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If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
But if I am for myself alone, what am I?
And if not now, when? Hillel

A competency enhancement group run by Reach
First edition – January 2000
CCIU – Assessment & Clinical Services

This outline is developed using material from Chapter 6, Assertiveness Groups by Martha Davis, PhD, which appears in the book Focal Group Psychotherapy, Edited by Matthew McKay & Kim Paleg, 1992, New Harbinger Publications, Inc. The material has been modified to address the needs of children and adolescents in the educational and clinical settings.


Assertiveness was originally described by Andrew Salter in the late 1940s as an innate personality trait. Wolpe (1958) and Lazarus (1966) redefined assertive behavior as “expressing personal rights and feelings”. They determined that assertiveness was situationally specific: most people can be assertive in some situations, and yet be ineffectual in others. Assertiveness training expands the number of situations in which a person can choose to be assertive.

When a person is passive, opportunities are lost and unpleasant situations are tolerated. In time, bad feelings can build to a point where one more event can trigger an explosion of resentment that in turn provokes upsetting criticism or rejection. Stress-related physiological responses can be caused by excessive passivity or aggression. Behavior that masks unpleasant thoughts and feelings may occur, such as drinking, withdrawal, or obsessing with physical symptoms (Gambrill, 197/8). Nonassertive behavior has been implicated in a wide range of presenting problems, including anxiety, depression, antisocial aggressive behavior, marital discord, and low-esteem (Ruben, 1985).

Assertiveness training has been employed with a variety of populations, including grade school children, adolescents, college students, the elderly, psychiatric patients (both inpatient and outpatient), professional groups, women, alcoholics, addicts, and couples (Ruben, 1985).

The majority of assertiveness training groups focus on building assertive skill, modeling and rehearsal. The entire chain of behaviors, verbal and nonverbal, is presented, and the group members imitate it. Bandura (1969) has documented the effectiveness of modeling in establishing new behaviors and reducing avoidance behaviors.

While some clients may lack an assertive skill altogether, rehearsal usually, reveals that most clients possess many of the necessary components of a skill which can be further “shaped” by instruction, positive feedback, and prompting during subsequent rehearsal. Practicing new behaviors in a safe environment reduces discomfort, particularly when rehearsal closely resembles the actual problem situation.

A study by Lawrence (1970) found significant effects after only 12 minutes of rehearsal. Kazdin (1975) determined that covert modeling, in which clients imagine themselves or someone else dealing effectively with social situations, was as effective as actual rehearsal.

Graduated homework assignments allow clients to apply their newly acquired assertive skills first to situations in which the likelihood of success is high and the degree of discomfort is minimal. Initial success tends to reduce anxiety, increase the probability that clients will generalize the new assertive behavior to other situations and encourage assertive behavior in more challenging situations. Homework is reviewed at the next group session where successive approximations of the final behavior are reinforced, and instructions and additional homework assignments are given as necessary. As Gambrill (1978) suggests, this process offers clients a model, of how to alter their own behavior; they identify small changes to be made, practice these, and praise themselves for improvements.

The assertiveness training model described here emphasizes the building of assertiveness skills, using model presentation, rehearsal, positive feedback, prompting, covert modeling, and homework assignments. Basic assumptions regarding one’s assertive rights are made explicit, traditional assumptions and fears that inhibit assertive behavior are challenged, and the pros and cons of assertive and nonassertive behavior are explored.

Part of the difficulty of developing an assertive person is the need to help the nonassertive person identify why s/he is so. Often this is couched in a language of cause and effect: e.g., someone did something to you as a child and therefore, this is the way you are. Such statements are, of course, simplistic. Often people hear things that are not said, interpret things that are said in unique ways, and/or ignore others is profound ways. The construct of a person as the result of experiences tends to ignore what the person brings to the experience. People create their own reality and their own future while taking in and using the influences of those around them. While one can debate whether problems in living are caused by the individual or the environment [and both provide sufficient evidence for influence], only the individual can correct the problem. No amount of change in the environment will change the problem – only change in the individual. And the theory of change that is used here is clear: People are the sum total of what they think. Change occurs only when they think differently.

While it may seem easier to allow the individual to ‘blame’ the way they were raised for their present circumstances, this inevitably will lead to a weakening of their power for change. Such thoughts only underscore a sense of helplessness. Only as the individual participant takes [thinks s/he has] responsibility for his/her own circumstance can effective change occur.

Selection and Screening

Ideally, you should screen the applicants in an individual session. If you are relying on referrals from other clinicians or on self-referral to a publicly offered workshop or class, you may want to circulate a brief written statement that includes typical problems of nonassertive behavior, a definition of assertiveness, its benefits, and a list of the skills to be taught.

Assertiveness training is most useful for people who can take the responsibility to identify social situations in which they have difficulty communicating assertively and who lack certain assertiveness skills, or are not comfortable in certain situations using the assertiveness skills they do possess.

Do not accept clients who are primarily interested in talking about their problems and are not motivated to make significant behavioral changes [or who believe they cannot make change]. These applicants should be referred to groups oriented towards cognitive restructuring of core beliefs as a preliminary step to learning assertiveness.

Assertiveness training is highly structured so that many socially anxious people can tolerate the group setting; when they complete the group, they are likely to report a significant reduction in anxiety in general. Some people, however, are so anxious that they are unable to concentrate on new information in the presence of a group. Such people often suffer from performance anxiety and are hypersensitive to criticism. These people are best taught assertiveness techniques, in a one-on-one setting with a clinician.

When conducting an individual screening interview, ask potential group members to think of a social situation in which they did not communicate their feelings, thoughts, or wishes in a way that allowed them to achieve their desired outcome. Tell them that you are going to ask them some questions about this situation to get a better understanding of their problem. Then ask the following questions:

1. “Describe briefly the setting and the person or persons with whom you were interacting.”

2. “What did you actually say and do?”

3. “What was the other person’s response to your behavior?”

4. “What did you say to yourself about the situation?”

Determine whether the client believes s/he has a right to be assertive in this situation; whether s/he anticipates rejection, failure, or some other catastrophe if s/he is assertive; or s/he is rewarded in some way for being nonassertive in this situation.

5. “What would you have liked to have said or done to achieve a more favorable outcome?”

Determine whether the desired outcome can possibly be attained using assertive behavior.

6. “Have you been able to do that in any situation in the past?”

Determine whether in the past or in other situations the client has been able to be assertive in the way they desire, or whether they lack a specific assertiveness skill.

7. “What do you think keeps you from doing this?”

Determine whether they define the obstacle in terms of behavior they can change, such as their own nonassertive behavior, beliefs or fears. Avoid involving individuals who see themselves as victims and see the only solution to their problems as a change in the environment. This question will also elicit beliefs about the dangers of being assertive.

8. “Describe briefly other kinds of social situations in which you’ve had difficulty being assertive and have ended up with less than what you really wanted.”

Find out with whom they tend to have difficulty. If they have a significant problem controlling their temper, they might benefit from an anger control group before participating in an assertiveness group. If their thought content is heavily loaded with cognitive distortions, they should first consider individual or group cognitive restructuring before attempting assertiveness training.

Clients are appropriate for the group if they indicate that they understand that their nonassertive behavior is contributing to undesirable outcomes, that they can
learn assertive behavior to achieve their objective, and that it is worthwhile for them to meet the basic requirements of the assertiveness class to achieve their goals.

When clients agree to be in the group, instruct them to write down a brief description of five examples of social situations in which they have difficulty being assertive, and in which the outcomes are not to their liking. Tell them to bring their list to the first group meeting.

A heterogeneous group of people allows clients to rehearse with individuals who resemble the difficult people in their lives. It’s particularly useful to have a mix of passive and aggressive clients in the same group. In addition to excellent role playing possibilities, they give each other insight into the thoughts and feelings that lie behind passive or aggressive behavior. On the other hand, an advantage to working with a homogenous group is that the leader can quickly focus on common problem areas; group members can easily mimic, during role-play, difficult people familiar in their lives.

Time and Duration

Assertiveness groups range significantly in length. Some are one or two day workshops held on the weekend. Some are short term groups or classes ranging from four to eight weekly sessions of one-and-a-half to two hours in duration The group described here is designed to meet for eight consecutive classes. Each session is two hours long including a ten minute intermission.


Give individual clients the following instructions: Plan to attend all eight sessions. If you’re having any problems with the group, discuss them with me during break rather than dropping out. Since this is a skill-building group and each new skill relies, to some extent on what has previously been learned, all members must start the group at the beginning.

Groups usually consist of eight to ten people. The determination of size should be contingent upon what we call the ‘extant horizon’ of the group facilitator. The extant horizon is the limit of the person’s ability to perceive what is happening to all participants when one or more persons in the group are in crisis. One can determine a worker’s extant horizon by talking about a crisis that occurred and a soliciting information about where each of the other people in the room was and what they were doing during the time the person was directly involved in handling the crisis. If the leader exceeds his/her extant horizon, they will be unable to say much about anyone else but the people who were the focal point of the crisis. [A similar notion can be comprehended by two series of dots. Those placed in an organized fashion will allow a person to state immediately and with some confidence the number. However, the number selected with confidence will drop quickly if the dots are random.] The larger the extant horizon, the larger the number of people who can be perceived in a confused situation. Most people can handle about five. Trained group leaders should be able to do eight to ten people at one time. It is helpful, though not essential, to have an even number of participants for the structured exercises.

Group Process

Each meeting, except the first, will begin with a review of homework. The leader will then introduce new concepts and skills with a brief lecture, and demonstrate new skills to the participants before they practice them in the group and then at home. Participants will receive constructive feedback as they practice these new skills so that they will have a good chance of success when they apply them to real situations.


Participants will learn:

  • what assertiveness is and how to distinguish it from aggressive and passive communication.
  • about assertive rights and compare them with certain mistaken assumptions that discourage assertive behavior
  • explore fear about being assertive and decide whether it is worth it to you to be assertive in a given situation
  • how to respond assertively to five socially challenging situations that you identify as important to you.

The purpose of the group is not to discuss at length your personal problems. The aim is to learn assertive communication skills that can be used in a variety of social settings to improve your relationships.

Ground Rules

1. The group will begin and end on time

2. Everyone is expected to participate and to do homework assignments.

Practicing new behavior requires some risk taking and will invariably feel awkward at first. Nobody won any trophies for the high dive without a good deal of practice, moments of anxiety and a number of mistakes.

3. On the other hand, everyone has the assertive right to say NO to situations that are to uncomfortable. Setting limits is an important part of taking care of yourself.

4. While you are free to share the concepts and skills presented in the group, I ask to maintain confidentiality regarding the personal information of other members of the group. Do you agree to this?

Be sure that everyone pledges their agreement.

5. As the group leader, I will break confidentiality, and contact the appropriate authorities only if I learn that a client poses a danger to him/herself or others; or if a minor, elder, or person with disabilities is being neglected or in danger.

6. There will be no verbal or physical abuse in this group.

7. Everyone will take turns speaking

Starting the Group

Begin by introducing yourself and the nature of the group. Give information about your professional and/or personal background, particularly as it relates to assertiveness training. Describe the time, duration, structure, process, goals, and ground rules of the group. Invite questions about what you have said thus far.

Have participants introduce themselves by sharing something about their lives and why they want to be in an assertiveness group. Invite group members to ask questions of you at the conclusion of the his/her introduction. End this introductory phase by pointing out the themes that many of the participants share in common, and stressing that everyone there has a good reason for being in the group.

