Some of the moments when we feel the most trapped, insecure, or anxious come when we have trouble advocating for ourselves and being assertive.
Learning to speak confidently about your wants and needs doesn’t come easily to everyone.
Some people naturally develop these skills, while it takes others many years to work past the feelings of shame and guilt that inhibit them from being assertive.
Assertiveness is one of the most potent qualities we can possess, both in our personal lives and at work.
If you have trouble developing this skill, we have compiled a list of assertiveness exercises for adults to help you.
- How to be More Assertive and Confident
- What Are Some Examples of Assertive Behavior?
- 11 Assertiveness Exercises to Build Confidence
- 1. Understand Your Hierarchy of Needs
- 2. Create a Vision Board
- 3. Pick Up a New Sport
- 4. Chart Your Emotions
- 5. Keep a Written Role-Playing Journal
- 6. Try the Elevator Party Game
- 7. Embody Your Emotions
- 8. Take an Exercise from Actors
- 9. Say No
- 10. Observe Yourself in a Mirror
- 11. Speak Truth through Positive Affirmations
- Use these assertiveness exercises to build your skills.
How to be More Assertive and Confident
Assertive does not mean aggressive or controlling, nor does it equate to the emotionally dishonest, indirect, and manipulative behaviors of passive-aggression.
You may be wondering, “Is assertiveness a skill?” Absolutely. Like any skill, you can learn assertiveness.
This task may seem daunting, especially if you are naturally passive or shy. But it's helpful to know that even those who are more passive can learn assertive behaviors and apply them in their lives.
Assertiveness is both a trait and a tool, coming naturally to some and honed over time by others. It’s merely another great attribute to add to your reservoir of life skills.
To develop this skill, you must first address the negative feelings that prevent you from being assertive. For many, this fear stems from negative thoughts of the past that stir old feelings of guilt or shame.
It may require re-learning ways to speak up for yourself or express your needs rather than using subtle, passive, or even passive-aggressive means.
As an adult, you now have both the ability and opportunity to be your own advocate in a way you couldn't as a child. Your impulse to silence yourself or use passive behaviors developed a long time ago.
Fortunately, you can overcome this defense mechanism, replacing it with more positive skills. We have a beautiful ability as humans to be the architect of our futures and creators of ourselves.
What Are Some Examples of Assertive Behavior?
An assertive person is one who communicates effectively on behalf of one’s self, stands up to mistreatment, and is decisive in their actions.
An assertive person is also a thoughtful person. They consider their choices carefully, and therefore, they can follow through with confidence in themselves.
Here are a few more examples of assertive behavior:
- Relaxed Body Language: Nervousness and timidity are often easily readable in the way we carry ourselves. Our energy flows through our body and communicates how confident we do or don't feel.
- Direct Eye Contact: An assertive person asks to be met on their level and isn't afraid to hold eye contact.
- Open and Engaging Conversation: When you are comfortable with yourself, conversation flows easier, as you don’t feel there’s anything to prove.
11 Assertiveness Exercises to Build Confidence
The same way exercise helps build body strength, assertive communication exercises can build the strength of your self-confidence.
Every person learns differently, and a strategy that works for some may not work for others. Take time to figure out which exercise works best for you.
We’ve found some great examples of assertiveness training games and activities to help you find the perfect route to build this skill.
1. Understand Your Hierarchy of Needs
Begin to think of this journey as an experiment where you are both researcher and subject. This perspective gives you a sense of agency and control as you gather your data and become more informed. Information is power.
Reframing this process as an experiment eliminates a lot of pressure. We are just testing the waters here rather than diving into uncharted waters.
To become more assertive, you must understand what your needs are. It may seem obvious, but it can be challenging to identify your unmet needs right off the bat.
To assist your efforts, you can use a pyramid of human needs known as the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs that every human being should fulfill to live a happy life. This pyramid is an excellent place to start.
For each level of the pyramid, take a few moments to examine how well you assert yourself in getting those needs met. Are you confident in your ability to keep intimate friendships but have a harder time asserting yourself in your work? Use this exercise to notice areas that could use improvement.
2. Create a Vision Board
Visualization is a critical practice in the mastery of any skill. Understanding what you want and being able to see it in your mind's eye — or on a vision board — is the first step in going after it.
Assertive people have clear ideas of the options open to them, and they can discern which paths are worth following. Once you see all of your wants in one visual space, you can identify which ones seem less critical versus those that motivate you.
Using a poster board or online vision board app, paste on images that represent your goals, dreams, and personal needs. These can be as small as your food preferences or even how you want to be treated in a relationship.
This exercise helps you to put in practice prioritizing your wants and needs, as you have to choose the most important to include on the board — and in your life. It can help you realize what's valuable to you rather than what others have told you to value.
3. Pick Up a New Sport
Body language is one of the primary ways we exhibit assertive behavior. Sports, dance, and other physical activities like Pilates and Yoga are great ways to reconnect to your body.
A confident person is relaxed in their physicality, and their demeanor puts others at ease, helping them to form more meaningful connections. When you are more relaxed, you are better able to speak clearly and confidently.
A new sport or physical activity also can be a place to practice assertive behaviors on a small scale.
