen if I stand up for myself?” “What will happen if I say what I want?” Some people have been taught that their voices do not matter or that their opinion is bad. For these people, standing in their truth is a huge act of courage. In this area, counseling can be life-changing in order for people to gain confidence and control over their lives.

Common Misassumptions about Assertiveness

MYTH: Assertiveness is the same as aggressiveness.

FACT: Assertiveness is simply respecting yourself, your rights, your voice. Aggressiveness is an intention to hurt others.

MYTH: Assertiveness will break relationships.

FACT: Assertiveness is an art and a skill of protecting your needs without infringing on others’ needs. Assertiveness prevents resentment. Reducing resentment prevents the emotional build-up that usually results in edginess or blow-ups.

MYTH: You can achieve your goals without being assertive.

FACT: Assertiveness protects the time, emotion and energy that are necessary for optimal achievement.

Assertiveness Helps Us to Be Effective Leaders

We prioritize more effectively because we are not pacifying others.
We save time by drawing boundaries around interruptions or others’ bad behavior.
Assertiveness shows strength and confidence as a leader.
Assertiveness helps us to be kind because we do not build up resentment.
Assertiveness protects us from the emotional drain of others’ negativity.

Strategies and Tactics to Increase Assertiveness

Don't Over-Explain

It comes across as you feeling that you need to justify your boundaries. Over-explaining conveys ambiguity and weakens your position. The underlying cause of over-explaining is the need for others to approve of your decision. If it feels awkward to offer no explanation, use “because” with a non-specific explanation. “I am not able to do that because it doesn’t fit with my priorities.”

If Someone Offends You, Take Time to Respond

When people are learning to be assertive, they often “freeze” when they are shocked or offended. It’s okay to go back a day or two later, and say “I was really confused when you said…..can you help me understand…” The fact that you are revisiting the issue is enough to let the other person know that you are not easily “walked on.’

Brain-Storm One-Liners

Pick about 3 one-liners that will work across a variety of situations. Check out the list on the slider at the bottom of the page. A lot of people take one of these suggestions and tweak the wording so that it fits their personality. It is helpful to have a very gracious one-liner as well as one with a harder edge.


Be Aware of the Precedents You Set

Train people behaviorally on how you want them to respect you and your time. Examples: From the beginning, end conversations on time. Do not be available all the time unless you want others to expect that from you. “I’ll check my calendar and get back to you” teaches people that you are not the default crisis-response person. If you don’t want the phone to ring after 8pm, stop answering it until others learn to call earlier.


Reset Bad Precedents

If you have already taught people to take advantage of you, give them a heads-up about the change. “I need to re-prioritize my use of time in order achieve some important goals. I want to let you know that I will begin _____. I will no longer be able to ______.” Be consistent with the change; otherwise, you will train them not to take your word seriously.


Use Non Verbal Cues

Necessary non-verbals to convey confidence = head up, arms at your sides, eye contact. If you need to show power, take up more physical space.

Make sure that you do not smile when you set boundaries. Don’t worry about looking mean–just maintain a sincere, neutral expression. Smiling sends a message that you are not serious about the boundary you are setting.


When People Don’t Listen to Your “No.”

You can perfect your assertiveness, and you will occasionally encounter people who are too selfish or too socially inept to respect your boundaries. My personal rule of thumb is that I give people three chances. My voice becomes increasingly firm when I have to repeat myself the second and third time. Feel free to walk away if you can.


Assertiveness One-Liners to Help You in the Moment

Most people struggle with knowing exactly what to say in the moment. This is especially true if someone is being rude in a way that takes your breath away…or if you simply don’t have practice in knowing how to be kind to yourself and others.

Having some one-liners at your disposal helps you to set a boundary in the moment without having to think about it. Practice them in front of the mirror so they feel natural, even if you are nervous in the moment. Feel free to alter them to find the words that feel best for you. 

If you are brand new to using your voice, something as “small” as learning to pause before instantly agreeing is a win. So take it easy on yourself when you fumble because you will get better with practice.

Sample Assertive Statements

I would love to, but that doesn’t work for me.

I can’t help you with _____ , but what I can do is _______.

I’m sorry; my schedule is booked.

I don’t want to say yes and then end up resenting you.


I can’t help you, but I’m flattered that you thought of me. I hope you can find someone.

That’s on my list of 10 things I promised I would never do again.

That doesn’t work for me.

I have other items that are competing for my attention right now.

I’m allergic.

I’m not hungry.

No, thanks. It looks fabulous. You did a great job.

No thank you.

I just don’t want it.

I’m not comfortable discussing that.

I’ve already allocated my resources elsewhere.

I have another appointment.

I’m unable to donate, but it sounds like a great organization.

I already have something that works perfectly for me.

I’ll let you know if I need you.

I’m not comfortable with that.

It’s not the way I roll.

I have other plans.

It doesn’t fit in with my long-term goals.

I may be able to help, but it will be another 2 months before I have the time available.



Respect yourself and others will respect you. Disrespect yourself, and they will do the same.