The boss’ face is red with rage as he screams obscenities at his subordinate. The boss yells words he will later regret. The subordinate focuses on breathing deeply and staying calm as he watches his boss spin out of emotional control. In the face of his boss’ fury, the subordinate remains ...The boss’ face is red with rage as he screams obscenities at his subordinate. The boss yells words he will later regret. The subordinate focuses on breathing deeply and staying calm as he watches his boss spin out of emotional control. In the face of his boss’ fury, the subordinate remains composed and, thus, is able to think clearly. When the manager finishes his tirade, the 25-year-old subordinate asserts himself, ‘I understand you are upset. It frustrates me when you yell at me. I need you to speak to me in a calm tone of voice.’

Assertiveness is the courage to do the right thing, at the right time, in the right manner, despite a known risk of negative consequences. Assertiveness basically comes down to courage – the courage to do what you know is right, in your heart, despite the possibility of negative consequences.

Assertiveness exists on a continuum between the poles of docile and aggressive. Think of assertiveness as a matter of degree; it exists on a 1 through 10 scale where 1 is meek and 10 is overly aggressive. For most people, assertiveness varies according to the situation. For example, the hard-nosed, results-driven executive may be highly assertive at work, yet be quite meek when it comes to dealing with his wife and teenage daughter at home. So assertiveness is environment-specific. Usually, your degree of assertiveness is couched within a role that you play – parent, spouse, boss, friend, and so on.

The goal is to learn how to be appropriately assertive without being a bully. While difficult, it is possible with practice and awareness.

Stop Being a Wimp

Most people are wimps, at least to some degree, in some situation. Wimps are people who cannot or will not say ‘No’ mainly out of fear.

You may be a ubiquitous wimp which means that you are wimpy in every situation, with everyone. Or you may be a situation-specific wimp. These wimps can be a tyrant at work and a pushover at home, forceful with strangers yet completely spineless with friends. Wimpiness can vary according to the situation. Many wimps feel more comfortable being assertive in some areas of their life than others. Please understand that I use the term ‘wimp’ with respect and understanding. I work on my own assertiveness continuously.

Understand that being a wimp works pretty well in the short run because you don’t risk upsetting anyone. You just let others have their way and no one’s knickers get in a knot. However, in the long run, your anger and disappointment get buried deep inside you. As you try to stuff more and more anger inside your emotional gas tank, the tank eventually overflows resulting in irritation, or even outbursts of rage as well as passive-aggressive behavior. You get angry at the wrong people, people who don’t deserve your wrath. Holding your emotions inside can also lead to physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, high blood pressure, stroke, and even heart attacks. In short, wimpiness is bad for you and destructive to your health and happiness. For a meaningful, happy and healthy life, you must learn to be appropriately assertive.

So what can you do? How do you stop being a wimp and start being assertive?

Identify Your Top Values

First, identify those values that are most important to you. The purpose for identifying your deepest values is to give you some guidance during difficult or confusing times. When your values are clear, it’s much easier to decide upon a course of action and act with confidence. Your values will be the foundation of your new assertiveness.

Ask yourself the following questions…

What do I value? With what degree of certainty?

Which values am I willing to publicly declare?

What values am I willing to die for?

Once you’ve identified your values, then you must figure out how consistent your words are with your feelings, thoughts and actions.

The more authentic you are, the greater your quality of life is. Authenticity means that your values are consistent with your words, feelings and actions. The greater the consistency between your internal world and your external world, the more authenticity you have. Values guide the whole thing, your whole life. Values give you a decision-making framework. Values are most important when you are under duress. Values are critical when you are stressed out, depressed or tired.

However, in order for them to be any use to you at all, you have to know your top 5 values by rote. They have to be automatic, unconscious, repeated over and over until they are known by heart. It’s not enough to look at them once or twice a year. Infrequent value visits are not enough to sear them into your long-term memory. To get you started, a list of the top values that exist throughout the world is available free of charge at Guide To Self

Figure Out How You Want Others to Treat You

If you want other people to treat you differently, you need to know how you want to be treated. Do you want your wife to stop yelling at you? Do you want more respect from your husband? Do you want your boss to speak to you in an indoor tone of voice? Do you want your children to help pick up the house?

