Quiz: how assertive are you?


Take the quiz to discover which assertiveness techniques you need to start practising.

Do you find it difficult to express how you really feel without getting angry or emotional? Do you avoid confrontation? Do you leave conversations feeling manipulated? Do you bat away compliments or dread receiving negative feedback?

If you answered yes to any of these statements, you might need to work on your assertiveness – a difficult trait to quantify, but one whose absence is certainly easy to spot.

Take our quiz to discover which assertiveness techniques you’re already instinctively deploying, and which you can learn to incorporate into your communication.


1. You’re in a meeting where a divisive subject is being discussed. You begin to have your say and a colleague talks over you. Which of the following is your natural response?

 A: Let them make their point and then try again later to have your say.

B: Say: “Excuse me, but I’d like to finish what I have to say.”

C: Hold up your hand to signal you haven’t finished and continue to talk more loudly until your colleague stops.


Basic assertion

The most assertive response here is option B. It’s an indication of ‘basic assertion’ whereby you calmly express your wishes or opinions in a simple statement without offering too much detail or clarification. In some scenarios, like the one above, it might mean standing up for your rights, in others simply saying “no” when appropriate. If you chose option A you’re opting for a more passive response, while option C could be perceived as less assertive, more aggressive. Practise editing yourself when you slip into giving too much explanation for your decisions or wishes. Keep short and to the point, and begin your sentence with words like “I want…”, “I’d like…”, “I’d appreciate…”, “I would prefer…” and “Would you please…”.


2. A member of your team consistently turns up late despite reminders to be on time. Your reaction is…

A: Say: “When you consistently arrive late it causes bad feeling in the team. I’m irritated by it and from now on I’d like you to be here on time.”

B: Issue another reminder, using language and tone consistent with your last.

C: Make your displeasure clear through non-verbals and eye contact, vowing to hold an unscheduled 1-2-1 if it happens again, in which you’ll reprimand your team member.


Contextual assertion

The more passive and more aggressive responses are obvious here, but when it comes to disciplining another, it is often easier to fall into modes B or C respectively. Option A, however, is the more assertive way of dealing with the issue and is labelled ‘contextual assertion’ or ‘I-statements’ by psychologists. It involves clearly telling someone how you feel in a certain situation and how you would prefer things to be in future. The emphasis is on calm delivery and a focus on how you feel rather than what the other person is doing wrong. If you’re uncomfortable in this zone, you can begin to practise by first removing yourself from a situation to examine it at a distance. Ask yourself: How do I feel? What specifically is causing me to feel like this? What would be the ideal outcome? Then formulate your response in as simple and direct a way as possible using this formula: “When you ______, the effects are ______. I feel ______ and I would prefer ______.”


3. Due to budget cuts, a training course you promised a team member is no longer available. How do you communicate this?

A: Send an email outlining the situation and then hold a follow up conversation to iron out any concerns if needs be.

B: Arrange to speak face-to-face, saying: “I know this is really frustrating for you and you must be disappointed, but my hands are tied.”

C: Say: “There is no money for this and nothing I can do about it, sorry.”


Empathic assertion

In a situation where someone is likely to be disappointed or upset, the best type of assertive technique available to you is ‘empathic assertion’ – whereby you frame your own needs, desires and feelings around those of another (see option B). It does not mean you have to sympathise or even agree with the other person, but you do have to show sincerely that you understand their situation. So dial up your sensitive switch, take yourself away from the behaviour in question – particularly if it’s overtly aggressive – and ask yourself: What situation is this person in from their perspective? What do they want? What do they believe about this situation? And most importantly, how do they feel? Both options A and C on the other hand offer facts and apologies but no degree of understanding.


4. You are taking annual leave and are getting non-urgent calls from someone at the office. Your reaction is to…

A: Simply ignore all follow up calls, perhaps sending a message when you’re back in the office, outlining your displeasure.

B: Say: “I have asked you not to call me unless it’s urgent and this is not urgent. Please stop calling me.” If calls or questions persist, repeat yourself in stronger terms: “I insist you stop calling me.”

C: Take the calls on this occasion and vow in future to set better parameters for communication during holiday.


Repeated assertion

While option A could work with a less challenging situation (stating your basic assertion rights to not be bothered during future away days), when this basic assertion is nonetheless challenged, you may need to employ the ‘repeated assertion’ tactic sometimes called ‘broken record’ and demonstrated here in option B. It involves sticking rigidly to your core request or message until you receive a satisfactory response. It’s especially helpful in a combative situation because it keeps the conversation on a meaningful track, not allowing it to escalate into something less helpful. It requires being absolutely clear on what you want to get out of the situation (totally lacking in option C), so have your message clear in your own mind and resist the urge to veer off course.


5. A team member to whom you have given negative feedback disagrees with your analysis and is becoming hostile or aggressive. How do you handle the situation?

A: Carefully outline all your examples of why the feedback applies, repeating over and over until they’re heard.

B: Say: “I can see that you are not in agreement about this feedback.” Suggest some cooling off time and reconvene at a later date.

C: Walk away from the situation and then put your clarification points on email so the team member can better digest.



While each option here might seem like a valid response, one of the best ways to calm a volatile situation is to adopt a technique called fogging (demonstrated here in point B). It involves agreeing with someone in concept but not necessarily in fact. If an angry colleague calls your behaviour out of line and you disagree, a ‘fogging’ response might be: “Yes I can see that you think my behaviour is out of line.” Often this type of response disarms the other person, enabling a path to a compromise situation. If you feel you are being manipulated this can be especially effective. Options A and C may bring about an eventual resolution, but option B may first be necessary in order to restore calm.


6. A senior figure in your organisation approaches you and congratulates you on your delivery style in a recent presentation. Your reaction?

A: Say: “Thank you. I spent a lot of time on it. Was there anything in particular that you thought really worked?”

B: To play down your achievement, demonstrating surprise or embarrassment.

C: Gloss over the compliment and change the subject.


Positive and negative enquiry

A typical response to receiving a compliment might be to bat it away modestly or mumble a simple “thanks” (options B and C). While an obvious reaction to less positive feedback might be to become defensive, explain yourself or aggressively disagree. This is where positive and negative enquiry can be useful assertiveness techniques. In positive enquiry, we ask for more details on a compliment – if you’ve been given a pat on the back, ask for the specifics framed around learning (“Why has that pleased you so much?” “I’d benefit from knowing the details.”). Likewise, if you’ve received negative feedback, take charge of making it as constructive as possible – ask for more detail and concrete examples of how your actions have played out, as well as what you could do differently next time.


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