Section I. Main Concepts and Skills

A. Skill: Learning To Identify Your Own Behavior as Assertive, Aggressive or Passive

This form is adapted from, Davis, Eshelman & McKay, 1988.

Typical Response to Problem Situations

1. As you walk out of a supermarket, you realize that you have been shortchanged a dollar.

I would _______________________________________________________.

2. You order a rare steak and it arrives medium-well.

I would _______________________________________________________.

3. A co-student asks you to give him a lift to where his car is being repaired. It is not convenient for you to do this favor.

I would _______________________________________________________.

4. You are going to a movie with a friend who gets a phone call from an old school chum just as you are going out the door The phone conversation goes on and on and you realize that you are going to be late if you don’t leave right now.

I would _______________________________________________________.

5. You’ve been waiting in line for a movie for 30 minutes and somebody cuts in ahead of you.

I would _______________________________________________________.

6. You are watching your favorite TV program when your girl/boyfriend says “I have to talk to you right now, it’s really important”.

I would _______________________________________________________.

7. The teacher criticizes you in a way that seems unfair in front of your peers

I would _______________________________________________________.

8. An acquaintance suggests that the two of you go to restaurant A and you very much prefer to go to restaurant B.

I would _______________________________________________________.

B. Concept: Three Modes of Communicating

Assertive Communication

Assertive communication involves clearly stating your opinion, how you feel and what you want, without violating the rights of others. The underlying assumption in an assertive communication is: “You and I may have our differences, but we are equally entitled to express ourselves respectfully to one another.” The major advantages of assertive communication include active participation in making important decisions, getting what you want without alienating others, the emotional and intellectual satisfaction of respectfully exchanging feelings and ideas, and high self esteem.

Assertive communicators speak in a calm, clear tone of voice. They make good eye contact. They have relaxed, good posture. Let me demonstrate an assertive exchange between a supervisor and a software programmer:

Supervisor: I notice that you haven’t finished that program that was supposed to be done on Monday, and here it is Friday. I’m feeling really tense and up against a wall. The big boss wants this project completed by Monday so he can show it to the customer. I would very much appreciate you coming in on the weekend to finish it. If you do, you can have a day off next week. If you don’t we will both be in hot water.

Programmer: Yes, I’m behind on this program. It turned out to be more complicated than 1 anticipated. I’m not thrilled about working on it this weekend here at the office, but if you’ll let me work on it at home on my own computer, I promise I’ll have it done for you for the Monday meeting. A three day weekend next weekend would certainly be welcome.

Supervisor: That seems reasonable to me. Thanks.

Assertiveness is a skill that can be learned, not a personality trait that some are born with and others are not. No one is consistently assertive. For example, you may find it easy to be assertive with strangers, but have difficulty being assertive with your parents. You may choose to be assertive with your friends in one situation and passive or aggressive with them in another. Learning to be assertive means that you can choose when and where to assert yourself.

Aggressive Communication

In aggressive communication, opinions, feelings and wants are honestly stated, but at the expense of someone else’s feelings. Aggressive communicators are usually loud and direct. They tend to have excellent posture and, if possible, tower over others. Sarcasm, rhetorical questions, threats, negative labels, profanity, you-statements, absolutes, such as always and nobody, finger pointing, table pounding, hands on hips and glaring are a few of the weapons in their arsenal. I’ll demonstrate an aggressive supervisor speaking to the software programmer.

Supervisor: You idiot, there are so many bugs in this program that I should call an exterminator! I don’t care if you have to stay here all weekend; get it fixed by Monday or you’re fired. You’re always missing your deadlines and you never do things right. You programmers are a bunch of worthless bums. It’s because of lousy workers like you that America is losing its cutting edge on technology!

The underlying message in an aggressive communication is: “I’m superior and right and you’re inferior and wrong. The advantage of aggressive behavior is that people often give aggressors what they want just to get rid of them. The major disadvantages are that aggressiveness can cause others to retaliate in kind or even in some devious way. Aggression tends to create uncooperative enemies with whom you’ll have to deal in the future.

Passive Communication

In passive communication, opinions, feelings and wants are withheld altogether or expressed only partially and indirectly. The passive communicator tends to speak softly. Eye contact is often poor and posture is frequently slouched yet tense, conveying a message of submission. I’ll demonstrate a passive software programmer responding to an aggressive supervisor.

Programmer: (under her breath) I don’t get paid enough to take this kind of abuse from this jerk!
(Out loud, after a big sigh, with faint sarcasm) I’ll get on it right away boss.

C. Skill: Learning To Distinguish Between the Three Modes of Communication

Use this list (adapted from Davis, Eshelman & McKay, 1988) as a handout.

Six Problematic Social Scenes

Scene 1.

A. Looks like somebody’s been driving by the Braille system. Isn’t that a new
dent I see in the car?
B. Its not my fault and I don’t want to talk about it now!
A. No way are we going to let this go. You always try to weasel out of your
B. Get off my case!
A. I want to take care of this right now.
B. No way!

A’s behavior is _____Assertive _____ Aggressive _____ Passive

Scene 2

A. Why didn’t you call me last night? You know that I was feeling lonely because your Dad is away on a business trip.
B. I was busy.
A. Too busy to call your own mother?
B. Sorry, Mom, I just forgot.
A. Well, I think that you are very thoughtless.
B. Thanks a bunch, Mom.

A’s behavior is _____ Assertive _____ Aggressive _____ Passive

Scene 3

A. I know that this will be a big inconvenience to you, but would you mind changing the time of our appointment on Thursday?
B: No can do.
A: Well, I hate to bother you, but could you at least look at your calendar to see if there might be some other time you can squeeze me in.
B: Look, I’m busy … get back to me later.
A. All right. Sorry for the interruption.

A’s behavior is _____ Assertive _____ Aggressive _____ Passive

Scene 4

A. Susan called and asked if we could babysit Friday night so that she can have a little time alone with her husband. I think that it would be fun.
B. Fun? After working all week? You know I’m always dog-tired by Friday night!
A. I’d really like to help Susan out. Friday night is your night to play couch potato, Saturday we have plans, so how about Sunday?
B. Much better I’d enjoy that.

A’s behavior is _____ Assertive _____ Aggressive _____ Passive

Scene 5

A. Can I borrow your car tonight? I have to go to the library.
B. When?
A. Just from six until nine, when it closes.
B. That means you won’t be back until nine-thirty.
A. So nine-thirty then. Can I have it?
B. Will you put gas in it?
A. I can put a buck into it, if you like.
B. I don’t think I can spare it tonight. I might need it to go out -the kids have bad colds. What if I had to take them to the hospital in an emergency?
A. Have Joe drive you – he’s going to be here all evening.
B. Well, I guess you’re right. Okay.

A’s behavior is _____ Assertive _____ Aggressive _____ Passive

Scene 6

(Over lunch, A tells her girlfriends that she is a pro-lifer, and they criticize her for not being willing to leave the choice about whether to have an abortion up to the individual woman.)

A: You certainly have a right to your opinions, but I happen to believe that the unborn child has a right to live, and it depresses me to think that a child’s life is snuffed out because it’s inconvenient to the mother. I’d like to see stronger legislation to protect the unborn child’s rights and support motherhood.

A’s behavior is _____ Assertive _____ Aggressive _____ Passive


Scene 1: A is aggressive. A uses sarcasm, rhetorical questions, you-messages, and absolutes. S/he does not take into account the feelings of B, who becomes immediately resentful and uncooperative in response to the accusations.

Scene 2: A is aggressive. The tone is accusing and blaming. B responds with reluctance and out of guilt.

Scene 3: A is passive. A’s timid requests, preceded by apologies, make it easy for busy B to say “no.”

Scene 4: A is assertive. The request is specific, non-hostile, open to negotiation, and successful.

Scene 5: A is passive. A can’t say “no” directly and instead asks a series of questions, hoping to discourage B. Finally A makes a lame excuse that B easily counters.

Scene 6: A is assertive. She calmly stands up to the prevailing opinion of the group and achieves a clear, non-threatening statement of her position.

D. Skill: Defining Criteria for Measuring Change in Assertive Behavior

Use the following example and the blank form as a handout.

Assertiveness Problems and Goals

Instructions: rate situations on a 1 to 5 scale in terms of their importance and of the difficulty in achieving assertive behavior.

Five Social Situations In Which I Have Importance Difficulty Total Difficulty Being Assertive

1. Problem: I always say “yes” to my
boss when he asks me to do
overtime. (passive)
Goal: I’d like to say “no” when I’m 2 x 3 = 6
feeling burned out or have made
plans for the night.
2. Problem: I never ask my co-workers
for help. (passive)
Goal: I specifically want to ask for 1 x 3 = 3
help when: it’s the end of the day, I
still have several customers to help,
and I don’t know the answer to a
customer’s question.
3. Problem: I rarely tell my parents
what I think of what they’re doing
when I know it will start a fight,
since we see things so differently.
Goal: I want to tell my father that I 5 x 5 = 25
think he has a drinking problem. I
want to tell my mother that I
disagree with her policy of cleaning
up my father’s messes when he
gets drunk.
4. Problem: I get tongue-tied when I
try to express my positive feelings
to my wife, so I don’t do it.
Goal: I want to tell her I love her 4 x 5 = 20
and how much I appreciate her
5. Problem: I tend to blow up at my
son when he behaves like a smart
aleck and doesn’t do his chores.
Goal: I would like to calmly re-state 3 x 4 = 12
what I want him to do and the
consequences if he doesn’t.

Total = 66

Name _____________________________________ Date _______________

Assertiveness Problems and Goals

Instructions: rate situations on a 1 to 5 scale in terms of their importance and of the difficulty in achieving assertive behavior.

Five Social Situations In Which I Have Importance Difficulty Total Difficulty Being Assertive

1. Problem:

Goal _________ x _______ =

2. Problem:

Goal ____ x _______ =

3. Problem:

Goal ____ x _______ =

4. Problem:

Goal ____ x _______ =

5. Problem:

Goal _________ x _______ = ______

Total =

E. Concept: Basic Premises Underlying the Three Modes of Communication

Assertive communication is based on the assumption that individuals are the best judge of their own thoughts, feelings, wants and behavior. They are better informed than anyone else about their heredity, history and current circumstances that shape them into unique human beings. Thus, the individual is best qualified to express his or her position on important issues. Since everyone is unique, there are many times when an individual will disagree with significant others. Rather than overpower the meek or give in to aggressors, individuals have the right to choose to express their position and try to negotiate their differences. Others may be afraid of the consequences that may occur if they assert themselves.

Passive people tend to believe that their feelings, beliefs, and opinions are not as important or valid as those of other people (Jakubowski-Spector, 1973, and Alberti & Ermmons, 1970). As children, they may have learned to seek validation and guidance from their elders, and to doubt their own perception and judgment. As adults, they haven’t reexamined the traditional assumptions of their childhood, and therefore they tend to give in to or are easily led by others. When they encounter a conflict between what they truly want to do and what someone else expects of them, they tend to feel guilty, wrong, anxious, stupid, or one-down; and they often end up deferring to the other person.

