Assertiveness and Communication Skills: Keys to Effective Interpersonal Relationships

Effective communication is essential in building and maintaining healthy relationships (Berger et al., 2010). Communication can take many forms: a neighbourly wave from across the street, an email from a boss, a Christmas card from a family friend, a tweet from a stranger, a subtle glance at a friend, or an overt fight with a partner. We send messages to others verbally, non-verbally, and through written expression. Verbal communication refers to the use of language to convey a message, while nonverbal communication refers to the use of facial expressions, gestures, and body language to communicate (Berger et al., 2010).

Communication can be challenging, especially when individuals struggle to express their needs, opinions, and feelings effectively. Assertiveness is therefore important for healthy communication with others. Assertiveness refers to the ability to express one’s needs, opinions, boundaries, ideas, and feelings in a direct, honest, and appropriate manner without violating the rights of others (Zeigler-Hill & Shackelford, 2020). Being assertive involves standing up for oneself, making decisions, taking responsibility for one’s actions, and considering the consequences of the interaction. 

Assertive or Aggressive

At times, assertiveness has been confused with aggressiveness, but these concepts look and feel very different. Assertiveness promotes mutual understanding and respect, and reduces the likelihood of conflicts and misunderstandings. On the other hand, aggressiveness involves violating the rights of others, hostility, and passivity. Evolutionarily, aggression may have evolved in response to adaptive problems, such as protecting possessions and people, competing with rivals, and status negotiations (Zeigler-Hill & Shackelford, 2020). While aggression may have improved the chance of survival in another era, in the modern world, aggression is increasingly unnecessary in our day–to-day interactions. 

Accompanied with politeness, empathy, honesty – and self-assurance – assertive communication can support and build healthy interpersonal relationships. Developing assertive communication skills can improve an individual’s confidence, competence, and overall quality of connections with others (Berger et al., 2010). 

What does assertiveness look like?

What does assertiveness look like?

  • Making your needs clear
  • Making reasonable requests
  • Refusing unwanted or unreasonable requests 
  • Expressing one’s rights
  • Expressing positive and/or negative feelings
  • Expressing positive and/or negative ideas (Alberti & Emmons, 2017).

If you are struggling with communication in interpersonal relationships, the Centre for Clinical Psychology in Melbourne can provide assistance. You can book an appointment by calling 03 9077 0122 or visiting


Alberti, R. & Emmons, M. (2017). Your perfect right: A guide to assertive behavior (10th ed.). New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Berger, C. R., Roloff, M. E., & Roskos-Ewoldsen, D. R. (2010). The handbook of communication science (2nd ed.). SAGE.

Zeigler-Hill, V., & Shackelford, T. K. (2020). Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences. https://org/10.1007/978-3-319-24612-3