Assertive communication is one of the key DBT skills in the sphere of interpersonal effectiveness. It means expressing your opinions, emotions and needs clearly, honestly and respectfully without forgetting the needs of the ones you communicate with. There are six assertiveness skills we will work on, in two parts. Sometimes, for people who have more passive style of communication, it may seem like the assertiveness style is too aggressive.

DBT Interpersonal Effectiveness: Skills of Assertiveness, Part 1
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Knowing Your Priorities

In order to ask for something out of the relationship with somebody, first you have to know what it is exactly that you want. This may not always be clear at first, so one of the best way to guide yourself through figuring this out is to observe how you feel. To you feel like you are leaning towards something more than towards something else? Do you feel like something is missing? Try to be observant of that.

Think of a relationship that is important to you and try to tune in your Wise Mind and ask yourself what you need from it. Do you feel like you need support, or perhaps like you want to give your support and love? Do you feel like you want to spend more time together with the person? Do you need to set a more clear boundary about a plan you made, or to say no to a request? It can be something else completely. Think about it.

In the worksheet write down what your priorities are. It is okay if you thought of more than one. After each of them, rate their importance to you on a scale of 1-5.


Relationship: the one I have with my daughter.

I want her to be more obedient and to listen to what I say. (5)
I want to know more about what's happening in her life. (4)
I want her to know that I am trying hard to be the best mom I can be. (3)

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Asking For What You Want

After you've figured out what your priorities are, the next step is to ask for what you want. The optimal way is to try to describe the situation without judging or putting blame on the other person. Simply state the state of the situation as objectively as you can, and say how you feel about it. Then, assertively ask for what you need.

Think about an important relationship of yours (it can be the same one from the previous step). Is there something that you would like more or less of? Is there something else that you need present in the relationship? Remember that besides asking for what you want, the other important aspect is not to damage the relationship. Imagine how you would phrase the request and write it down in the worksheet.


Asking for what I want:I would tell my daughter: "You are a young girl who still needs some guidance. I understand that you need your space and that you need to spend time with your friends, but I also feel that it is my responsibility to protect you. So, what I am asking is for you to listen to my advice more and trust me that I want only the best for you."

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It is very important to let the other person know that you are not forgetting about their needs. This is not about winning a contest, and it's not a competition. It's simply a compromise that serves to elevate the quality of the relationship. The needs of both parties are valid (unless they break some of the basic interpersonal rights).

The point of this skill is to set an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect.
Think about the relationship you've been working on. How would you let the other person know that you are willing to cooperate and make a compromise so that both of your needs are met? What would you say ?


Negotiation: I want to let you know that I am willing to hear you out and understand what you have to say about this situation. I want you to to be pleased with the solution we are going to come up with.

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I have several priorities with the relationship that I have with a friend of mine, but I can't exactly figure out which one is the most important.

First, try to be mindful of what your feelings are about these priorities. Perhaps one of them creates the most emotional tension, or the strongest feeling of lack of something or desire for something. Take couple of deep breaths and try to let go of the thought noise in your head. If you'd tune in with your Wise mind, what do you think you'd discover? It is okay if you don't get the answer right away. You can try it again later, it is possible that it'll be more clear then.

Are there some prepared statements I can use for the second skill - asking for what you want - that are going to help me more readily request something?

That is a great question. First, you may want to avoid statements such as "You are ____", that convey judgmental and invalidating tone. This step is about what you want and about expressing your needs, emotions and thoughts in a way that is respectful both towards you and towards the person you are talking to. You can use statements such as "I want ____, or I need ____" . Try to convey an atmosphere of openness and listening so that the other person knows they are validated. In the fourth exercise we will practice in depth several assertiveness scripts that you can readily use when communicating.

How come in the third step negotiation I am not asking for what the other person wants?

That will be the fourth skill, we will work on that in the second part of the assertiveness skills (the next exercise). In this step the focus is on telling the other person that you care just as much about their wants and needs as you do about yours. If we don't first convey clearly that the other person is being validated by us, they may assume that we are asking them in a way that is more aggressive than our intention is. It is better to communicate everything step by step so that the communication is clear.

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If you have any behavioral health questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare or mental health care provider. This article is supported by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from behavioral health societies and governmental agencies. However, it is not a substitute for professional behavioral health advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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