Chapter 2 - Power Subchapter: Peer influence

Being assertive

Effective communication takes practice, a lot of practice! But being able to communicate effectively is an essential skill to develop so you can stand up for yourself and be clear about your needs and wants.

  • What do you think?
  • How do you feel?
  • What do you need?
  • What do you like?


Effective communication means you can answer all these questions directly, clearly, truthfully and in a way that others will understand represents your individual thoughts, needs and wants. When we have trouble communicating our thoughts, wants and needs, others might feel like they can impose their own views on us.


Pat the illustrated character looking overwhelmed, surrounded by large speech bubbles which say: "That's lame", "You must like this", "You should have this", "Uncool", and "Everyone is doing this".


When we are being assertive, we express our thoughts, wants and needs directly, clearly and honestly. We stand up for ourselves and our point of view, and at the same time respect the rights of others.

Assertiveness is the healthiest way to communicate with others.

Being assertive is great for self-esteem. When we’re respectfully going after the things that are important to us, others will likely respect our confidence and encourage our success. Our assertiveness shows that we respect ourselves and other people.


Assertiveness takes practice

For many, assertiveness is a real challenge. The thought of speaking your mind or standing up to someone can make us feel anxious. You might decide it’s easier to go along with the majority.

Maybe you lack the self-confidence to go after your wants and needs. There might be occasions where you express your opinion, but the majority supports something different, and you choose to compromise and support the group. This is perfectly fine, unless the compromise forces you to go against something you feel strongly about.

Like most things, assertiveness can be developed and improved with practice.

Using ‘I’ statements is a great way to practice assertiveness.

  • I feel
  • I like
  • I think
  • I know
  • I can
  • I will

When you use ‘I’ statements, you are taking ownership of your thoughts and feelings. ‘I’ statements put the emphasis on you and not the other person.

  • I disagree with what you’re saying but can see why you feel that way.
  • I want to go to the party, but I don’t want to have any alcohol.
  • I don’t like it when you don’t listen to me.
  • I think we should leave now.


What assertiveness IS NOT

Split-frame; left panel shows someone being very angry red-faced yelling at three members of their group, pointing their fingers at them and with exclamation marks above; right panel shows the situation reversed - three members of the group red-faced and angry yelling and pointing at the one person who looks sad.


Assertive is NOT AGGRESSIVE.

Aggressive behaviour is when someone is angry or violent.

When someone behaves aggressively, they are attempting to use conflict and force to impose their will.

  • It’s fine for Joe to know what he wants, but he always talks over me and never listens to what I think or need.
  • It’s easier to just agree with Janine. She gets angry if she doesn’t get her way.
  • One minute we were having a conversation, the next thing I know he’s stepped really close and was yelling right in my face. I was really uncomfortable.


Aggressive behaviour can be the result of too much confidence. The person is so focussed on having their own wants and needs met, they’ve decided they don’t care what others want or need. Aggressive behaviour is unhealthy and disrespectful to others.


Assertive is NOT PASSIVE.

Passive behaviour is when someone feels unable to express what they think, want or need.

A passive person is more likely to allow others to make decisions for them, rather than voice their own opinion and speak for themselves. Passive behaviour can be harmful to self-esteem and well-being.

  • Joe seems to know what he’s talking about; I’ll go with whatever he decides is best.
  • Janine is so passionate; I’m sure she’s right.
  • I don’t care and it seems really important to him, it was easier to just agree.


Passive behaviour is often the result of a lack of self-confidence. They worry about upsetting others and will do what it takes to be liked. The person suppresses their own wants and needs to avoid conflict or disapproval. Passive behaviour is unhealthy and disrespectful to the person themselves.