Published on January 26, 2021

How To Be An Assertive Person Without Being Too Pushy

How To Be An Assertive Person Without Being Too Pushy

To be an assertive person requires self-awareness, confidence and respect for others.

Assertive people actively listen and share their point of view in a way that does minimize or shame the other person. Assertive people know they don’t have all the answers and are open to hearing different perspectives to learn where other people are coming from.

In this article, we will look at a few scenarios with both assertive and pushy language. Soon you will see a pattern that the pushy responses are often emotional, selfish and dismissive while assertive responses are calm, open to hearing different points of view and clear in their communication.

Assertive vs. Passive vs. Aggressive

Let’s start by reviewing the difference between passive, aggressive and assertive styles of communication.

Passive People

Passive people tend to let others decide things for them. They go with the flow and use language like “I don’t care, whatever you think, you decide.”

Other people may read passivity as not caring, lacking confidence and may sometimes leave you out of decision making because you don’t seem to have a point of view to share.

Passive people can get passed over for promotions, be left out of planning activities due to their lack of enthusiasm or ambition for the work.


Aggressive People

Aggressive people come across like bullies, stating what they think as if it is the only point of view and dismissing other viewpoints offered with language like “that won’t work”, “that’s stupid”, “you don’t know what you are talking about” or “what a dumb idea”.

Language like this disregards the opinions of those around them, can steamroll the conversation or, worse yet, prevent others from sharing their opinion for fear of being ridiculed.

Assertive People

Assertive people are confident, state their viewpoints calmly, clearly and accept other points of view even if they are different from their own.

Assertive people show respect for themselves and others in the way they communicate. They use language like “I think we might need an extension on this project, what do you think?”, “Can we talk about what happened in the meeting? I need some help understanding what went wrong”, or “I’m happy to take on this additional project, but know that I have a few deadlines ahead of it that I have to get to first. Can we check in next Monday to talk about it in more detail?”

The Difference

Did you notice one important difference in the language used by assertive people? They ask questions.

Assertive people invite others into the moment because they know their opinion and point of view have merit. The passive examples and aggressive examples above show statements. Period. They either give permission (passive language) or draw the line and dismiss (aggressive language).

How Different People React: Case Study

Let’s investigate a few scenarios and look at types of responses from the three styles. Perhaps you will find one that sounds like you?


Scenario 1: The overbearing boss is pressing you for the report that isn’t due for two more weeks.

Passive Response:“I’m sorry, I’ll get it to you right away.”

In other words, even though you know you still have two more weeks, you don’t say anything because you don’t want to upset the boss or appear contradictory.

Aggressive Response:

“Why didn’t you tell me you needed it sooner? The deadline is two weeks away! I can’t work any faster than I already am.” Then you huff, walk loudly out of the office and murmur to yourself under your breath rolling your eyes to your co-workers and shaking your head.

Assertive Response:

“Did something come up that you need it sooner? I know the original deadline was two weeks from now. (Pause for response. They may be getting pressure from above and just need to vent.) I’ll do my best to get it to you as soon as I can, but I might need to move some other projects around to get this done. When would you like to have it?” Stating the facts calmly while maintaining respect for the other person, even if they are showing high emotion or distress, shows confidence and concern for the other person.

Scenario 2: Your ten-year old child complains when you ask them to turn off the video games and do their homework. They ask for 10 more minutes, which they did 10 minutes ago and you agreed to the first request.

Passive Response:


You don’t do anything because you don’t want to fight. You think to yourself “they never listen to me anyway and if his homework isn’t done his teacher will make him do it.”

Aggressive Response:

“Get off that thing now!” “You never listen!” “Get your homework done now or I’m taking away the game for good!” You are frustrated, emotional and yell to get them to act.

Assertive Response:

You acknowledge that you already agreed to the first request, gave them the additional 10 minutes and now that time is up. “Sorry. I already gave you ten extra minutes so now it’s time to turn it off. Do you want to do homework at the table or in your room?” This question communicates that homework is happening now while giving the child a choice as to where they will do it.

In all of the assertive responses above, the speaker remains composed and sticks to the facts when communicating without laying blame or ridiculing the other person.

3 Fail-Safe Steps to Becoming an Assertive Person

You may be thinking this is easier said than done and yes, it is, but it is possible! Here are 3 fail-safe steps to becoming an assertive person:


1. Start by Checking in With Yourself

What is your current style of communication? How is that working for you? Think about and decide how you want to be perceived by others in communication.

If you aren’t sure of your communication style, take this free test to find out where you are on the assertiveness scale.

2. Be Curious and Open to Other Points of View

Shift your focus to learning, not about being right or wrong. Assertive people aren’t focused on winning, but rather being understood and problem-solving with others. They are open to being changed by what they hear and listen and consider other ideas with respect.

3. Use “I” Statements When Speaking and Follow up With a Question.

“I” statements are great because they are specific to you and your thoughts, feelings and perspectives. Practice asserting yourself by starting with “I feel”, “I noticed”, or “I wonder”, and then follow up with a question like “what do you think?” to invite the other person in and share their thoughts.

Final Thought

Be patient. Patient with yourself and others as you strive to improve your communication skills.

Remember that we all learn how to communicate as children based on the environments we grow up in and the examples that we see. The passive people, the aggressive people and the assertive people all are modeling the style they witnessed in their upbringing.

We all have room to improve so let’s strive for open, honest and respectful conversation to create a stronger connection with each other.


More on Assertiveness

Featured photo credit: Luis Quintero via

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Carol Zee

Teaching effective communication skills for 20+ years

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:


  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.


Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.


Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.


However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.


Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:


  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:


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