by Andrew Lawless, John Quinn, Sue Wilcox

Some practical approaches

It is all very well telling ourselves to be assertive, but if that has not been our way, what do we actually need to do to get started?

A good first step is to model someone who is good at it. This could even be a character in a movie or a TV show.


Model an expert

Think of someone you consider to be assertive in the manner we have described here – someone who is assertive in such a way that their ability to assert themselves does not antagonise others.

  • Why do you think they are assertive?
  • What do they do?
  • How do they do it?
  • What do they believe about it?
  • What strategies do they use?
  • How do they think about it?

Three steps to assertiveness

There are three basic ground rules or steps you need to follow if you wish to be assertive:

  1. Listen and show understanding
  2. Say what you mean, how you feel or what you think
  3. Say what you want or what action you want taken.

Six hints on how to do this

  1. Manage your state so it supports you in being assertive (see Managing your state in the NLP topic).
  2. Deliver a strong, direct message:
  • Prepare fully beforehand (if possible)
  • State the facts, not your opinions
  • Describe your thoughts and feelings about the situation (for example, determined, confident)
  • Explain your needs (what you want the other person to do)
  • Repeat if or as necessary.
  1. Communicate non-verbally through
  • Steady eye contact
  • A serious expression
  • A firm voice
  • A moderate rate of speech.
  1. Listen to the response you get. Do this by checking out what people say and with verbal and non-verbal signals.
  2. Address concerns as soon as you can. Delay can escalate into conflict. On certain occasions, however, removing yourself from the situation for a time may help to calm things down.
  3. Seek clarification and feedback – sometimes you may feel you are being aggressive when in fact you are not.

One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.

Arthur Ashe – tennis player


The following techniques all have their uses. They do, however, need to be used with care; if you use them inappropriately, you will soon find yourself crossing the border into the aggressive or passive/aggressive space.


Fogging is the process of taking the power out of someone’s argument by agreeing with them (so called because their position becomes akin to punching fog). Fogging involves using words that acknowledge the other person’s point of view, accepting that it might be true in certain circumstances, but without necessarily accepting it is true of you. Fogging is particularly powerful if you are able to restate the other person’s opinion in a way that could be true of anyone or everyone.

Fogging works because aggressive people need something to fight against. It is possible, for example, to agree with a customer without compromising your own situation:

Customer: I’m tired of all you sales people making promises you can’t keep.

Sales person: I know. It is frustrating when someone fails to deliver on a promise.

Broken record

This technique is usually only appropriate in situations where you do not have a long-term relationship with the other person and your rights are being contravened (for example, when a shop assistant refuses to accept the return of a faulty item). It can sometimes be used, however, where you are short of time. In this technique, you simply keep asserting your rights.

I came here to present our latest product.

Can I go back to the purpose of the meeting, which was to review our new product?

Name the behaviour

In extreme circumstances, it is possible to discourage aggressive behaviour by naming the aggressive tactics. Be careful, however, to do this in a non-confrontational way:

I don’t like your tone of voice!

is confrontational.

I can hear how annoyed you are and would like to resolve this...

draws the aggressive person’s attention to their tone and re-focuses the conversation.

Consistent behaviour

If clients are making unreasonable requests or are acting aggressively to gain advantage in a meeting, it is often useful to remind them of things they have said earlier that support your cause. (They are more likely to behave in a way which is consistent with their stated opinion.)

I know you have said that you get frustrated by the number of sales people calling on your time, which is why I have prepared a written briefing that will save us time.

Social proof

This is based on the premise that people are persuaded as much by the actions of others as they are by the merits of any argument. If a customer is behaving aggressively, they often use generalisations to bolster their argument:

No one is interested in a product that is as yet unproven


Everyone knows that technology is ineffective in such cases.

You can help bring some balance to the conversation if you are able to quote specific and numerous examples which counter the argument. Once again, be careful not to be confrontational:

Many people would share your concerns, but we have this technology in use in 26 locations throughout the country. Let me talk you through some of the examples...