Assertive communication – how to maintain your boundaries? - Helping Hand - Mental Health Programme

Assertive communication – how to maintain your boundaries?

Assertiveness is not just about saying “no,” but above all, it involves taking care of one’s boundaries, being attentive to needs and emotions. It is the ability to express one’s opinion while knowing that others may have different views. Its strong foundation lies in self-esteem. So, what helps in developing assertiveness?

Effective communication:

  • Present facts (strong arguments) in conversations, on which everyone can agree, for example, you were late three times last week.
  • Describe specifically what reaches you through your senses (sight, hearing, touch), for example, I feel bad about what I heard about myself (and here, we point out what we heard).
  • Our observations and perceptions should be concrete and detailed, without involving things from our past or imagination (avoid making assumptions or overinterpreting).
  • Avoid words like always, never, ever, as they effectively divert attention from the topic of discussion.
  • Refrain from judging, analyzing, diagnosing, or labeling others – simply avoid causing harm.

Assertive communication is healthy and direct. It conveys criticism without hurting others but rather drawing attention to specific behaviors or situations. It allows for taking care of one’s needs, requirements, and emotions.

How to express a different opinion?

The most important thing is not to be accompanied by fear or a sense of guilt that you will hurt someone. Do it with self-assurance but without showing superiority and with respect for the interlocutor, for example:

“I have a different opinion on this matter”; “In my opinion…”; “I disagree with this. My opinion is as follows…”


How to say No?

Decline decisively without detailed explanations, for example: “Unfortunately, I can’t help you; I have many things on my plate”; “I’m sorry, but I can’t do this; I have too many obligations”; “I can’t help you with this matter”; “Unfortunately, I don’t have time to do it.”


How to express constructive criticism?

In assertive communication, we refer to specific behavior without generalizing or judging the person it concerns, for example:

Instead of saying: “You are an irresponsible person,” say: “That behavior was irresponsible.”

Instead of saying: “I can never count on you,” say: “In this situation, I couldn’t count on you.”


How to communicate dissatisfaction?

Often, we do this under the influence of strong emotions, which results in achieving a different outcome than expected. Self-regulation and self-control of emotions play an important role. Take a few deep breaths before expressing your dissatisfaction. Focus on what you feel and refer to it in the conversation. This way, you’re not verbally attacking the other person but acknowledging your feelings.

For example: “I feel anger when you speak to me with a raised voice. Please talk to me calmly.”

“I feel sad when you are late for our meeting again. Please be on time next time. It’s important to me.”


What to say if someone says our words hurt them?

It is good to express your concern, look at the situation from the other person’s perspective, but don’t take on their emotions. It is not our responsibility.

You can say, for example: “I’m sorry that you felt that way; I didn’t mean to hurt you.” Or “I apologize; my intention was not to hurt you or make you feel upset.”

Remember, practice makes perfect. Don’t be discouraged by minor setbacks. Be mindful of yourself, your communication, and behaviors.


Author of the article: Marta Drinčić – psychologist, therapist, and personal and professional development trainer, currently collaborating with Helping Hand.

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