People who often lapse into the aggressive mode of communication seem to have an inflated sense of their own importance and feel entitled to whatever they want without considering the rights or sensitivities of others. Often buried under this layer of self-importance is a damaged ego. As children, aggressive people were often abused by their elders, and later adopted the aggressive mode of communication in favor of passive victimization. Other aggressive people learned to believe from their early childhood experiences that they are superior and therefore entitled to dominate others. Prejudice learned in childhood can lead to subtle as well as blatant aggression in adults. People who are aggressive need to consider the rights and feelings of others as well, as their own.

F. Skill: Identifying Mistaken Traditional Assumptions and Countering Them With Assertive Rights

Use this list (adapted from Davis, Eshelman & McKay, 1988) as a handout.

Mistaken Traditional Assumptions Your Assertive Rights

1. It’s selfish to put your needs before You have the right to put yourself
others. first sometimes.
2. It’s shameful to make mistakes. You have a right to make mistakes.
3. If you can’t convince someone that You have a right to be the final
your feelings are reasonable, then judge of your feelings and accept
they must be wrong. them as legitimate.
4. You should respect the views of You have the right to express your
others, especially if they are in a own opinions and beliefs.
position of authority. Keep your
differences of opinion to yourself.
Listen and learn.
5. You should always try to be logical You have the right to change your
and consistent. mind.
6. You should be flexible and adjust. You have a right to question what
Others have good reasons for their don’t like and to protest unfair
actions and it is impolite to treatment or criticism.
question them.
7. You should never interrupt people. You have a right to ask for
Asking questions reveals your clarification.
8. Things could get even worse; You have a right to negotiate for
don’t rock the boat. change.
9. You shouldn’t take up others’ You have a right to ask for help or
valuable time with your problems. emotional support.
10. People don’t want to hear that You have a right to feel and express
you feel bad, so keep it to yourself. pain.
11. When someone takes the time to You have the right to ignore the
give you advice, you should take it. advice of others.
12. Knowing that you have something You have a right to receive formal
special or have done something recognition for your special qualities
well is its own reward. People and talents and for your work and
don’t like showoffs. achievements.
13. You should always try to You have a right to say ‘no’.
accommodate others. If you don’t
they won’t be there for you.
14. Don’t be antisocial. People will You have a right to be alone, even if
think that you don’t like them if others request your company.
You say that you would rather be
alone than be with them.
15. You should always have a good You have a right not to justify
reason for what you feel or do. yourself to others.
16. When someone is in trouble, you You have the right not to take
should give help. responsibility for everyone else’s
17. You should be sensitive to the You have a right not to have to
needs and wishes of others, even anticipate the needs and wishes
when they are unable to tell you of others.
what they want.
18. It’s always a good policy to stay You have a right not to worry about
on people’s good side. the goodwill of others.
19. It’s not nice to put people off. If You have the right to choose not to
questioned, give an answer. respond to a question or situation.
20. You should be able to answer all You have the right to say ‘I don’t
questions about a field of know’ or ‘I don’t understand.’
knowledge with which you are

G. Skill: Broken Record Technique


The good news is that you have the assertive right to express what you think, feel, and want. The bad news is that most people in this world have not taken an assertiveness class, and many will try to ignore or distort your efforts to stand up for your rights. The broken record technique is one of seven [07] assertive skills that will help you deal more effectively with uncooperative and manipulative people.

When a record is broken, it repeats the same piece of music over and over again. The key to the broken record technique is persistent repetition in the face of adversity. You will need to remember your legitimate rights if you are not to be manipulated into giving in to individuals whose interests conflict with your own. Occasionally, you encounter people – encyclopedia salesperson, children, or a stubborn friend – who will not take “no” for an answer. When you want to set limits and someone else is having difficulty getting your message, you need to take a stand and stick to it.

This approach is also effective in telling people what you want when their own wishes are preventing them from seeing yours. Examples include when you want your five-year-old to finish his/her dinner and s/he wants to watch TV; when you want to go home and your boss wants you to work overtime for the fifth night in a row; when you want to return a defective item and get your money back from a sales clerk.

Here are the five steps of the broken record technique:

  1. Decide exactly what you want or don’t want. Review your thoughts about the situation, your feelings, and your rights.
  2. Create a brief, specific, easy-to-understand statement about what you want. One sentence is best. Give no excuses or explanations. Do not say “I can’t”. The other person will point out to you that this is just another excuse and show you how you can. It’s much simpler and more truthful to say “I don’t want to”. Eliminate any loopholes in your brief statement which the other person could use to further his or her position.
  3. Use body language to support your statement – good posture, direct eye contact and a calm, confident and determined voice.
  4. Firmly repeat your brief statement as many time as necessary for the person to get your message and to realize that you won’t change your mind. S/he will probably invent a number of excuses or simply say “no”. Eventually even the most aggressive person will run out of no’s and excuses, if you are persistent. Change your brief statement only if the other person finds a serious loophole in it.
  5. You may want to acknowledge the other person’s opinions, feelings, or wants before returning to your broken record. But do not feel obligated to answer questions. Be careful not to be distracted from your goal.

H. Skill: Confronting Your Fears About Being Assertive

Many people hesitate to behave assertively because they fear that something bad will happen to them. Three typical fears, include: fear of rejection, fear of failure and fear of making a fool of oneself. Some fears are more realistic than others. For example, it is likely that if you give a talk to a large group, expressing your own opinions, one or more people will disagree with you or ask a question that you can’t answer. It is highly unlikely that your audience will get up and walk out on you, thinking that you are an idiot. If your fears tend to take on unrealistic, catastrophic proportions, it’s essential that you reduce their negative power over you by replacing them with more realistic alternatives. Here are nine questions and hypothetical answers to guide you in examining your fears about being assertive and in deciding whether it is worth it to you to be assertive in a particular situation.

Use the following example as a handout and/or read it aloud.

Confronting My Fears About Being Assertive

1. If I am assertive in this situation with so-and-so what is the worst thing that could happen?

(Example: If I ask someone to the dance and s/he says ‘no’. I will feel worthless.)

2. What beliefs do I have that would lend probability to this happening?

(Example: I’d have to believe that my worth hinges on someone indicating his/her approval of me by accepting my invitation.)

3. Is there any evidence to support this belief?
(Example: Not really.)

4. What evidence is there to refute this belief?
(Example: I have value that is independent of this person’s opinion. I value myself as a person; I have a lot of good qualities and I am a good friend,
student, musician, and son/daughter.)

5. What would be a more realistic negative outcome of my being assertive in
this situation?

(Example: The person could say “no,” in which case I would be disappointed)

6. How might I respond to or cope with this negative outcome?
(Example: I would feel disappointed for a while. I would remind myself of my value as a person and that one rejection doesn’t destroy my worth. I would talk to my best friend about it, and then ask someone else to the dance)

7. What is the best thing that could happen?
(Example: S/he would accept my invitation and we would have a great time)

8. What is going to happen if I continue to do what I have been doing? (Example: I will spend Friday night at home alone.)

9. Is it worth it to me to be assertive on this situation. [Weigh your responses to questions 5-8 before answering.]

(Example: It is worth risking the disappointment of someone turning down my invitation on the chance that I won’t have to stay home Friday night but instead will have a date for the dance.)

Use the following as a handout.

Confronting My Fears About Being Assertive

1. If I am assertive in this situation with so-and-so, what is the worst thing that could happen?

2. What beliefs do I have that would lend probability to this happening?

3. Is there any evidence to support this belief?

4. What evidence is there to refute this belief?

5. What would be a more realistic negative outcome of my being assertive in this situation?

6. How might I respond to or cope with this more realistic negative outcome?

7. What in the best thing that could happen?

8. What is going to happen if I continue to do what I have been doing?

9. Is it worth it to me to be assertive in this situation? [Weigh your response to questions 5-8 before answering.]

I. Concept: Criticism as a Form of Manipulation

Many people have difficulty dealing with criticism because they experience it as personal rejection. As a child, you faced criticism from a one-down position. When you made a mistake, your elders might have seemed to passed judgement on you. You shouldn’t have broken your sister’s toy! Bad boy! You were wrong therefore you were bad. Eventually, you might have learned to feel ashamed whenever you were criticized. In raising your own children you might be better off using less damaging ways of instructing children in how to behave include: 1) reinforcing appropriate behavior and ignoring unwanted behavior, 2) pointing out what is wrong with the behavior and suggesting a more desirable alternative behavior, and 3) modeling appropriate behavior. However, all people, including good parents, fall into habits of using a verbal ‘short hand’ to convey messages, and may appear to pass judgement at one time or another. As a parent, you should be aware of both the damage and the reality of these language problems.

If you have devalued yourself because of what seemed like constant criticism, you may have developed special strategies to minimize the pain of criticism that have followed you into adolescence, such an blowing up, recalling the sins of your critic, or pretending you didn’t hear the criticism yet still feeling miserable inside.

These aggressive and passive strategies for dealing with criticism can damage your relationships and lower your self-evaluation [you know you are not dealing with an issue which has an impact upon you, and this knowledge makes your evaluation of yourself diminish].

Another thing that often happens is that all directive communication becomes in your own mind criticism. People who are used to being manipulated by others often see all behavior as manipulative. So the first lesson you need to keep in mind is: no points to defend. What this means is that no matter what the criticism is, you do not need to defend yourself. If someone says you’re ‘crazy’, you can ask ‘How so?’. ‘What is it that I do that makes you believe that I am ‘crazy’?’ You may learn that the person has a perspective that makes a bizarre statement make sense.

The ‘natural’ response is to feel defensive. This is true for all people. Those who tend to be aggressive in their behaviors may counterattack; those who are passive may ‘suffer in silence’. But neither response provides a basis for learning about yourself and about how others see you. By not defending yourself, you open up the possibility that you are taking a joke seriously, or taking a serious comment as an attack. Assertive communication will require attentive listening.

You are about to learn seven [07] assertive strategies for dealing with criticism which will help you keep your relationships and self-esteem intact. These strategies include acknowledgment, clouding, probing, the content-to-process shift, time out, slowing down, and the broken record technique.

J. Skill: Acknowledgment

When someone offers constructive criticism, you can use this feedback to improve yourself. When you have made a mistake, having someone point it out to you can be helpful in preventing future errors.

Whenever you receive criticism with which you agree, whether it is constructive or simply a reminder, acknowledge that the critic is right. Examples: ‘Yes, I did manage to put on one navy and one black sock this morning. Thanks for pointing it out.’ ‘You’re right, I am running 30 minutes late with my appointments today.’ ‘Thanks for letting me know that my voice is too soft for you to hear in the back of the room.’

You do not need to give excuses or apologize for your behavior. When you were a child and you were asked such questions as ‘Why did you spill the milk?’ or ‘Why were you ten minutes late?’ You were expected to give reasonable answers, and, if you did not have reasonable answers, you may have learned to manufacture reasonable excuses. As an adult you can choose to give an explanation for your behavior, but you do not need to do so. Ask yourself if you really want to, or if you’re just responding out of habit.

K. Skill: Probing

Occasionally you will be uncertain about the critic’s motivation. Is the critic trying to help you and merely going about it awkwardly? Is the critic actually trying to hurt you under the guise of being helpful? Are the critic’s comments actually hiding unspoken beliefs, feelings, and desires? Especially if the critic is someone who matters to you, you may want to probe further into the criticism to answer these questions. This requires listening carefully – a major feat when someone is giving you criticism. Nonconstructive, manipulative criticism with which you disagree needs some definition. There is both style and content to criticism. The style may be aggressive and the content true. Or the style may be merely assertive and the content not true. Or the content may be both true and not true depending upon certain circumstances. By having no points to defend and by asking the probing questions about the reasons the person is saying what they are, you may learn something about yourself and others. Most people who are not trying to take advantage of you will find your nondefensive manner very powerful. Those who are trying to be manipulative will find it difficult to deal with. They want you to be defensive – this is what verifies the effectiveness of the attack.

