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Assertiveness Styles

December 5, 2013 by Dr. Jon Warner in Assertiveness

Assertiveness Styles

Assertive people:

  • feel empowered – they do not feel that they are unjustly controlled by others
  • are proactive – that is, they make things happen, and are not reactive – always waiting to see how they will respond to the words and actions of others
  • know an assert their rights and responsibilities in dealing with others
  • are able to resist the aggressive, manipulative and submissive ploys of other people.

But to be assertive, or to become more assertive than we are today, requires the deployment of a different communication style, and to this end there are four possible styles which may be applicable. These styles arise because individuals bring different levels of energy and empathy to any conversation and this allows a four-quadrant grid model to be constructed, as can be seen below.

The model below has one axis describing the level of ‘energy’ that an individual may adopt in a situation (running from ‘Strong’ to ‘Gentle’). This includes the verbal energy in terms of speaking (when the voice may be louder and more forceful), but also the non-vocal characteristics such as leaning forward or backwards, high/low use of other body language and/or facial expressions, etc. The other axis on the grid relates to the level of ’empathy’ that may be preferred by an individual (or one that evolves). This runs from ‘warm’ to ‘cool’ and clearly relates to the interest in and warmth towards the other person.

By intersecting these two axes the grid created shows four assertiveness styles.

Assertiveness Styles Diagram

Every one of these four styles may be adopted in different situations, although it is likely that most individuals will stick to their greatest preference in most circumstances that they encounter. Of course, all of these styles have their associated strengths and weaknesses and some are more useful and applicable in different circumstances, than others.

Firm and positive assertiveness requires considerable practice for many people. However, it is fair to say that successful efforts to be assertive often arise from a strong feeling of self-worth, or high self-esteem, combined with a strong and positive belief about the intrinsic worth or value of others around you.

Individuals may actually draw on all four of these different styles in the same communication, or in different situations from time to time. In addition, an individual can learn or choose to use more of a particular style than another. However, for the most part, an individual is likely to have a primary and/or a secondary style that is considerably stronger than the others. This means that they are likely to adopt this style (or styles of there are two) more often and with greater ease than other styles.

Each assertiveness style has its inherent strengths and weaknesses, depending upon the person, the other party or parties in the discussion, and the type of communication to take place.

Of these four styles, research tends to suggest that it is the “Firmly Asserting” style that is used the most and is adopted more than any other by people that are seen to be the most positive in their efforts to be assertive (and who are happy with the end result of their efforts). This is followed by the Warmly Proposing style, the Aggressively Controlling style and the Passively Observing style last.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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