Figure out exactly how you want other people in your life to treat you. Look at what is making you angry or irritated throughout the day. Make a mental note of each thing. Then figure out what you’d like to change in each relationship in your life. In which areas of your life is there injustice? What are you tolerating? What are you putting up with? As you unearth the answers to these questions, the priorities for assertive action will automatically unfold.

Ask for What You Want

After you have figured out how you want to be treated, then ask for it. This step takes courage, yet it gets easier the more frequently you do it. And it’s not as hard as you believe it is. You must learn to express yourself, the real you; what you truly want; how you truly feel, if you want to be treated with more respect. When you learn to state how you feel and what you want, your whole life will begin to change for the better.

When you are asking for what you want, be as specific as possible. Keep it as short as possible and hold that thought in your mind, that way you can hold onto it even in the midst of an emotionally-charged conversation.

To stop being a wimp, act with courage. It may feel awkward at first. Every new behavior feels a little strange at first. Most new behaviors take roughly 4 weeks to take hold. After four weeks, your authentic communication of your thoughts, feelings and needs will fit like a glove and you’ll be wondering why you hadn’t done it sooner.

Practice Saying ‘No’

Many of us have gotten in a dangerous habit of saying ‘Yes’ to everyone and everything. However, it’s merely a bad habit which can be changed. If you have trouble with saying ‘No,’ if that is too uncomfortable, simply use the phrase, ‘I’ll think about it.’ This is merely a temporary stop-gap. It buys you time. Using the phrase ‘I’ll think about it’ will hold off the other party for a time, but it raises your anxiety because you are only delaying giving a final answer. So realize that the ultimate goal is to be able to say ‘No’ with a clear conscience. You have a right to say ‘No’ to any request that comes your way. You have an obligation to take care of yourself first and foremost.

Learn to Love Change

The next step in becoming more assertive is to learn to love change. As you begin to live by your values and become more assertive, your relationships will change. You are going to make some changes to your life and the way in which you interact with other people. In addition, the only unchanging thing in this life is the fact that change will be constant. The best you can do is learn to love change.

Identify What Makes You Afraid – And Go After It

Many of us wimps have created massive fears over what will happen when we finally say ‘No.’ We get into catastrophic, all-or-nothing negative thinking.

Most often, these are irrational fears that have been blown up to monstrous proportions. Odds are that none of these things will actually happen if you stand up and rightly assert yourself. Remember to challenge your fears and your negative thoughts. Often, thoughts and feelings do not tell the truth. It is important to challenge negative thoughts. Don’t let them go by without speaking back to them. Check them against reality. Check your thoughts out with other people. Find out what people you trust have to say about the matter.

Please realize that assertiveness is NOT the same as aggressiveness. You don’t have to be rude or impolite to be assertive. You don’t have to attack someone to let them know of your thoughts and your feelings. You have the right to stand up for your rights. You have the right to say ‘No’ and to take proper care of yourself. You have the right to stand up and ask for what you want and need. The worst that can happen is that they say ‘No. You can’t have that.’

In any case, you need to know what makes your life worth living. And then stand up for what you value.

Ask for it.

Demand it.

Fight for it.

You deserve it.


In closing, keep in mind that assertiveness requires some courage. Courage only exists when you feel some degree of fear. The act of overcoming your fear is known as courage.

Assertiveness is the courage to do the right thing, at the right time, in the right manner despite possible adverse consequences.

Think of assertiveness on a 1 to 10 scale where 1 is meek and 10 is overly aggressive. Assertiveness usually varies by situation. It is environment-specific.

The ultimate goal is to learn how to be properly assertive without using intimidation to get what you want.

Author's Bio: 

John Schinnerer, Ph.D. is in private practice helping clients learn anger management, stress management and the latest ways to deal with destructive negative emotions. He also helps guys discover happier, more meaningful lives via positive psychology. His offices are in Danville, California 94526. He graduated from U.C. Berkeley with a Ph.D. in educational psychology. He has been an executive, speaker and anger management coach for over 18 years. John is Founder of Guide To Self, a company that coaches men to happiness and success using the latest in positive psychology. He hosted over 200 episodes of Guide To Self Radio, a daily prime time radio show, in the SF Bay Area. His areas of expertise range from positive psychology, to emotional awareness, to anger management, to coaching men. He wrote the award-winning, Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought, which is available on Amazon. His blog, Shrunken Mind, was recognized as one of the top 3 in positive psychology on the web. His new anger management site, offers the latest in online video-based anger management courses.