L. Skill: Clouding

When you have determined that the criticism is more to aggrandize the critic than to serve you, this may deserves the assertive technique known as clouding. Clouding is an attempt to ‘cloud’ the critics issues by continuing a nondefensive response, through a process of defusing the content. The manipulative critic usually takes a grain of the truth and elaborates on it, using his/her ample imagination to put you down. For example: ‘Williams, late with that report? You’re always late. I can’t imagine, how you keep your job with your inadequate work habits. Why, if everybody in this company were as slow and lazy as you are we would have to hang a hammock in every office!’

Manipulative critics are expert at name-calling and you-messages. They bring up old history. They use absolutes such as always, never and everyone. If you are foolish enough to try to reason with them, you only give them more ammunition for their case. They are not interested in listening to you, even when they ask you a question. Their fragile egos require them to be right and to always win their point. When you’re tempted to justify yourself or retaliate in kind to manipulative criticism, remind yourself that you will only feed a senseless argument which you cannot possibly win. If you are still unconvinced, reflect back on times you have tried to reason or get even with a manipulative critic. Why continue to waste your time doing something so unpleasant and unproductive? As an alternative, learn how to stop manipulative critics in their tracks.

We are going to teach you three [03] ways to diffuse manipulative criticism through agreement.

Agree in Part

The first way involves finding some part of the manipulative critic’s statement that you think is true, and agreeing with it. Rephrase the critic’s sentence so that you can honestly concur. Drop the absolutes. Ignore the rest of the message. In response to the example just stated, you might simply reply, ‘You’re right, I am late with this report’.

The critic will usually try to force you into admitting further wrongdoing. But if you continue to find some part of what the critic is saying to agree with, s/he will soon tire of trying to prove that s/he is right and you are wrong. After all, it is not much of a challenge to argue with someone who keeps agreeing with you.

Agree in Probability

A second form of clouding which you can use with a manipulative critic requires that you find something in what the manipulative critic is saying with which you can probably agree. You can think to yourself that the odds of his/her being right are one in a hundred as you reply: ‘You’re probably right that I’m often late’. Again, change the wording slightly so that you do not compromise your integrity and agree with something you don’t believe.

Agree in Principle

The third and final form of clouding involves agreeing with the manipulative critic in principle. This requires simple logic: if X, then Y. ‘If everyone in the company were as slow and lazy as you say I am, we would have to file for Chapter 11’ [A Chapter in the Bankruptcy Act].

M. Skill: Content-to-Process Shift

When your conversation with someone gets stymied feeling or because of a conflict of needs or wants, shifts the focus of the discussion from the topic to an analysis of what is going on between the two of you.

For example, you are assertively asking your friend to talk to you more, and s/he responds with: ‘You feel like I’m ignoring you? Why, I remember a time you hardly spoke to me.’ Rather than getting into a fruitless argument about the past, you reply: ‘You appear to be angry with me’. You state a simple observation about the nature of the interaction while ignoring the content of the interaction entirely.

Typical problems that you may have in practicing content-to-process shift for the first time include:

1. Lapsing into an explanation of why the other person has gotten off the track, when the purpose of this tool is simply to point out that the conversation has been derailed so that it can be brought on track again.

2. Being accused of psychoanalyzing the other party as a ploy to discount the content-to-process shift. A good response to this is, ‘I’m simply stating my own opinion, and then to return to the original topic.

3. Being told that the process comment is wrong. Rather than getting into a debate, use acknowledgment or clouding, and then return to the original topic.

4. Rigidly sticking to the original topic when the content-to-process shift comment has brought up something that would best be resolved before your return to the original topic. This is particularly true when the other party has an agenda that is so important to him/her that it prevents him/her from recognizing yours.

N. Skill: Time Out

When you reach an impasse in a discussion, you may want to postpone the conversation until another time. Time out is useful when the interaction is either too passive or too aggressive. One of you may be silent, crying, distracted, unready to make a decision, or agreeing with everything the other says. Or perhaps one of you is hitting below the belt by name-calling, bringing up ancient complaints, or being manipulatively critical. If you or the other person feels too pressured to communicate or think at the moment, give yourself time to cool off, reflect on what has been said, and return later with the positive intention of communicating instead of merely proving your point and winning. For example, in response to a person who is pouting, you assertively call a time out: ‘This is not a good time to resolve our difference of opinion. Let’s talk about it tomorrow.’

0. Skill: Slowing Down

Don’t think that you have to respond immediately to every situation. You don’t have to produce an instant answer. Many people believe that they do not think well ‘on their feet’ and need to mull things over before a response. When the other person does not think that way, the conversation may end up going too fast, with the one making response that they may not feel good about after they think about it. Momentary delays allow you to

1. Be sure that you understand what the speaker has said.

2. Process what has been said.

3. Become aware of what you think, feel and want in regard to what has been said.

4. Avoid saying things that you may regret later.

5. Consciously influence the situation toward the outcome you want.

Typical statements that you can use to slow down an interaction include:

• This is too important to race through…let’s slow down.

• That’s an interesting point…let me think about it for a moment.

• Wait a minute. I want to give you my honest answer.

• Is this what I hear you saving?, (Repeat what you think you heard while taking time to take it in and reflect on it.)

• I’m not sure I understand …could you say that again?

R Skill: Assertive Position Statement

When you want to express yourself on a specific issue, use an assertive position statement. The issue may be a small one, such as where to have dinner with your friend. The issue may be a major one, such as explaining to your boss why you deserve a raise. In any event, you need to express your position clearly and fully, because partial communication can lead to misunderstandings and frustration.

An assertive position statement includes four [04] important dimensions:

1. Your perspective on the situation

2. Your feelings

3. Your wants

4. A reinforcement to motivate the other person to cooperate

The first element is your definition of the problem, or how you see the situation. It’s essential for focusing the discussion. Here is your opportunity to share your opinion and beliefs regarding the issue at hand. Try to be nonblaming. Use noninflamatory language that states the problem as objectively as possible. For example: ‘It’s time to make a decision about where we’re going to eat tonight. I know you love Mexican food, but we’ve eaten at Tiajuana Joe’s the last three times we’ve gone out for dinner. We’re in a bit of a rut!’

Remember, this is your perspective, the other person may have a different perspective.

The second element, your feelings, gives the other person a better understanding of how important an issue is to you. Do not substitute an opinion for a feeling [‘I think Mexican food should be abolished!’]. An example of a feeling is, ‘I hate Mexican food!’ Once they are expressed, your feelings can often play a major role in helping you get what you want, especially when your opinion differs markedly from that of your listener. If nothing else, the listener may be able to relate to and understand your feelings about an issue, even when s/he totally disagrees with your perspective. When you share your feelings, you may become less of an adversary. Expression of your feelings often makes possible either an agreement to disagree or a workable compromise. Unfortunately, feelings are often left out of communication.

The other person may feel differently. S/he may love Mexican food and not understand how anyone could ‘hate’ it. However, this is not a discussion about whether or not Mexican food is any good, it is how you feel about Mexican food.

The third element, your wants, is best stated in a simple sentence or two. Instead of expecting others to read your mind and magically meet your needs, as in the case of the passive individual, you clearly state your wishes and needs. Try to be specific about what you want. Ask people to change behavior, not attitudes. Rather than assuming that you are always right and entitled to get your way, as an aggressive person might, state your wants as preferences rather than commands. For example: I would really like to go to a French restaurant tonight.

The other person may want Mexican food. However, s/he now understands a perspective that we have had Mexican food three times in a row and you don’t like it. That represents a clear statement of past conciliation; perhaps it is time for them to be conciliatory too.

The fourth element is to motivate the other person to give you what you want by reinforcing his/her cooperation. Let the other person know how s/he will benefit by cooperating with you: ‘We’ll save money’, ‘I’ll be less tired and more fun to be with’, I’ll make your favorite meal’, ‘You’ll have more time to….’, If the other person is very resistant, positive reinforcement may not work. In such cases, state the negative consequences for failure to cooperate. When describing negative consequences, do not make threats such as this: ‘If you don’t pick up after yourself, I’m going to throw out every stitch of your clothing I find on the floor’. This only breeds defensiveness and hostility. Instead, say how you will take care of yourself if your wishes are not accommodated: ‘If you won’t help with the chores, I’ll hire a maid with your allowance money’. If you drink, I’ll drive.” “if you don’t go with me, I’ll invite a friend to go instead.

Here are a few examples of the assertive position statement:

‘I’ve noticed that you’ve been late to our staff meeting several weeks running. We end up having to stop the meeting to fill you in. I’m really irritated when this meeting runs into the lunch hour, and I would appreciate your making a point of getting here on time. That way we can break earlier for lunch.’

‘In talking with you this past hour, I’m impressed that we have so much in common. I sure have enjoyed getting acquainted with you. In fact, I haven’t had such a good time in months!’ I’d like to invite you to dinner to continue our conversation.

‘In reviewing your performance record over the last six months, I see that you haven’t met your monthly quota once. We’ve talked about this before. I am disappointed with your performance. I want you to reach your quota this month or quite frankly, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.’

Expressing your thoughts, feelings, and desires in assertive position statement enhances the chance that the message you want to send will be the message the listener receives. Notice that these assertive position statements do not blame or use attacking labels. The listener is less likely to become highly defensive, tune out what you are saying, and prepare a counterattack or retreat. The situation is described specifically and objectively without slipping into negative judgments. By using I-messages, rather than you-messages, you own your opinion, feelings, and wants.

When delivering an assertive position statement, use good posture, direct eye contact, and a calm voice.

An assertive position statement is difficult to ignore or misunderstand. Just in case, check to be sure that your listener is following what you’re saying. You can do this by periodically asking the listener to summarize what s/he heard you say. If the synopsis is accurate, you can safely proceed. Don’t ask your listener, ‘Do you understand?’. Instead, you might say, ‘I would like to hear your version of what you heard me just say’, or ‘Could you restate what I’ve just said, so I can be sure I’m making myself clear?’

Hand out copies of the following form.

Individual Exercise: Assertive Position Statement

Instructions: Use this form to write assertive position statements for four situations in your life in which you would like to convey your position clearly.

Situation 1: (Describe) _______________________________________________
I think (your perspective) _____________________________________________

I feel ______________________________________________________________

I want _____________________________________________________________

If you _____________________________________________________________

Situation 2: (Describe) _______________________________________________
I think (your perspective) _____________________________________________

I feel ______________________________________________________________

I want _____________________________________________________________

If you _____________________________________________________________

Situation 3: (Describe) _______________________________________________
I think (your perspective) _____________________________________________

I feel ______________________________________________________________

I want _____________________________________________________________

If you _____________________________________________________________

Situation 4: (Describe) _______________________________________________
I think (your perspective) _____________________________________________

I feel ______________________________________________________________

I want _____________________________________________________________

If you _____________________________________________________________

Q. Skill: Assertive Listening

In listening assertively, you focus your attention on the other person so that you can accurately hear the speaker’s opinions, feelings and wishes. Use the techniques of slowing down and time out when appropriate. Assertive listening involves three [03] steps:

1. Prepare: Become aware of your own feelings and needs. Are you ready to listen? Are you sure that the other person is ready to speak?

