Assertiveness training is a therapeutic program intended to strengthen participants’ ability to effectively communicate their needs and wishes. Participants learn strategies to overcome passivity and interact with others confidently while avoiding excess aggressiveness. During training, participants usually examine the flaws in their current communication styles and practice techniques, which can improve future interactions.
Many people experience difficulty conveying their thoughts and desires to others. Some are overly passive, and often have trouble voicing an opinion that conflicts with others’ or declining when asked to do something they do not wish to do. Others communicate in an excessively forceful manner, causing those they interact with to grow resentful or feel bullied. Over time, these communication difficulties can negatively affect professional and personal relationships and decrease self-confidence. Assertiveness training aims to help participants overcome these communication problems.
Generally, assertiveness training courses begin by encouraging each participant to become aware of his current communication style and understand why certain elements of that approach might obstruct effective interaction. Participants might watch films that feature different interpersonal exchanges. Afterward, they may analyze each exchange, deciding whether or not it was successful, identifying the behaviors that may have blocked effective communication, and suggesting ways in which the figures could have achieved assertiveness.
In addition, assertiveness training often helps participants identify the source of their communication problems. Both passivity and aggressiveness can arise from low self-esteem or a fear of being perceived as wrong or stupid. Recognizing the underlying causes of these behaviors can endow training participants with a feeling of control over their interaction skills.
Another common feature of assertiveness training is role playing. For instance, a course instructor may propose a scenario such as an employee asking his boss for a raise. Then the instructor will act out the part of the boss while a course participant acts as the employee. The participant should attempt to express his desires — here, a raise — confidently but not forcefully. This exercise gives participants a chance to practice assertive communication under the guidance of a trained instructor who can offer feedback on their techniques.
Training in assertiveness is available from a number of sources. In some cases, it is arranged by a company for the benefit of its employees and is carried out in a seminar led by communication professionals. It is also frequently offered to college students through their campus career centers. In addition, some mental health professionals provide assertiveness training in both group and one-on-one settings.