How to be More Assertive – Assertion Messages


Being assertive can help you change behaviours which are intruding on or upsetting you, but sometimes this way of being can be misinterpreted.

Use these Assertion Messages to help people understand what you’d like them to do and why.

Learn the 3 key components of Assertion Messages in this clip from a recent Great Managers MasterClass and instantly become more Assertive as a leader.

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How to be More Assertive using Assertion Messages

Robert Bolton - People Skills and being Assertive

The Assertion Message was developed by Robert Bolton, and his book People Skills is being reprinted over and over. It was first printed in 1988, and it’s been reprinted numerous times up until 2005.

It’s a very thorough communication skills reference. Bolton says that the goal of an Assertion Message is to change the behaviour which is intruding on us or upsetting us.

The assertion message contains three important components:

    1. A non-judgemental description of the behaviour to be changed
    2. How you’re feeling using an I-statement.
    3. The impact or effect of other person’s behaviour

It sounds like this:

  1. “When you” and you describe the behaviour.
  2. “I feel” and you describe your feeling (I-Statement).
  3. And then you say, “Because...” and you describe the impact or consequences on you.

Here’s a more detailed example in response to a team member arriving to a meeting late.Being Assertive

When you arrive late to our team meetings…
I feel frustrated and annoyed…
Because I need to repeat key points for your benefit, which wastes mine, and other people’s valuable time.”

There are other important factors in Assertion Messages to be mindful of.

These are things like:

  • Your intention.
  • A consideration of the words and tone you use and your body language, which needs to be composed and confident.
  • Your preparedness to listen to the needs of others.

Here’s another Assertion Message in response to someone who is submitting reports late:

“When you submit unchecked, incomplete reports right at the deadline, I feel really angry because it’s your responsibility to check your work, and when you haven’t I then need to stay back late to correct the report, which not only impacts me but my family as well.”

That’s quite a strong message, but if that’s appropriate for the situation that’s what needs to be said, in a skilful way.

i statementI-Statements

I-Statements are an important component of Assertiveness, they’re an excellent tool to help you communicate what you need.

You use an I-Statement when you need to let the other person know you’re feeling strongly about the issue.

Now your I-Statement is not about being polite, but it’s not about being rude either. It’s about being clear and taking ownership of your experience.

An I-Statement tends to start with these words: I want, I need, or I feel.

What NOT to do

Let’s have a look at an example of what not to do.

I statement Assertive

If someone is submitting reports late, it’s very easy to get angry and you might say something like,

“…You’re always late with your reports, and you never check them before submitting them. You have no idea how much this impacts on me…..”

But once we’ve said those words, once they’re out of our mouth, this is likely to escalate the situation quite quickly.

Here’s how you could use an I-Statement instead:

“…Frank, I need you to submit your reports on time, and I want you to have checked them thoroughly before submitting them. Do I have your commitment to doing this in the future?….”

Because you’re much more likely to get a commitment to behaviour change through this style of communication, plus you’ll feel more Assertive and in control.

great managers masterclass

Next Steps

If you would like to learn practical steps to become more Assertive as a leader, you can view the full-length lesson on How to be More Assertive in our Great Managers MasterClass. For a limited time, you can subscribe to our MasterClass for free. Click here for more info.

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