2. Listen: Give your full attention to the other person: listen to the speaker’s perspective, feelings, and wants. If you are uncertain about one of these three elements, ask the speaker for more information. Examples: ‘I’m not quite sure how you view the situation could you say more about it?’ ‘How do you feel about this?’ ‘I don’t understand what you want … could you be more specific?

3. Acknowledge: Communicate to the other person that you heard his/her
position, using reflective listening. For example, ‘I hear you don’t want to take on this new project because you’re feeling overwhelmed with your current responsibilities and want to catch up’. Another way to acknowledge the other person’s feelings is to share your own feelings about what has been said: I’m feeling overwhelmed too, and I feel terrible about having to ask you to do more work.’

R. Skill: Assertive Position Statement – Expressing, and Listening

“When you are involved in a heated conflict with another person, the two of can take turns using assertive expressing and listening. Many problems are revealed simply by stating clearly what each of you thinks, feels and wants. This can frequently clear up misunderstandings or create unexpected solutions to problems. Opportunities for this type of communication abound between people who live or work together. Sometimes these opportunities occur spontaneously, but often you need to arrange a mutually convenient time and place to discuss the problem.

S. Skill: Workable Compromise

When two people’s interests are in direct conflict, a firm compromise that totally satisfies both parties is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. Instead, you can look for a workable compromise you can both live with, at least for a while. Here are a few examples of workable compromises (Davis, Eshelman, & McKay, 1988).

• My way when I do it, your way when you do it.

• My way this time, your way next time.

• Part of what I want with part of what you want.

• If you’ll do X for me, I’ll do Y for you.

• We will try my way this time; and if you don’t like it, you can veto it next time.

Although a compromise may naturally emerge in your discussion, you sometimes need a brainstorming session to come up with one. Brainstorming a workable compromise involves the following four steps [See also Creative Thinking].

1. Make a list of all the alternative solutions you can think of. Let your imaginations run wild while generating as many solutions to the problem as possible. Don’t judge any of the suggestions at this stage of brainstorming.

2. Cross off the solutions that are not mutually acceptable.

3. Decide on a workable compromise that you can both live with.

4. Agree to review your compromise after a specific length of time. At that time you can examine the results of your changed behavior. If you are both not sufficiently satisfied, then you can renegotiate. If your compromise seems to have adequately resolved the conflict, congratulate yourselves.

Another approach to finding a workable compromise involves asking the other
person to counter your proposal. If you find the counter proposal to be unacceptable, be sure that you understand the feelings and needs of the other person regarding the issue at hand, and then come up with another proposal of your own. Continue back and forth until you come up with a proposal you both can live with.

A useful question to ask when you’re having difficulty arriving at a compromise is: “What would you need from me to feel okay about doing this my way?” The answer to this question may serve as the basis for a workable compromise.

Section II – Classroom Interventions

Class 1

Introduction: Starting the Group

A. Skill: Learning To Identify Your Own Behavior as Assertive, Aggressive, or Passive

Intervention 1: Individual Exercise – My Typical Responses to Problematic Social Situations

Before we discuss what assertive communication is and how it differs from other forms of communication, I would like you to write down how you would typically respond to each of these eight problem situations. We will come back to your responses later in this session. Read aloud or hand out copies of My Typical Responses to Problematic Social Situations for the participants to fill out.

B. Concept: Three Modes of Communicating

Intervention 2: Didactic Presentation [See Concepts & Skills Section]
Intervention 3: Answer Questions and Invite Comments

C. Skill: Learning To Distinguish Between the Three Modes

Intervention 4: Large Group Exercise – Three Modes of Communication

Read aloud one problematic social scene at a time. Ask for volunteers from the group to label person A’s behavior as assertive, aggressive or passive, and to explain their answers. Encourage discussion of the answers to clarify the three modes of communication. Refer to the answers at the end of the Six Problematic Social Scenes.

Intervention 1: Individual Exercise – My Typical Responses to Problematic Social Situations

Have your participants imagine that they are person A in the problematic situations. Ask them to label their responses to the situations as assertive, aggressive, or passive.

Intervention 5: Dyad Exercise

Sit down with one other person and review each other’s labels of typical responses to the problematic situations. Discuss any differences of opinion regarding the labels. If you are unable to agree on a label for a particular response bring the example back to the larger group for discussion.

Intervention 3: Answer Questions and Invite Comment

D. Skill: Defining Criteria for Measuring Change in Assertive Behavior

Intervention 6: Demonstration

Hand out copies of the example and two blank versions of the form called Assertiveness Problems and Goals from the Concept and Skills section. Explain: The purpose of this form is twofold: First, it helps you focus on those social situations in which you have difficulty being assertive and to define how specifically you would like to change your behavior. Second, at the end of the group, when you re-score the form, you will be able to see what progress you’ve made toward achieving your goals.

Let’s go through the examples as I explain to you how to fill out the form. On the left-hand side, under Problem, you briefly describe the situation in which you are having trouble being assertive. Include useful identifying information such as when, where, and with whom you are having the problem. Describe your current behavior. Label it as passive or aggressive. Then under Goal, state specifically how you would like to change your behavior. Let’s look at a few examples…

In the second column, marked Importance, rank your five situations in relative order of importance to you, with 5 being the most important and 1 being the least important.

In the third column, Difficulty, rate how difficult you think it would be to be assertive in each of these situations [5 = very difficult, 4 = quite difficult, 3 = fairly difficult, 2 = somewhat difficult, and 1 = a little difficult].

In the far right-hand column, marked total, multiply the number given for importance by the number for difficulty for each item, then add up the five numbers in this column for a total number. Write this number at the bottom right-hand corner of the page.

Hand in this sheet with your name on it so that I can make copies for you to use during the course of the group. At the end of the group, you will re-score the importance and difficulty level of each item and compare your original and final scores to evaluate your relative progress. You may want to work on this at home – in which case, you should remember to give it to me at the beginning of our next session.
Intervention 1: Individual Exercise

Have participants fill out this form on their own as instructed. Walk around and answer questions individually. Help out anyone who seems to be stuck or confused.

Homework Assignment

Tell participants to finish this form for homework if necessary and return it at the following class.

Class 2

Review Homework

Collect forms Assertiveness Problems and Goals, and make copies for group members to refer to in future sessions. Keep the original for final measurement of change. Answer questions. Be sure that participant’s goals are specific, observable, and reasonably challenging, yet possible to achieve.

E. Concept: Basic Premises Underlying the Three Modes of Communication

Intervention 2: Didactic Presentation [See Concepts & Skills Section]

E Skill: Identifying Mistaken Traditional Assumptions and Countering Them With Assertive Rights

Intervention 2: Didactic Presentation [See Concepts & Skills Section]

Intervention 1: Individual Exercise [combined with Intervention 2 above]

Hand out copies of the form called Mistaken Traditional Assumptions and Assertive Rights and then explain: “While children often had little choice about the traditional assumptions they learned, adults have the option of choosing whether or not they are going to hold on to beliefs that discourage assertive behavior and create stressful feelings. Each of the following mistaken assumptions violates what should be a legitimate adult right [adapted from Davis, Eshelman & McKay]. When we elaborate on each of these, put a check mark by any of the mistaken traditional assumptions that you still believe in and by any of your legitimate rights that you have difficult accepting. When we are finished, you will have an opportunity to discuss these views.

Here is an example of an elaboration or item 2 of the list: It is shameful to make mistakes. ‘Shame on you!’ Did you hear this as a child, when you made a mistake? What did you take from that comment. Was the implication that you could do better and that you did not live up to your potential? If so, did you take this as a compliment to your skills, or as an attack on your character? The implication often taken by a child was that if you did something incorrectly, it was bad, and you were bad for doing it. Your value as a person depended on your actions, so it became very important to do well and please others in order to feel good as a person. When the way you value yourself becomes closely tied to performance, and your performance does not meet expectations, then shame is what you feel when you make a mistake. You would merely feel regret if you viewed your mistake as an error in performance and did not go on to equate performance with self-worth. In either case, the question is how this impact was used – was it used to try harder or did it cause you to withdraw?

Most things can be taken in more than one way – is the glass half full or half empty? What perspective you took is more important even than what perspective was meant, since it is your perspective that influences the way you behave. While some parents are cruel and deliberately debilitate their children, this is quite rare. Most children grow up with parents who care deeply about them. Unfortunately, however, most parents learn by doing, and some don’t always learn how to express themselves well. In an effort to help you learn to use your full potential, they may have tried to focus you on performance that you were not ready to make, to place expectations too harshly, or to criticize to strong. Unfortunately, this often results in an adult who doesn’t express him/herself very well. Because of the thoughts acquired through these experiences, you may be too passive or too aggressive in ways that are similar to your parents.

Regret is a useful emotion in that it motivates you to correct your mistakes. While shame can serve the same function, it also erodes your self image and contributes to attempts to overachieve. People who are prone to shame believe that more than 100 percent is necessary.

If you believe that it’s shameful to make a mistake, you are likely to avoid taking risks, even if it means forfeiting your rights. Some people will use your fear and shame about making mistakes to take advantage. For example, when you ask for a raise, you boss might respond with: “I seem to recall that you forgot to call in when you were sick earlier this year. That’s not the behavior of someone who deserves a raise.” And you back down because you agree with him/her. The association of mistakes with shame inhibits your assertive behavior.

I haven’t failed, I’ve found 10,000 ways that don’t work.
Thomas Edison (1847-1931)

Now consider your assertive right to make mistakes, Just as a toddler learns to walk by falling down many times, you learn from your mistakes. Mistakes have the added benefit of keeping you humble. ‘To err is human…’ This assertive right does not free you from the consequences of your errors; you are still responsible for your actions. But it frees you from the shame of equating your errors with your value. A healthy dose of regret is a sufficient motivator for you to minimize and correct your errors. You do not need shame.

When you can simply acknowledge your mistakes and not feel ashamed of them, you become difficult to manipulate. For instance, if your boss points out that you failed to call in sick earlier this year and uses this as the reason for not giving you a raise, you don’t give up in shame. You respond with, ‘You’re right, I did make that one mistake for which I’m sorry. Now let’s talk about what I’ve done right for the company this year.’ Belief in the freedom to make mistakes allows you to learn, take risks, be spontaneous and creative. It supports your assertive behavior.

Intervention 6: Demonstration

After you have read aloud and expanded upon each of the mistaken traditional assumptions and assertive rights, ask for a volunteer who is still convinced that his/her mistaken traditional assumption is correct, or is having difficulty accepting one of the assertive rights, to explain why this is so. Assist him/her in exploring how s/he came to this way of thinking. Gently confront him/her with questions such as: ‘While this was true for you as a child, do these conditions exist for you as an adult?’ ‘As an adult, do you have alternative ways of coping with these situations?’ ‘How does this traditional assumption interfere with your assertive behavior?’ ‘How would exercising your assertive right free you to behave more assertively?’

For example the group leader asks Sharon how she came to believe that it is selfish to put her own needs first. Sharon describes how she learned from her family, her church, and her teachers when she was growing up that it is selfish to think of her own needs before those of others. She was often scolded and spanked for being selfish. Consequently, as an adult, she thinks of others first; and she has a difficult time expressing her own needs. She volunteers that this is a problem in her marriage. The group leader asks her if there are people in her adult life who will scold and spank her if she expresses her needs as an adult. Sharon laughs and says, ‘Only in my head’. The leader asks her what she can do to cope with these critical thoughts. She replies, ‘When I hear my mother’s voice say, ‘Don’t be so selfish!’, I could say to myself, ‘I’m an adult now. I decide when I will put myself first and when I will put myself second or third. It’s not selfish to put myself first sometimes.’ The group leader suggests that Sharon use this tactic whenever the old critical thoughts come up about being selfish.

