When confronted by demands at odds with our best interests, we must ask: Why are we not standing up for ourselves?
Are we saying yes because we agree, or are we trying to prove our worth, unsure of how to assert ourselves (Shaw, 2020)?
There are times when we fail to voice our concerns or state what we want, settling for having our needs ignored.
This article captures some essential questions for reflecting on and measuring assertiveness – your own or your client’s. The answers will help you focus on the techniques and opportunities available for growth and build the skills required for assertive communication.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Resilience Exercises for free. These engaging, science-based exercises will help you effectively deal with difficult circumstances and give you the tools to improve the resilience of your clients, students, or employees.
This Article Contains:
28 Questions to Ask Your Clients
Assertiveness, self-confidence, and self-esteem are crucial factors in wellbeing and offer valuable protection from poor mental health (Gray, 2015; Gallo, 2012).
Before working on assertiveness techniques, we must first understand our needs and current capacity for assertiveness, recognize our strengths and pitfalls, and find the courage to be ourselves. We must begin by (Gallo, 2012):
- Recognizing the environment in which we find ourselves
- Becoming aware of our communication styles – aggressive, passive, or assertive
- Setting clear and realistic goals
- Building authentic relationships, where we are true to ourselves, based on trust
Assertiveness training has proven valuable in education, business, relationships, and mental health (Avşar & Alkaya, 2017; Speed, Goldstein, & Goldfried, 2018).
Ultimately, our goal for communication should be one of balance. While we do not wish to irreparably damage our relationships, we want our needs met.
The following questions and questionnaires help increase self-knowledge regarding how successful we are at using assertiveness and reflect on what we would like to achieve.
Are you assertive?
The first set of questions helps your client to get to know themselves and their assertiveness better (modified from Murphy, 2011).
Ask the client:
- Do you look people straight in the eye when you talk to them?
- Do you speak clearly and address the situation directly?
- Do you speak with confidence or mumble and stumble over your words?
- Do you stand/sit up straight or slouch?
- Are you confident in asking questions when you need clarification?
- Are you comfortable around others?
- Are you able to say no when you don’t want to do something?
- Are you able to express your feelings appropriately?
- Do you offer your opinion when you disagree with something or someone?
- Do you defend yourself when blamed for something that wasn’t your fault?
If the client answers ‘no’ to multiple questions, it is possible that they are having difficulty being assertive and may benefit from assertiveness skills training.
Are you a people pleaser?
People pleasers are valuable in a host of situations, especially within working environments, including (Williams, 2020):
- Maintaining peace under challenging situations and environments
- Transitioning into a new team and role
- Being seen as approachable and trustworthy
- Saying yes to demands in an urgent situation, when others are unwilling to help
However, people pleasing too much can be harmful to the individual and, over time, may damage the progress of or relationship within a team. It can also indicate low self-esteem and the inability to be assertive.
With that in mind, it’s helpful to consider the following questions and reflect on whether and how much someone is people pleasing (Williams, 2020).
Ask the client to consider the following questions and judge if the answer is ‘yes’ too much of the time:
- Are you doing without or compromising your needs and wants?
- Do you sacrifice what you want for others’ needs?
- Does everyone take for granted that you will say yes to whatever is asked of you?
- Do you think people feel entitled to the help you provide them (and possibly become angry when they don’t receive it)?
- Do you feel you only have self-worth when you give others what they need?
- Do you need others to like you and worry about rejection?
- Do you find it difficult to say no to a request even if you don’t want to say yes?
- Do you apologize or accept fault even when you are not responsible?
- Are you accepting the blame as though something was your mistake?
- Are you afraid of others showing their anger and rushing in to appease everyone?
- Are you the ‘giver’ in the hope that others will reciprocate?
- Do you find it difficult to draw the line as you try to avoid hurting the feelings of others?
- Do you feel an internal buildup of frustration and resentment, yet you are still unable to say how you feel?
- Do you find yourself working harder for longer than those around you, turning into someone you barely recognize?
While people pleasing is not an entirely bad thing, compromise and balance on both sides are essential.
If many of your client’s answers are yes to the questions above, why not introduce some assertiveness skills training into the therapy sessions?
Assertiveness, aggression, and passiveness
While being too passive can be unhelpful, reducing your effectiveness and likelihood of having your needs met, aggression can be equally damaging.
Acting with aggression can mean that even if you get what you want, you may damage relationships and prevent future mutually beneficial dealings with other parties (Williams, 2020).
The challenge is to find a happy middle ground, neither too passive nor too aggressive, but assertive.
Having answered the questions above, consider the following to see how you generally approach situations that require you to be clear on your needs:
- Too passive:
When you want to say no or ask for something but don’t, are you left feeling helpless, resentful, anxious, or angry? Do you blame yourself for your ongoing weaknesses?
- Too aggressive:
Are you using violence, shouting, or do you leave people feeling scared or intimidated?
