Perhaps the most valuable life skill that leads to personal and professional success is the ability to communicate assertively. Especially in this current climate in our country, in which we are exposed every day to more and more brashness and insensitivity, going over the basics of healthy and respectful assertive communication will help therapists and clients alike in improving their own corner of the world.

Teaching our clients how to effectively communicate and offering guidelines to differentiate between assertive, aggressive, and non-assertive communication can provide skills that will improve the quality of their relationships with family, friends, co-workers, clients and others they encounter in everyday life.

I use either generic role plays that I make up, such as the case of someone being continually late for meetings or dates, or ask clients for their own real life situations. I use worksheets such as this communication handout as a reference in helping clients see the difference between the three types of communication.  Having handouts such as these to share with clients makes the criterion for healthy vs unhealthy communication more clear.

Most clients benefit from a mini-lesson on the three types of communication. The following are the basic three types of behavior:

Aggressive – The focus is on changing the other person and is characterized by “you” statements. Honesty is geared towards controlling or changing the other person’s mind or behavior, or “getting them to see” a point of view leading to disrespect of the other person and communication is tactless and blunt.

The Aggressive motto is “I’m OK – You’re not”  

Non-Assertive – The focus is on protecting oneself and people-pleasing. Fear of disapproval or conflict ends up with tension building and later blowing up or keeping feelings in, leading to depression and anxiety. Fear and inhibition reign.

The Non-Assertive motto is “You’re OK – but I’m not unless you like me!”

Assertive – The focus is on showing respect while expressing oneself. “I” statements are spoken, focusing on only expressing oneself, not changing others.

The Assertive motto is “I’m OK – You’re OK”

Along with general informational handouts, I like to use worksheets to offer skill-building practice for clients to change “You” messages into “I” messages. This worksheet geared for children offers children and adults alike a model of how to reframe “you” statements to “I” statements.

Handouts such as these can help clients practice assertive communication in individual as well as group settings. A group therapy setting is especially helpful to practice improving communication skills with other group members representing challenging people in their personal lives, within the support and guidance of the group setting. Use role-play regularly throughout the group’s duration, so that members get to practice new skills learned, while gaining valuable feedback and practice as they fine-tune their communication skills.

Whether communication skill education is used in individual or group settings, your clients will learn valuable tips to improve their relationships with others in their lives, offering them skills to last a lifetime.