Several points need to be emphasized from this example:

• A child’s understanding of selfish and an adult’s understanding should be different. It is not selfish to put yourself first sometimes. However, children often do this in ways that are clearly uncaring about others without awareness. As an adult, you may need to reconsider your definition of selfish.

• Sometimes these cognitive errors have benefits. Some people like the martyr role and get a lot of positive feedback about how selfless they are. While Sharon did not express this, she is quick to say that she thinks of others first – not that she thinks that she must consider others first or even simply act as though others were first.

• Change only occurs as thoughts change. In order to change her thoughts, Sharon will need to replace them with new thoughts. The thoughts which she expresses ‘I’m an adult now. I decide when I will put myself first and when I will put myself second or third. It’s not selfish to put myself first sometimes.’ are an excellent mantra to repeat to herself in situations where selfishness is an issue. She must repeat it enough to herself that it becomes nonconscious.

Intervention 5: Dyad Exercise

With one other person, have participants discuss mistaken traditional assumptions that they still believe and legitimate rights that they still question. Make it clear to all participants that they are talking about conscious thoughts at the present moment, not nonconscious beliefs. Even if they all agree that all of the old assumptions are mistaken and the rights are legitimate, they will still act on the old beliefs – often without even knowing it. To increase awareness, have the participants discuss with each other the conditions in which they learned a particular assumption. Have them explore whether the conditions in which they learned are still true for them today and/or if the interpretation of the concept is the same. If not, have them explore a new interpretation and a mantra that puts into words a new thought about the assumption. Often the idea for a mantra can be developed out of the wording of the legitimate right which relates to their concern.

For example, if they were slapped, yelled at, or given disapproving glares for interrupting their elders and asking questions as children, they need to ask whether this would happen to them as adults. If the answer is ‘yes’, do they have any options open to them that they did not have as children? Other useful questions include, ‘How does your assumption discourage assertive behavior?’ ‘How would exercising assertive behavior as an adult free you to be assertive?’

Often clients state that they know intellectually that the assertive rights are correct, yet they still feel and act according to their traditional beliefs. Suggest that these individuals continue to explore the origins of their beliefs and to consider how to frame their intellectual understanding into a mantra which offsets the traditional belief. This is often best done in writing.

Recommend that they repeat daily their assertive rights and mantra and feel and behave as though they believed them. Have them post the assertive rights and mantra in a place where s/he can read them often as an external reminder. With enough practice, s/he will eventually assimilate the knowledge of their assertive rights at more than the intellectual level.

G. Skill: Broken Record Technique

Intervention 2: Didactic Presentation [See Concepts and Skills Section]

Intervention 6: Demonstration

have a member of the group role-play the boss in the following example as you go through the steps of the broken record technique playing an assertive employee.

Step 1.

Assertive employee: (thinking to him/herself) I’ve done overtime four days this week. I’m really sick and tired of all work and not play. I really don’t want to stay late tonight. I’m afraid of what my boss will think of me if I say ‘no’, but I know that I have the right to say no and to put myself first sometimes.

Step 2.

Assertive employee: (thinking to him/herself) Let’s see, what excuse could I give him? I could say I can’t stay because I have to go to my mother’s birthday party. No – he’d tell me I could go later. I’ll just tell him that I won’t do overtime tonight and not give him a dumb excuse that he’ll figure out a way to get around.

Steps 3 & 4.

Boss: I hate to ask you to stay late again, but I have to because of our deadline.

Assertive employee: I know the fiscal year ends next week, but I’m not going to work overtime tonight.

Boss: I didn’t think you were the kind of person who would let me down at a time like this. I really need your help.

Assertive employee: I hear that you’re disappointed with me for not staying late, but I’m not going to work overtime tonight.

Boss: If you don’t do the work tonight, when are you going to do it?

Assertive employee: I know that the work has to get done, but I’m not going to work overtime tonight.

Boss: Well, I can’t force you to stay overtime…but I will certainly be interested in seeing how you get all your work done by the end of next week.

Assertive employee: Me too.

Intervention 1: Individual Exercise

Write down three situations in your life for which the broken record technique would be suitable. For example, you might write down: ‘I want to return this dress to the store where I bought it and get my money back.’ ‘I want to tell my father not to come in and change the channel when I’m watching a program on TV’ ‘I want to tell my son that he must start paying room and board at the beginning of next month if he wants to continue living with me without going to school.

Intervention 6: Demonstration of Covert Modeling

I’m going to demonstrate a way for you to begin practicing using the broken record technique in your mind – the technique of covert modeling. First, I’ll select a situation in life for which the broken record technique would be appropriate, and then I’ll go through the first two steps of the technique. For example, I might decide to return a dress to the store where I recently bought it. I realize that it isn’t really what I wanted. I know I have the right to change my mind. I settle on this broken record statement: ‘I want to return this dress and get my money back’. I sit or lay down in a comfortable position, close my eyes and relax.

I imagine taking the dress up to the store clerk and waiting my turn to talk to him/her. I pay attention to the sights and sounds around me and how I feel. I get her attention, hand her the receipt with the dress and give my broken record statement.

I imagine her response: ‘We don’t give cash on returned items. I can write you out a credit. Would you like to look around the store for something else?’

I imagine my response: ‘Thank you, no. I’m returning this dress that I bought here and I want my money back.’

His/her response: ‘I told you our store policy: no cash refunds.’

My response: ‘I’m hearing your policy for the first time. I’m returning this dress and I want my money back.’

His/her response: ‘I realize we don’t post our policy about returned items, but you could have asked about it when you bought the dress. Perhaps you should talk to the manager. Unfortunately, she’s not here today. Maybe you could come back some other time.’

My response: ‘I bought the dress here and I want the money back.’

His/her response: ‘I really can’t help you.’

My response: ‘Yes you can, I am returning this dress and I want my money back.’

His/her response: ‘Well perhaps I can make an exception in your case.’

My response: ‘I would appreciate that.’

I imagine him/her giving me my money and my walking out of the store, feeling very satisfied with what just transpired.

Intervention 1: Individual Exercise on Covert Modeling

Instructions: Starting with your easiest situation, go through the first two steps of the broken record technique. Write down your broken record statement. For instance, you might write: ‘I want to return this dress and get my money back’. You may choose to acknowledge what the other person said or briefly clarify a point, but don’t let yourself be distracted from your statement.

Close your eyes and relax. As in the demonstration we just went through, imagine using your broken record statement in a dialogue in which you also go over how the other person might respond. If you can’t imagine yourself successfully using the broken record technique in a dialogue, imagine someone else doing it. You may want to write down the dialogue later as a script. Repeat this process for the other situations in your life for which the broken record technique might be appropriate.

Intervention 6: Demonstration of a Role Play of the Broken Record Technique, Constructive Feedback and Prompts

Get a volunteer to demonstrate the broken record technique. Someone who is ready to practice hi/her broken record statement – tell us what it is and to whom you want to say it. Give us some background information about the situation, if you think this is needed. To role play the scene, have the volunteer pick a group member who most closely resembles the actual person with whom s/he would like to use this statement. Then give some examples of what that person would typically say in response to you. Now I’d like you two to role-play this scene, practicing the broken record technique.

When the dyad is through with the role play, have the class critique. If the participants don’t do it, you make sure that you give them constructive feedback. For example, ‘Jim, I liked the convincing way you role played Sally’s stubborn fourteen year old. Your whining tone of voice and insistent questions and complaints gave Sally lots of opportunities to practice her broken record statement.’ ‘Sally, you started off great using the technique, then got sidetracked into explaining. Stick with your broken record statement; it’s a good one. You have a beautiful smile but it doesn’t convey that you mean business the way the tone of your voice does. Make your facial expression congruent with that of your voice and words. Let’s do this role play one more time, and I’ll give you a reminder to look stern when you start smiling by pointing to my lips.

After a second role play, have the group reinforce the good points and give constructive feedback for further improvements. Thank the two volunteers and ask for two more. Have one of the volunteers go through a brief explanation of a situation and how the other person should typically respond. Ask for two more volunteers to coach the players.

Outline the responsibilities of the coaches: ‘At the end of the role play, say what you think worked, positively reinforcing assertive verbal and nonverbal behavior. Suggest, where appropriate, increasing particular assertive behaviors such as eye contact, voice volume, use of the technique, and acknowledging the other person without being side tracked.’ Your job is to look for ways to help improve the performance.

The shaping of appropriate behavior is a nonthreating way of giving constructive feedback. If a player forgets to use the broken record – perhaps because s/he is manipulated into defending her position – point out how the role play was working up to that point and suggest that s/he try to stick with her original broken record statement or else modify it slightly if it seems flawed. Unless there are questions, go ahead with the role play followed by constructive feedback from the coaches.

Stop the coaches if they give negative criticism. For example, ‘You only used the broken record once before you started rationalizing why he should do what you want him to do.’ ‘Your voice is too soft.’ ‘Your acknowledgement of what the other person said sounded phoney.’ Point out to the coaches and the class, how these criticisms can be turned around [reframed] by stating what might be done, rather than noting that what was done was not satisfactory. Keep the class involved by asking them to raise their hand when they believe that a criticism was too negative and can be reframed.

Ask the coaches to reframe their negative criticism as positive feedback. For example, ‘You used the broken record once. You could continue to use it, instead of explaining why he should do what you want him to.’ ‘What you were saying was good. Try saying it even louder next time.’ ‘You acknowledged what the other person was saying, perhaps you could say the same thing with more sincerity.’ Encourage the coaches to be specific and give examples, if necessary, to clarify the point. For example, the term ‘sincerity’ is vague; the coach who uses it might demonstrate what s/he means by role-playing a few ‘sincere’ acknowledgements. Have the coaches suggest helpful visual prompts during the role-play to remind the person practicing being assertive to speak up (point to your throat), make eye contact (point to your eyes), or get back to the broken record (make a circle in the air with your finger).

Invite the entire group to give constructive feedback when the coaches are through. This feedback might be to the coaches as well as the role players. Add your own feedback at the end.

Assuming that the person practicing the broken record technique has room for improvement, s/he can repeat the same scene, incorporating the feedback that she has just received. At the end of the second role play again have the coaches give
constructive feedback, with emphasis on what has improved. and what can be further improved upon. Thank the volunteers.

Intervention 7: Exercise of the Group of Four [if time permits]

Form groups of four to practice your easiest broken record situation in the way demonstrated. Two people role play a broken record scene while the other two serve as coaches. Everyone should get to role play his/her broken record twice. Walk around, listening in, and answering questions.”

Intervention 3: Answer Questions and Invite Comment

Homework on the Broken Record Technique

Before you give them their homework, suggest that each person keep a written record of assignments, including the instructions and a brief description of what you actually do and when. Include any insights and questions that come to mind.

Practice imagining successfully using the broken record technique in the situations you have identified. Other ways to practice at home include writing out the dialogue in script form, role playing the dialogue in front of a mirror, or recording it on audio or video tape. You can role play both roles yourself, or enlist the help of a partner to play opposite you. Finally, use the broken record technique in real life. After you experiment, ask yourself what worked and what needed improvement. Remember to give yourself credit for practicing a new behavior, no matter what the outcome was.