- Too passive–aggressive:
Are you indirectly aggressive, sulking, unapproachable, possibly tricky to work or have a relationship with?
Becoming assertive is the goal. You should encourage your clients to build the tools to help them act in their best interests, stand up for themselves, and tell others how they feel while remaining civil (Williams, 2020).
Once individuals recognize their degree of assertiveness, it is possible to explore the do’s and don’ts of assertiveness and helpful techniques for work and other relationships.
A Helpful Scale & Questionnaire
Several scales and questionnaires measure assertiveness against being overly passive, polite, or aggressive.
Functional Assertiveness Scale
Functional assertiveness is a relatively new idea that includes the concept of “objective effectiveness and pragmatic politeness” and defines the interpersonal communication between parties (Mitamura, 2017).
Importantly, functional assertiveness considers the perspectives of both speaker and listener and is sensitive to social context.
The Functional Assertiveness Scale is a 12-item measure of functional assertiveness and interpersonal phenomena associated with assertiveness. Each of the 12 statements “asks you how satisfied you would be with the results obtained if you were in a certain situation, such as wanting someone to do something or to stop doing something” (Mitamura, 2017, p. 103).
The 12 statements are scored on a five-point scale between one (always disagree) and five (always agree) (Mitamura, 2017, p. 110):
- I can get a teammate or a peer to change their behavior if the person is being disruptive.
- I can get a person to understand my own ideas even if my ideas are different from theirs.
- I can get a person to improve their manners if I feel the person’s manners are not okay.
- I can get a person to adjust their way of dressing if I feel the person’s appearance is not okay.
- I can get a person to understand that they are being unjust if they point out my failures due to a misunderstanding.
- I can get my friends to stop their annoying or troublesome actions.
- I don’t offend a disruptive teammate or a peer when I try to get that person to change their behavior.
- I never make people feel bad when I try to get them to understand my own ideas.
- I don’t needlessly embarrass someone when I try to get that person to improve their manners.
- I cause minimal embarrassment to a person when I try to get that person to change the way they dress.
- I don’t get on a person’s nerves more than necessary when I try to get the person to understand that they are being unjust in pointing out my failures.
- I don’t carelessly insult my friends when I try to get them to stop annoying or troublesome actions.
The last six questions focus on the degree of politeness used while being assertive.
Assertiveness Formative Questionnaire
The Assertiveness Formative Questionnaire forms part of the Assertiveness Assessment Suite used to help students express their needs directly and self-assuredly.
This 20-question measure is scored on a five-point scale between ‘Not very much like me’ to ‘Very like me’ and is available for download (Gaumer Erickson, Noonan, Monroe, & McCall, 2016).
Examples of the statements include:
Express wants, needs, and thoughts
- I stand up to my friends if they are doing something I don’t feel comfortable doing.
- I speak up when someone is not respecting my personal boundaries, like “no cheating off my homework” or “I don’t let friends borrow money.”
- I often have a hard time saying no.
- I express my opinions, even if others disagree with me.
- I am careful to avoid hurting other people’s feelings, even when I feel that I have been wronged.
- I have a hard time controlling my emotions when I disagree with someone.
- I avoid attacking someone’s intelligence when I disagree with their ideas.
- I listen to other people’s opinions, even if I disagree with them.
Top 2 Evidence-Based Quizzes
Answering questions based on past and expected behavior can be a valuable way to learn more about ourselves and reflect on our degree of assertiveness.
Here are two of our favorites:
How assertive am I?
The University of Oxford (2015) offers an evidence-based set of 10 questions based on real-world scenarios:
- You are at McDonald’s and order a chicken legend burger with mayonnaise, but they give you one with salsa.
- Accept it since you sort of like salsa anyway.
- Angrily refuse the burger and insist on seeing the manager to complain about the poor service.
- Call the waiter and indicate you ordered your burger with mayonnaise.
- You are a customer waiting in line to be served. Suddenly, someone steps in line ahead of you.
- Let the person be ahead of you since they are already in line.
- Pull the person out of line and make them go to the back.
- Indicate to the person that you are in line and point out where it begins.
- After walking out of a store where you purchased some items, you discover you were short-changed.
- Let it go since you are already out of the store and the store clerk looked busy.
- Go to the manager and indicate how you were cheated by the clerk, then demand the proper change.
- Return to the clerk and inform them of the error.
Discover your communication style
The Utah Education Network (n.d.) provides a downloadable quiz to help you understand your current communication style.
Examples of the 13 questions include:
- Which statement do you most agree with?
Everyone should be like me.
Don’t make waves.
I have rights and so do others.
- Is a common characteristic of you:
Open, flexible, versatile
- In a confrontation:
Do you feel that you must win arguments, and do you threaten or attack?
Are you one who avoids, ignores, leaves, postpones, and agrees externally, while disagreeing internally?
Are you one who negotiates, bargains, trades off, compromises, and doesn’t let negative feelings build up?
