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Stick up for yourself! Being assertive

assertive; assertiveness; rights; responsibilities; choices; decisions; conflict; resolving; resolution; aggression; communication; negotiation;


Being assertive

Being assertive (say ass-er-tiv) is about letting others know how you feel and what you want. It's about letting people know your real thoughts and opinions, and being clear about what you want to do.

stick-up for yourselfSometimes people confuse assertiveness with aggression (say ag-re-shun). Aggression is more about the tantrum stuff - trying to make people listen to you, or do what you want without thinking about their rights. It's a type of bullying.

When you are assertive, you still need to remember to listen well to what others are saying. You have a responsibility to respect the rights of others. 

What are your rights?

Everyone has the right to:

  • feel safe
  • have opinions and be able to express them freely
  • ask for what they want
  • make mistakes and have a chance to try again
  • bullyinghave successes
  • be themselves
  • do things their own way
  • private space and time
  • a fair go
  • change their mind
  • choose whether they want to help others
  • have their own ideas and dreams
  • make decisions and choices
  • say no without feeling guilty or selfish.

When someone is unkind to you

stick-up for yourself
It doesn't matter how nice you are to others or how good you usually feel about yourself, you are going to come across people who are mean, nasty and aggressive at some time.

You can't do anything about how these people behave, but you can do something about how you react to their unkindness.

1. Put downs
You don't have to believe what they are saying, so don't let them succeed in upsetting you.

put downStop the putdown as soon as possible by:

  • being assertive and letting the person know that she is being unkind and you won't listen.
  • walking away.

You may choose to talk about the problem with that person later when you have both had time to think.

2. Criticism
Criticism (say krit-i-siz-m) doesn't have to be bad. It can be really helpful and give you ideas on how to improve something.

critisingIf you are criticising someone, make sure that what you are saying is:

  • clearly understood
  • what you like as well as what you don't like
  • said in a quiet, calm voice
  • not dragging in other things that have happened in the past
  • not using bad language
  • not calling anyone names
  • clear about the person's behaviour, eg. "I don't like it when you behave like that" rather than "I don't like you."

If you are being criticised, you can be assertive about the criticism if you:

  • self esteemface the criticism rather than trying to avoid it
  • listen to what is being said without 'fighting back' or interrupting
  • don't take it to heart if that person seems to be attacking you rather than your behaviour
  • are calm, and you quietly say that you are listening to what they are saying
  • repeat what they have said in your own words and ask if that is what they meant
  • thank the person for their constructive criticism (if what they say is to help you).

Don't be afraid of constructive criticism, which can help you - but walk away from destructive criticism that is meant to hurt you.

If someone is shouting at or abusing you, then walk away. You might say something like, "I'm willing to listen if you can talk in a quiet voice. Maybe we could make a time when you're not so upset?"

Constructive criticism can help you and the person who is criticising work out your difficulties and learn from them.

Becoming assertive

Becoming assertive is not just about dealing with negative stuff, it's also a state of mind.

  • Choosing to be assertive is making your life more positive.
  • You see everything as a chance to improve and to take control of your own life.
  • You see resolving conflict with others as a way of improving relationships.
  • You become more confident in your ability to achieve what you want.
  • Your confidence means that you are less likely to be the target of aggression and bullying.
  • You are less likely to be led into making bad choices.
  • You are able to say 'no' to behaviours which can cause harm to yourself and others, eg drugs, criminal behaviours.



Learning the arts of negotiation can be very helpful in working through disagreements.

  1. Keep calm - talk quietly
  2. Stick to facts
  3. Respect each other’s right to be heard without interrupting.
  4. Say in your own words what you have understood the other person to say.
  5. Say what you agree and disagree with.
  6. Be prepared to compromise - go for a win-win result.

Our topic on Conflict resolution may be helpful.

Dr Kate says:

Dr Kate
Assertive people care about themselves and about others. They feel confident enough to take risks, make mistakes and learn from them. They are people who will be kind and honest friends. You know that you can rely on them to keep their word. And aren't those the sort of things you would like someone to be saying about you?"

The following site may have some helpful ideas if you or your friend are being bullied. It is a website that has been developed by the Australian Government to support children who are being bullied and to help bullies to stop hurting other people. 

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We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.


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