Class 3

Review Home-work

Return copies of Assertiveness Problems and Goals and suggest that clients bring them back each week to refer to when asked for examples of problem scenes to role play.

Review the five steps of the broken record technique. Ask what participants did during the intervening time with the technique and what questions and comments they have about their experiences.

Intervention 6: Demonstration

Have two volunteers role play for the group a broken record situation with which one of them is having difficulty. Coach the dyad, modeling good coaching for the group. Review coaching skills, with emphasis on constructive feedback.

Intervention 3: Answer Questions and Invite Comments

Intervention 7: Exercise for Group of Four

Have all group members role-play a scene of their choice, using the broken record technique in groups of four [see Class 2, Intervention 7].

H. Confronting Your Fears About Being Assertive

Intervention 2: Didactic Presentation [See Concepts and Skills Section]

Intervention 6: Demonstration

Hand out copies of and/or go over the examples of a young woman answering the nine questions under Confronting My Fears About Being Assertive [in Concepts and Skills Section].

Intervention 3: Answer Questions and Invite Comments

Intervention 5: Dyad Exercise

Get together with one other person to discuss your answers to the nine questions. Get feedback. Reverse roles. Bring any unanswered questions and comments back to the larger group when we reassemble.

Intervention 3: Answer Questions and Invite Comments

Reassemble the group and open the floor to questions and comments.

Homework Assignment

For each of your five specific problems and goals, answer the nine questions under Confronting My Fears About Being Assertive. Continue practicing the broken record technique. Remind participants to keep a written record of their home work experiences.

Class 4

Review Homework

What did you do with the broken record technique? Answer questions and listen to comments. Who had a problem answering the nine questions for specific assertiveness problems and goals? Ask for a volunteer to go through the nine answers and give assistance as needed. Take questions and comments. Explain that the group will be returning to these nine questions as people work on their specific assertiveness problems and goals in later sessions.

L Concept: Criticism as a Form of Manipulation

Intervention 2: Didactic Presentation [See Concepts and Skills Section]

J. Skill: Acknowledgment

Intervention 2: Didactic Presentation [See Concepts and Skills Section]

Intervention 4: Large Group Exercise

I’m going to go around the room and criticize each person so that you will all have an opportunity to practice the assertive skill acknowledging criticism. Be sure not to agree with something I say that down deep you think is incorrect. Try to rephrase my criticism in such a way that you can agree with it. For example, if I say you were ten minutes late to group today and you know that you were late, but not exactly how late, you might respond with, ‘Yes I was late today.’ If I say, ‘your hair is blown every which way.’ You might respond with, ‘Yes I suppose it is.’ If I say, your shoes are scuffed up and need to be polished ‘, you might come back with, ‘Yes, they sure are scuffed up and need to be polished.’

Take care to give minor criticisms with which your clients are likely to agree without being embarrassed or hurt.

K. Skill: Clouding

Intervention 2: Didactic Presentation [See Concepts and Skills section: Agree in Part]

Intervention 4: Large Group Exercise

I’m going to go around the room and criticize each one of you from the point of view of a nasty, manipulative critic. Remember that as a manipulative critic, I’m less interested in being objective than in putting you down any way I can. I want you to respond by agreeing with some part of what I have to say, and ignoring the rest. For example, if I say, ‘You’re always making a mess of our home; you never clean up. I always know where you’ve been by the trail of dirty clothes and dishes you believe behind. Why can’t you be more considerate like your sister?’ – What might you say? You might respond with, ‘You’re right, I don’t always pick up after myself.’

Once you think they understand and can use the concept, you may try with individuals. When sufficient numbers have demonstrated some degree of competence in the use of agreement in part, you can move on.

Intervention 2: Didactic Presentation [See Concepts and Skills section: Agree in Probability]

Intervention 4: Large Group Exercise

I’m going to go around the room again and criticize each one of you from the point of view of a nasty, manipulative critic and I want you to respond by clouding with agreement in probability. For instance, if I say, ‘You wear the strangest combination of clothes I have ever had in one of my groups. Why do you need to wear four shirts at one time? Aren’t you being a little redundant? Make up your mind – pants or a skirt, not both. You look like a clown!’ What might you say? You might respond with ‘I probably am wearing the most unusual combination of clothes of anyone who has ever participated in one of your groups.’ If I say, ‘The dinner you made was terrible, The vegetables were mush, the meat was burned, the rice cold. The army serves better food than this.’ What might you say? You might respond with, ‘the army may very well serve better food than this’.

Once you think they understand and can use the concept, you may try with individuals. When sufficient numbers have demonstrated some degree of competence in the use of agreement in probability, you can move on.

Intervention 2: Didactic Presentation [See Concepts and Skills section: Agree in Principle]

Intervention 4: Large Group Exercise

Your not-so-friendly manipulative critic will once again blast you with criticism. You will respond by clouding with agreement in principle. For instance, I might say, ‘You did a lousy job of washing my car. It still has bird doo-doo on it, for heaven’s sake. You’re a bunch of lazy half-wits. You’re not going to be in business long with shoddy work like this!’ What might you say? You might respond with, ‘You’re right, we won’t be in the car-washing business long if we leave bird doo-doo on a car.’

Once you think they understand and can use the concept, you may try with individuals. When sufficient numbers have demonstrated some degree of competence in the use of agreement in principle, you can move on.

Homework Assignment

Suggest that participants write down their assignment.

  • Continue practicing the broken record technique.
  • Begin practicing acknowledging and clouding when you’re criticized. Review your experience afterwards, and ask yourself, ‘What did I say that was effective? How can I improve on my response next time?’ Since this may be an infrequent occurrence, take advantage of any criticism you hear directed at someone else, and imagine how you would respond with acknowledgment or clouding, You can even do this when listening to criticism on TV dramas. Take ten minutes to imagine past instances of being criticized, or occasions that are likely to occur in the future. Imagine successfully using acknowledging and clouding.
  • Practice giving constructive criticism, as you’ve been doing as coaches.

Class 5

Review Homework

How did you handle criticism this week. What techniques did you use?” Review how to use clouding and acknowledgement.

Intervention 4: Large Group Exercise

Have two people volunteer to role play a situation in which one of them is having difficulty using these two skills. Invite the group to give constructive feedback. Give pointers on constructive feedback as needed.

L. Skill: Probing

Intervention 2: Didactic Presentation [See Concepts and Skills Section]

Intervention 6: Demonstration

With a client role-play the following example of probing:

Critic: Late again, I see. One of these days you’ll arrive at work only to find that we’ve all gone home for the day.
Leader What is it about my being late that bothers you?
Critic: There’s no such thing as a free lunch. You’ve been getting away with working less than the rest of us, and I’m mad!
Leader What is it about my working less than you that makes you mad?
Critic: I haven’t had a vacation in over a year, and I work overtime every night. You waltz out of here every night at five o’clock and get away with it. It’s just not fair.
Leader What do you think about this lack of fairness?
Critic: Well, now that you’ve pinned me down, I guess I don’t really believe that life is fair. I guess I feel pretty stupid for working so hard when you’re living proof that I don’t have to.

In this example, probing the critic was useful for placing responsibility for the dissatisfaction where it belonged: with the critic. Often, the critic doesn’t budge from his righteous position and isn’t amenable to probing. When you’ve assured yourself that the criticism is manipulative, shift from probing to clouding. If you agree with the criticism, acknowledge it.

Be careful when you probe that you do not either verbally or nonverbally give the message ‘So what’s bugging you now?’ (which implies that you see the other person as a nag). If used properly, probing can turn a manipulative critic into an assertive person who directly expresses his or her thoughts, feelings, and wishes while also respecting yours.”

Intervention 7: Exercise for Group of Four

In groups of four, take turns practicing probing. Two people serve as coaches, while the third person plays the critic, and the fourth person probes the criticism to determine if it is constructive or manipulative, or if the critic is willing to admit a hidden issue such as unmet needs, wishes, or hurt feelings. If it’s apparent that the critic is just being manipulative, shift to clouding. If the prober agrees with the criticism, he or she can simply acknowledge it. For the purpose of this exercise, let’s have the critic complain about the housework not getting done.”

Intervention 3: Answer Questions and Invite Comments

M. Skill: Content-to-Process Shift

Intervention 2: Didactic Presentation (See Concepts and Skills section)

Intervention 6: Demonstration

Role-play this example with a client.

Parent: Okay, now that you’ve watched your favorite TV show, you have to do your homework.
Child: Come on, just one more show. It’s a special and only half an hour long.
Parent: No, you have to do your homework now. (This is the broken record statement.)
Child: You let Anna Lisa stay up for special programs. You’re being unfair to me.
Parent: You’re getting us off the track by bringing up how I treat another person. You have to do your homework now. (Content-to-process shift and broken record.)
Child: You always treat her better than me. You never give me a break. You’re always on my case. I hate you.
Parent: I hear that you’re really angry at me, but you have to do your homework now. (Content-to-process shift and broken record.)
Child: None of my friends’ parents would do this to their kids. They love their kids and want them to be happy.
Parent: You’re changing the subject again. You have to do your homework now. (Content-to-process shift and broken record.)
Child: I remember last weekend you let me stay up until after midnight watching a movie. There have been lots of week-nights when you’ve let me stay up late. Why not tonight?
Parent: You’re avoiding doing your homework by bringing up things that happened in the past. You have to do your homework now.
Child: You sure are tough.

Intervention 7: Exercise for Group of Four

Get into groups of four, with one person practicing content-to-process shift. This person can role play a parent or boss who is trying to convince his child or employee that s/he should do his/her chores or work, using the broken record and content-to-process shift. The second person role-plays the child or employee who tries to derail the parent or boss. The other two people serve as coaches who give constructive feedback at the end of the role-play.

N. Skill: Time Out

Intervention 2: Didactic Presentation (See Concepts and Skills section)

O. Skill: Slowing Down

Intervention 2: Didactic Presentation (See Concepts and Skills section)

Homework Assignment

You have now learned seven assertive skills for dealing with people who are manipulative and/or uncooperative: the broken record technique, acknowledgement, clouding, probing, content-to-process shift, time-out, and slowing down. You must practice these skills so that you will remember to use them instead of reverting to your old habitual responses to manipulation. You can do this in your imagination, by writing out a script, and/or by role-playing alone or with a partner. After every real interaction with a manipulative or uncooperative person, review your response. In what ways were you effective in dealing with the manipulation? How might you improve your performance next time? Remember to give yourself credit for any improvement and build on it.”

Class 6

Review Homework

What did you do with the manipulative and/or uncooperative people in your life this week? How did you practice your seven assertive skills to deal with manipulative people?

Intervention 4: Large Group Exercise

Have two volunteers role play for the large group a problem situation of their own involving manipulative or uncooperative people. Invite constructive feedback from the group. Hold your own feedback until the group has responded. Repeat this exercise with other volunteers as needed and as time permits.

Intervention 3: Answer Questions and Invite Comments

P. Skill: Assertive Position Statement

Intervention 2: Didactic Presentation (See Concepts and Skills section)

Intervention 1: Individual Exercise

Give group members the handout shown in the Concepts and Skills section and have them fill it out.