The answers provide insight into whether you are aggressive, passive, or assertive before exploring personal examples and considering how to improve your communication style.
We have many worksheets, tools, and other resources that guide and promote the development of an assertive communication style. Some of these are from our Positive Psychology Toolkit, which contains a collection of over 370 exercises, questionnaires, guides, and other helpful resources for the positive psychology community.
- Use the Knowing When to Speak Up worksheet to understand if this is the right time to speak up about something or not.
- The Replace Unhelpful Thoughts for Assertiveness worksheet helps identify and replace problematic thoughts that cause you to agree to something when you would like to say no.
- Try out the Finding Your Assertiveness Balance worksheet to help you respect yourself and find an appropriate approach to your assertiveness communication style that avoids aggression.
- The three-part approach laid out in the Assertive Formula worksheet helps you form a direct and clear statement around the point you would like to make.
- Self-esteem is crucial to assertiveness. Try the Exploring Domains of Self-Worth worksheet to understand the domains that influence your sense of worth.
- Give the Setting Boundaries in Difficult Conversations worksheet a try to understand and remain true to your boundaries and protect your emotional, bodily, mental, and spiritual rights.
- Use the Building Self-Efficacy by Taking Small Steps worksheet to understand how behavioral change, broken down into small steps, can positively change how we think.
- If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others communicate better, check out this collection of 17 validated positive communication tools for practitioners. Use them to help others improve their communication skills and form deeper and more positive relationships.
A Take-Home Message
When we spend too much time pleasing others and ignoring our own needs, it can indicate a lack of assertiveness. While it is essential to let others have their say, our own views and needs deserve to be heard, considered, and, when possible, met.
Failing to practice assertiveness can mean that others take advantage. People may come to you because they know you won’t say no even when the request is unreasonable, and they will not need to compromise (Williams, 2020).
Respect works in both directions.
Assertiveness techniques can help you share your opinion and ask for what you want without resorting to aggression or remaining passive and resentful. Direct and assertive communication provides the best opportunity for a balanced and fair outcome based on openness and shared compromise.
Through understanding your own, or your clients’, assertiveness style, it is possible to begin using tools and techniques to develop a “communication style that encourages straightforward expression” without hostility (Mitamura, 2017, p. 99).
And through self-knowledge and preparedness, there is potential to ask for what you deserve while handling the request sensitively.
Why not try out some of the questions, questionnaires, and quizzes in this article to increase your clients’ awareness of their communication styles? Then explore the assertiveness techniques we offer to develop strategies that provide a more effective, balanced, assertive approach to relationships.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Resilience Exercises for free.
- Avşar, F., & Alkaya, S. A. (2017). The effectiveness of assertiveness training for school-aged children on bullying and assertiveness level. Journal of Pediatric Nursing, 36, 186–190.
- Gallo, A. (2012). How to be assertive (without losing yourself). Harvard Business Review. Retrieved July 28, 2021, from https://hbr.org/2012/08/how-to-be-assertive-without-lo
- Gray, E. (2015, March 17). How to be more assertive. The British CBT & Counselling Service. Retrieved August 16, 2021, from https://www.thebritishcbtcounsellingservice.com/how-to-be-more-assertive-part-1/
- Gaumer Erickson, A. S., Noonan, P. M., Monroe, K., & McCall, Z. (2016). Assertiveness formative questionnaire. In P. Noonan & A. Gaumer Erickson (Eds.), The skills that matter: Teaching interpersonal and intrapersonal competencies in any classroom (p. 181–182). Corwin.
- University of Oxford. (2015). How assertive am I? Retrieved July 28, 2021, from http://www.compasstoolkit.ox.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Assertiveness-Quiz-Tips-Individual-Activity.pdf
- Mitamura, T. (2017). Developing the functional assertiveness scale: Measuring dimensions of objective effectiveness and pragmatic politeness. Japanese Psychological Research, 60(2), 99–110.
- Murphy, J. (2011). Assertiveness: How to stand up for yourself and still win the respect of others. Author.
- Shaw, G. (2020). Alpha assertiveness guide for men and women: The workbook for training assertive behavior and communication skills to live bold, command respect and gain confidence at work and in relationships. Communication Excellence.
- Speed, B. C., Goldstein, B. L., & Goldfried, M. R. (2018). Assertiveness training: A forgotten evidence-based treatment. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 25(1).
- Utah Education Network. (n.d.) Which style are you? Retrieved July 28, 2021, from https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwiStdnr04XyAhUoSxUIHQ3NCz44ChAWMAB6BAgHEAM&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.uen.org%2Flessonplan%2Fdownload%2F36020%3FlessonId%3D28910%26segmentTypeId%3D2&usg=AOvVaw2BMpAxrO4Oy8qv4GhFkdDU
- Williams, J. W. (2020). Assertiveness training: Stop people pleasing, feeling guilty, and caring for what others think. Author.