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Being Assertive

Effective advocates are assertive advocates. Assertiveness can be defined as the direct, honest, comfortable and appropriate expression of feelings, opinions and beliefs through which one stands up for his/her own rights - without violating the rights of others

--Alberti & Emmons, 1970

Assertiveness is...

  • Expressing your needs clearly and directly
  • Expressing your ideas without feeling guilty or intimidated
  • Sticking up for what you believe in
  • Knowing what your rights are and how to get them
  • Treating professionals as partners
  • Exhibiting self-confidence when communicating
  • Self-reliance and independence
  • Persisting until you get what you need and deserve

Assertiveness is Not...

  • Relinquishing your right and responsibility to advocate
  • Beating around the bush before stating your needs
  • Feeling too guilty or afraid to express your needs
  • Agreeing with others when you would rather not
  • Leaving decisions to others because "they know best"
  • Reliance and dependence on others, giving into defeat
  • Giving up when you run into "red tape”
  • Making assumptions and decisions before you obtain all the facts

Communication Styles

There are three ways that we can communicate with other people;  we can be assertive, aggressive or passive.


Assertive behavior involves standing up for our personal rights and expressing our thoughts, feelings and beliefs in direct, honest, and appropriate ways that do not hurt others or violate their rights.

Assertiveness involves respect--respect for ourselves by expressing clearly our needs and defending our rights, and respect for the other person's needs and rights.

We can be assertive and polite at the same time.

The goal of assertive behaviour is to defend our rights and to have our needs met, while showing respect for other people.


When people are aggressive, they stand up for their rights and express their thoughts and feelings in ways that are inappropriate, and show disrespect for the other person or violates their rights.

The goal of aggressive behavior is to dominate or humiliate other people.


Passive behavior fails to express feelings and beliefs honestly, and permits others to "walk all over" them.  It can also include expressing themselves in an apologetic and self-degrading manner.

The goal of passive behaviour is to please others and to avoid conflict.

Guidelines For Assertive Advocacy

  • Be specific when introducing a complaint.
  • Focus on one issue at a time.
  • Don't just complain.  Overloading another person with grievances can make her/him feel hopeless, and suggests that either you have been hoarding complaints, or you have not thought carefully about what really troubles you.
  • Do not focus on past grievances.  Focusing on problems that happened in the past can interfere with what you are trying to accomplish right now.  Complaints, or grievances should be brought up at the earliest possible time, or the other person has the right to suspect that they have been carefully saved as weapons.
  • Take time to think before you speak.  Do not feel that you must rush to say something or to sign something.
  • Do not consider counter-demands until your original demands are clearly understood, and there has been a clear response to them.
  • Consider compromise.  Look for solutions that meet the concerns of all members of your child’s education team.
  • Don't assume that you know what another person is thinking until you have heard what that person has to say.
  • Do not assume that you know how another person will react, or what they will accept or reject.
  • Avoid correcting another person's statement about his/her own feelings, or telling another person how s/he should feel.
  • Repeat major points of a discussion to make sure that there is agreement, and to reassure the other person that you understand what has been discussed.
  • Avoid sarcasm.
  • Avoid labels and name-calling.  Do not be intolerant.  Be open to the feelings of other people.  Try not to say things that you will regret later, and never make racist or sexist remarks that will offend others and violate their rights.

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