Intervention 5: Dyad Exercise

With one other person in the group, go over your Assertive Position Statement form and get constructive feedback. Rewrite your statements if necessary. Then reverse roles.

Q. Skill: Assertive Listening

Intervention 2: Didactic Presentation (See Concepts and Skills section)

Intervention 6: Demonstration

Role play the following with a client:

Wife: I’d like to talk to you about the toilet seat. Is this a good time?
Husband: Not really. How about after the game…it should be over in ten minutes.
Wife: (after the game is over) This may seem like a small thing to you, but it’s been bothering me ever since we got married. I think that the correct position for the toilet seat is down. I’m sick and tired of having to put the toilet seat down when I have to use it or landing on the cold porcelain when I go the bathroom at night. I get irritated with you for leaving the seat up.
Husband: Well, I can understand your preferring having the seat down, and I can hear your anger. To be frank with you, I prefer the seat up. I’d rather not have to fiddle with the toilet seat every time I went to use it.
Wife: I feel the same way – and I’m often in more of a hurry than you are!
Husband: I think you’re being self-centered. It’s just as important for me to have the seat up as it is for you to have it down. Your demand seems unfair to me. I’d rather that you leave the seat in the up position for me.
Wife: No way – but I see your point. I feel stuck. Even though I may be asking for something that you think is unfair, I still want my way on this.
Husband: Look if you’d be willing to put the seat up after you use it next month, I’ll put it down after I use it this month.
Wife: Okay – but let’s talk again after the second month to see if we want to try working out another solution. Maybe we need to think about building another bathroom!
Husband: I’m game – let’s try the cheaper fix first!

Intervention 7: Exercise for Groups of Four

Form into groups of four people. Two people will practice the assertive position statement using assertive expressing and listening. Here’s a ready-made problem situation: Your plans for the weekend have fallen through. Each of you has a different alternative plan. Express and listen to your respective positions on this problem and see if a mutually acceptable compromise naturally emerges regarding how to spend your weekend together. If it doesn’t, that’s okay. We’ll be discussing Workable Compromise next. The two remaining people will serve as coaches who give feedback at the completion of the role-play. Then the coaches can role-play this same problem situation while the first two people coach. I’ll take questions and comments as I walk around and at the conclusion of the exercise.

Intervention 3: Answer Questions and Invite Comments

Intervention 6: Demonstration

Role play this example with a client. Here is an example of arriving at a workable compromise, using brainstorming:

Jack: Okay, we’ve both clearly stated how we see the problem, how we feel about it, and what we want; yet no easy solution has emerged that we can both live with. You want to spend our vacation in the mountains, and I want to spend it by the sea. Let’s brainstorm and see if we can come up with some new solutions that we both would enjoy and that we haven’t thought of yet.
Cynthia: That’s okay with me. I’ll do the writing. Here’s one alternative that neither of us has thought of before: let’s go to the desert!
Jack: Forget that, I can’t stand the heat.
Cynthia: No judgements at this point. We just put down whatever comes to mind.
Jack: Okay – sorry. Let’s have a beach vacation this summer, and a mountain vacation next year. Or we could spend three days in the mountains and four days by the sea. Or we could find a mountain sticking out of the ocean.
Cynthia: Let’s go to Hawaii – lot’s of ocean and mountains. Or we could go to Lake Tahoe…there’s water and mountains.
Jack: We could take separate vacations. We could stay home.
Cynthia: We could go visit my family in Montana.
Jack: We could go visit my family in Rhode Island.
Cynthia: I’m ready to stop this stage of brainstorming; I’ve run out of creative ideas.
Jack: Me too. Let’s cross off the alternatives that aren’t acceptable to either of us. I refuse to go to the desert for my vacation! I don’t want to visit your family or mine just now. I don’t want to take separate vacations or stay home. That covers my vetoes.
Cynthia: I don’t want to go on a beach vacation this time and postpone being in the mountains until next year. I don’t want to split our time between the mountains and the sea…too much driving if we try to do that in this state. We don’t have the money to fly to Hawaii…nice idea though.
Jack: ‘Well, that leaves us with Lake Tahoe. Certainly not my first choice, but I can live with it.’
Cynthia: ‘Great. Maybe we can afford Hawaii next year!’”

Intervention 5: Dyad Exercise

In dyads, use brainstorming to arrive at a workable compromise regarding how to spend $10,000 that the two of you have just won in a contest. To make this more interesting, let’s add that you can spend the money on only one thing.

Intervention 3: Answer Questions and Invite Comments

Homework Assignment

Instructions: Practice assertive position statement, assertive listening and workable compromise in your imagination, in role play and in real life. Next we’ll practice putting these three skills together in different problem situations.

Class 7

Review Homework

What did you do with the assertive position statement, assertive listening and workable compromise? Briefly review these three skills with the group.

Intervention 4: Large Group Exercise

Ask for volunteers to role play problem situations in which one or more of these three assertive skills would be appropriate. Invite the group to coach the players with you.

Working on Assertiveness Problems and Goals

Intervention 1: Individual Exercise

Review your Assertiveness Problem and Goal list. You probably have at least a couple of problems or goals that you have not practiced yet in the group or at home. Go over these in your mind, and imagine role playing them, using the skills you have learned in the group.

Intervention 4: Large Group Exercise

Have one client volunteer to role play a situation from his/her list of assertiveness problems and goals. Have him/her briefly describe to the group the problem situation and the goal. If s/he has any fears or concerns about being assertive in this particular situation, ask the nine questions under Confronting Your Fears About Being Assertive in the Concepts and Skills Section. Remind him/her of his/her assertive rights as needed. Ask him/her what assertive skills s/he imagines using. Suggest others, if appropriate. Have him/her select a volunteer to role play the scene with him/her [this should be someone who most closely resembles the person with whom s/he would be interacting in real life. Have the volunteer explain to this role player how this person would typically respond. After the role play, ask the two to share what worked for them and what needed improvement, then ask the same question of the larger group. Have the volunteers repeat the role play if necessary after receiving constructive feedback.

If the group is small enough, or if you believe that your clients need close supervision, continue to work in this manner on other clients’ assertiveness problems and goals. If your group is large, or you believe that your clients can work effectively on their assertiveness problems and goals in smaller groups, break up into groups of four. Circulate among the small groups to assist and answer questions.

Homework Assignment

Continue practicing new assertiveness skills. Practice applying assertiveness techniques to your specific problem situations in your imagination, in role plays and in real life.

Class 8

Review Homework

Ask for questions and comments regarding homework.

Intervention 4: Large Group Exercise

Same as for Class 7, Skill T [Working on Assertiveness Problems and Goals].

Intervention 7: Exercise for Group of Four

Use this intervention if your group is large or if you believe that your clients do. Not need your close supervision to work on their assertiveness problems and goals. Otherwise, continue with intervention 4.

I want you to break into groups of four now to role play being assertive, using one of the five items on the form you filled out for assertiveness problems and goals. Present your problem and goals to your small group. If you have not satisfactorily completed the nine questions under Confronting Your Fears About Being Assertive for the situation you are about to role play, or if you are not sure of your rights in this situation, ask your partners in the small group for assistance. If you’re uncertain about which assertiveness skills would be best to use, ask the opinion of members of your group. When you are ready to role play, ask one of the other three people to be your partner; the remaining two people can serve as coaches who will give you feedback at the conclusion of the role play. I will be circulating around the groups to provide assistance as needed. Repeat the role play, incorporating the coaches’ feedback if you think that it would be helpful. Otherwise, move on to the next person who will present his or her assertiveness problem and goal for discussion and role play. Each person in the group should get a chance to work on at least one assertiveness problem and goal.

Intervention 1: Individual Exercise

Return copies of the Assertiveness Problems and Goals form to your clients with the original scores blanked out or folded over. Remind your clients how to score. After they have completed the computations, have them compare their new score with their original score to evaluate their relative progress. Suggest that people who finish before others take a quiet individual break.

Intervention 4: Large Group Exercise

Ask all clients to share their initial and final scores on the Assertiveness Problems and Goals form, to talk briefly about what they have learned in the group, and what they still need to work on. As time permits, give clients feedback regarding your observations of their progress and work left to do. Also, as time permit, invite feedback from the group on each client’s progress and unfinished work.


Intervention 2: Didactic Presentation [See Relapse Presentation below]

Intervention 4: Large Group Exercise

Ask for feedback about the group and for any remaining questions or comments before ending the final session.

Relapse Prevention

Throughout the group you will be reinforcing a model for ongoing individualized assertiveness practice. You can mention its elements explicitly in your closing remarks.

Replacing passive and aggressive communication with assertive communication requires a lifetime commitment. It is easy to revert to old patterns at times when you are under stress as when you are tired, hungry, afraid, angry, guilty, ashamed, or trying to do too much. As soon as you catch yourself – whether moments or hours later – review what happened. Ask yourself what was going on that prevented you from being assertive. Remember that you have the right to make mistakes: learn from them rather than dwelling on them. Review your assertive rights. Explore your fears to make sure that they are realistic, and ask yourself if it is worth it to you to be assertive in the situation. Role play communicating assertively in that situation in your mind, in front of a mirror, on tape, or with a friend. Include what you think the other person would say. When you anticipate a difficult situation, mentally role play communicating assertively including the other person’s response.


Homework compliance is the major problem in an assertiveness training group. As a group leader you can increase your clients’ motivation to do homework in the following ways [adapted from Davis, 1988]:

  1. Explain clearly the purpose of the homework.
  2. Describe the homework, using simple step-by-step instructions.
  3. Demonstrate the homework.
  4. Give clients an opportunity to practice any new technique in class and to ask questions before practicing at home.
  5. Have clients keep a written record of their homework progress, along with any comments and questions.
  6. Review homework at the beginning of the next class, giving clients an opportunity to discuss their successes and problems and to ask questions.

Do not chastise clients who don’t do their homework. People learn in different ways. Keep in mind that some clients will go through the entire group doing little or no homework and yet will appear to have benefitted from the group. They seem to pick up what they need by attending the group and doing the exercises while there.

As the group leader, you are responsible only for teaching assertiveness skills. It is the clients’ responsibility and option to use these skills as they see fit. Reiterate that they have the right to say ‘no’ to any situation they find too uncomfortable.


See the nine questions under Confronting Your Fears About Being Assertive in the Concepts and Skills Section.


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Bloom, L.Z.; Coburn, K; and Pealman, J., The New Assertive Woman. New York: Addison-Wesley, 1976.

Davis, M., Leader’s Guide: The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook. Oakland, California: New Harbinger Publications, 1989.

_________; Eshelman, E.: & McKay, M., The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook, 1988.

Gambrill, E.D., Behavior Modification: Handbook of Assessment, Intervention and Evaluation. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1978.

Kazdin, A.E., ‘Covert modeling, imagery assessment and assertive behavior.’ Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 1975, 43, 716-724.

Jakubowski-Spector, P., ‘Facilitating the growth of women through assertiveness training.’ The Counseling Psychologist, 1973, 4, 75-86

Lawrence, P. S., ‘The assessment and modification of assertive behavior.’ Doctoral dissertation, Arizona State University, 1970 [University Microfilms, 396-B, No. 70-11, 888].

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Ruben, D., Progress in Assertiveness. 1973-1983: An Analytical Biography. Metuchen, New Jersy: the Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1985

Smith, M., When I say No, I Feel Guilty. New York: The Dial Press, 1975.

Wolpe, J., Psychotherapy by Reciprocal Inhibition. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1958.