Body language in assertiveness


Non-assertive postures include slouching, hunching shoulders, shuffling or marching around like a whirlwind, hiding you face behind your hair, your mouth behind your hand, cocking your head to one side or standing off balance (especially with your hands clasped behind your back).

Walk steadily, holding your back straight and your head up. Relax your shoulders and spread your weight evenly on both legs.
Try to be at the same physical height as the other person. If they are sitting in a higher chair, you may decide to stand up or lean against the radiator. If you are both standing and the other person is taller, why not suggest sitting.


Learn what is the most comfortable distance for you. Allow yourself enough room to feel at ease and move when/if necessary.

Try always to approach someone directly (and not to sidle up to them). Then sit or stand directly in front of them. Try not to talk across someone’s desk. Do not be afraid to move chairs to a position where you will be more equal. Do not be frightened to move nearer, to directly approach someone, particularly when saying something important, be sure to be near enough to be heard clearly without shouting.


Do not try to talk to someone who has their back to you, who is watching television or who is reading a newspaper. Make sure you have the person’s full attention.

Try to look directly at the other person when you are making an assertive statement or request but avoid ‘eye-balling’ or allowing yourself to be ‘eye-balled’.


Be aware of thrusting forward shoulders, jaw, chin. This communicates aggression and/or tension (even though the words may be the same when assertive or aggressive, the mouth may give a stronger or contradictory message).

Do you smile to disguise nervousness or when expressing anger? This gives rise to a mixed message or ‘body leakage’, a clue that gives away the real feelings of the speaker despite attempts to control and disguise them.


Whispers and very loud voices are out! Try to strike a balance.

Practice using the high and low registers of your voice – breathing and relaxation will help.

Subtle changes in pitch and tone can indicate so much. Do you whine or plead sometimes? Is your voice tinged with an apologetic tone sometimes, or is it a sarcastic or hostile one?

Try to speak slowly, audibly and calmly. Gabbled words confuse people and can result in your not being understood or taken seriously.
Watch your inflection. Do not allow statements to rise at the end and so sound like questions. GESTURES:

Do you constantly twiddle your hair? Claps and unclasp your hands? Bite your fingernails? Fiddle with jewellery or watch?

When you do, you are conveying tension and nervousness (even though that might not be how you are feeling). The same impression is given use using ‘filler’ words such as ‘actually’ or ‘you know’ which are only verbal twiddling.

Small changes in your gestures an make and enormous difference to how you feel and consequently to how you are perceived by others.


Our appearance says a lot about how we feel about our bodies as well as the mood we may be in. The colours we wear, the clothes we wear for a particular occasion all say something about us.

Feeling assertive can have the effect of making you want to express yourself clearly via your appearance. Feeling good about your appearance can sometimes help to encourage assertive feelings. It is nothing to do with being ‘pretty’ or dressing up to please others. Finding a personal style, discovering things that express your personality and make you feel comfortable and confident do not need a lot of money or time, just a belief that you are worth knowing and caring about.

Small things can add up to make and overall impression. Focus on the tiny details (eyes, gestures, etc.) and by making minor adjustments you an produce major changes in your overall effectiveness and communication.

Adapted from “A Woman In Your Own Right” by Anne Dickson

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