Let’s say that basketball is your sport of choice. Asking to join a pick-up game at your local gym is a way you can practice asking for something that meets your needs for exercise and creates a connection with others.
4. Chart Your Emotions
Identify your emotional responses as you practice assertive behavior.
- When you ask your boss for a pay raise, how did his or her response make you feel?
- If they said no, was it as bad as you thought it would be?
- Can you identify the specific physical sensations and connect them to an emotion?
For the next few days, as you find yourself in scenarios that require assertive actions, write down what the scenario was, if you engaged in a passive, aggressive, or assertive behavior, and identify which emotions came along for the ride.
This will help in untangling negative emotional responses to situations where you want to assert yourself.
5. Keep a Written Role-Playing Journal
Every day, pick two different scenarios and write out one passive, passive-aggressive, aggressive, and assertive response for each situation.
For example, the scenario might be: My co-worker agreed to cover my shift but canceled last minute.
- An aggressive approach would be to respond, “Find someone else to take the shift — I won’t do it.”
- A passive person might say, “Oh, it’s okay. I’ll take the shift back. Don’t worry about it.”
- A passive-aggressive response might be, “Fine. Whatever. Do what you need to do.” (Spoken sarcastically.)
- An assertive response would be, “When you canceled, it put me in a really tough position. I would like it if you let me know ahead of time if you can't cover for me.”
For each response, write out what negative feelings you might be left within each scenario.
6. Try the Elevator Party Game
If you are in a workshop group of two or more or have a few friends that you can ask to help, assertiveness role-playing exercises are an effective way to put your research and journaling into practice.
Several activities can help develop your assertive skills, such as the Elevator/Party Game.
- Clear a small space in the room.
- For the first scenario, imagine that space is an elevator and have each person walk into the space as they would on an elevator.
- Observe their body language and speech patterns. You may notice they are quiet and closed off, shuffling quietly into the circle.
- Now, have them enter the circle as if it were a party where you knew everyone.
The body language is likely natural, confident, and more open. You are likely making eye contact and laughing, whereas, in the elevator, you were probably avoiding eye contact.
How can you carry your “party energy” into everyday scenarios?
7. Embody Your Emotions
This exercise will help in connecting your emotions to your body language and recognizing them in others. In a group of three or more, have one person communicate an emotion using only their body.
The other people in the group have to guess what emotion they are embodying, and then you each take turns picking an emotion and acting them out.
As you go around the circle, it will become easier to recognize the emotions right off the bat. This game will help you become more practiced in controlling your physicality and presenting confidence, even if you don’t feel it.
When your body takes the position of confidence and assertiveness, it triggers your brain to release the feeling of confidence as well.
8. Take an Exercise from Actors
Quite often, confidence is all an act. So why not use an exercise practiced in acting class?
This game is designed for actors to get used to responding to their scene partner, rather than focusing solely on their lines or motivations. Similarly, being assertive requires being sensitive to the moods and emotions of others and actively listening.
The objective of this game is to get your partner to cross from one side of the room to the other using various tactics.
First, you will try to get them across the room using an aggressive approach, then passive, then assertive. The other person can choose to move whenever they feel like they have been asked assertively.
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9. Say No
Practice the art of firmly saying “no” and receiving “no” as a response to test your ability to be assertive. With a partner, take turns being the asker and the one saying no.
For each request, the person saying “no” must firmly state their response, then the asker should ask questions to determine why the “no-er” responded that way.
This exercise helps by allowing each person to assertively request a need or want and then practice hearing no. They must also do the work to understand why the request was denied and tailor their response.
If the “no-er” feels like the other person has heard the reason for the denial, and the requester changes the request to accommodate the “no-er's” needs appropriately, the person who responded “no” may change their answer to a “yes.”
10. Observe Yourself in a Mirror
Take a few moments, and stand in front of a mirror. First, notice how you carry yourself and see if you can locate your breath. Watch your chest rise and fall.
Are you relaxed, or are there areas where you carry tension? Visualize your breath flowing through those areas and loosening them.
Then, practice making assertive statements. Notice how your body changes if you stay relaxed or tense up again. After each statement, refocus your breath and try to keep your relaxed stature.
Over time, you will be able to have better control in finding a relaxed posture in stressful situations.
11. Speak Truth through Positive Affirmations
One way to find confidence is to speak it into existence. Positive affirmations and mantras can actually reform neural pathways in your brain to unlearn negative emotional responses to certain situations.
If you are having trouble with assertiveness, try repeating a positive affirmation every day.
An example of a mantra for assertiveness might be, “I am confident in who I am. I feel empowered by standing up for myself and asking for what I need.”
Use these assertiveness exercises to build your skills.
If you are a passive or introverted person by nature, learning to be assertive can feel like a great undertaking.
However, every skill takes practice, and assertiveness is no different. There are plenty of exercises to build assertive behaviors in a fun and engaging way.
Practice shouldn’t be grueling, but keep in mind that these practices aren’t wholly effective without persistence. As with any new skill, repetition is key.
Taking the time to engage with assertiveness training games or journaling can make a huge difference in your self-confidence.