Tips for Expressing Yourself Assertively Rather than Aggressively

By Charles H. Elliott, Laura L. Smith, W. Doyle Gentry

Part of Anger Management For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Anger can be your ally in constructing a happier, healthier, and more productive life. To reconstruct your anger and turn it into assertiveness, you have to think a bit. Assertiveness, as opposed to aggressiveness, is direct communication without rancor or sarcasm — and it’s usually expressed firmly but gently. Here are some strategies:

  • Ask yourself what it is that you truly want to have happen. Do you want to be heard, or do you want to crush the other person? Do you want change or revenge?

  • Use I statements to express what you’re feeling. It’s even okay to say that you’re angry, but why not soften it a bit and say something like, “I feel a little irritated with what just happened,” or “I’m frustrated by what you said.”

  • Clearly state what went wrong — don’t beat around the bush. For example, you could say, “I felt upset when you called me fat,” or “I’m annoyed that you didn’t pay that bill.”

  • Say what you want to have happen in the future. For example, you could say, “Let’s figure out a plan for making sure the garbage gets taken out without us fighting,” or “Do you mind taking over the grocery shopping list? I’m just not good at it.”

  • Decide how you want to feel after you express your assertive communication. Do you want to feel ashamed or embarrassed? Or do you want to feel like you have a better understanding of the person you were angry at? Do you truly want to solve a problem?

  • Focus your anger on the problem, not the person. Try not to personalize your anger (by saying something like, “That idiot!”). Stick to the issue that triggered the emotion: “He doesn’t return my emails and I have a deadline.”

  • Keep a civil tone throughout. Nobody likes to be shouted at, and, besides, the message gets lost when the volume goes up.

  • Be respectful. No rolling of your eyes, finger-pointing, cussing, lecturing, or sighing.

If your problems with anger are fairly severe, assertiveness can be hard to achieve at first. Wait to use it until you’ve made progress with managing your anger first.