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Asserting Yourself in Common College Situations
Speak up in class.
Many people in college find it difficult to have the confidence to speak up in class. You may feel intimidated by your classmates or professor, or you may be afraid to mess up with the wrong answer. Class participation is important for your education, not only so you learn how to confidently express your ideas and knowledge, but many professors incorporate it into your grade.
- If you need your professor to explain or repeat something, raise your hand and ask them to explain what they just said. You should make sure that you understand what your professor is saying.
- Do your class readings and listen to your professor's lectures so you can answer questions when they are asked. If you know the material the professor is covering, that will give you more confidence to speak up and answer the question. Just remember not to answer every question or be a know-it-all. This may take frustrate your professor.
- Start asserting yourself in class by raising your hand once each class when you know the answer. Sometimes, your professor will just ask for a comment about a topic, which has no right or wrong answer. That is a good time to speak up.
- Remember that giving the wrong answer in class is not a bad thing. Part of learning in college is speaking up and learning how to discuss in an academic setting.
- The more you practice, the more comfortable you will be speaking in class.
Set boundaries with a roommate.
Sharing space with another person means you need to assert yourself as you set boundaries. This may be uncomfortable if you have never had to assert yourself before. When you first move in, you and your roommate need to establish what items you share and what you won't.
- For example, you may decide to share expenses for food. You may say, "You can eat my cereal and milk, but next time you go out, will you pick up replacements?" or, "I'll buy this week's snack food if you'll buy next week's."
- Your living space should be shared equally. If your roommate has their stuff in your area, you may want to say, "I don't mind if you have your stuff in our room, but it's taking up space in my area. Can you move it back to your space?" or, "We need to discuss sharing this space. I think my stuff has less space. Can we look into this?"
- You and your roommate may need to discuss when to have friends or significant others over. For example, you may need to say, "I don't mind if your boyfriend/girlfriend comes over, but I would prefer them not to spend the night," or, "I respect that you want your friends over until late, but can you only do that on weekends? I have early classes and need to go to bed."
- You may need to do this for other situations as well, such as with borrowing clothes, washing dishes, sharing toiletries, and quiet time.
Assert yourself in dating situations.
College is a great time to date and learn what you like romantically and sexually; however, dating and experimenting does not mean you should allow others to make you do things you don't want to do. If you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation or do not want to do an activity, firmly say "no." If you are not interested in seeing someone again, let them know firmly but politely. Don't be afraid if the other person won't like it.
- For example, if you are on a date and the other person wants to go farther sexually than you want, you have the right to stop whenever you want. You shouldn't worry about whether or not the other person will get upset. You should only do what makes you comfortable. If the other person likes you, they will respect that.
- Say, "I like you, but I am not comfortable with that. Let's continue watching the movie," or, "Don't do that," "I don't like that," or "Take me home, please."
- If you do not want to see someone again, say, "You're a very nice person, but I don't think this is going to work out romantically. I am not interested in another date."
Stand up to peer pressure.
When you are in college, you may find yourself in situations where you have to stand up to others. You may have to assert yourself to say no if you don't want to do something. You may have to stand up for what's right if people are saying hurtful or harmful things to another person. Practice speaking up for what you believe in when you feel strongly about something.
- For example, if you are at a party and someone offers you drugs, you can simply say, "No, thank you." If they keep pressuring you, you can say, "No, I'm really not interested."
- If you hear someone talking badly about someone, try saying, "I do not appreciate your derogatory language about that person. Can you not talk that way?" or, "That kind of talk is offensive and harmful. Please do not talk that way."
What is Assertiveness?
Assertiveness is the ability to honestly express your opinions, feelings, attitudes, and rights, without undue anxiety, in a way that doesn't infringe on the rights of others.
Where does Non-Assertive Behavior come from?
Many of us are taught that we should always please and/or defer to others, that it is not nice to consider our own needs above those of others, or that we shouldn't "make waves", that if someone says or does something that we don't like, we should just be quiet and try to stay away from that person in the future.
Why is Assertiveness important?
If you don't know how to be assertive, you might experience:
Depression -- Anger turned inward, a sense of being helpless, hopeless, or of having no control over your life. Resentment -- Anger at others for manipulating or taking advantage of you. Frustration -- Why did I allow that to happen?
Most people find it easier to be assertive in some situations than in others. This makes perfect sense. It's a lot easier to hold your ground with a stranger than with someone you love who might get angry if you express your true feelings. But the more important the relationship is to you, the more important it is to be assertive. Assertive behaviors lead to increased respect from others, their willingness to see you as a person who respects him/herself, a worthwhile person, and a more loveable person!
Before you decide to act assertively in a given situation, you have to decide if you can live with the consequences. Although assertive behavior usually will result in a positive response, some people might react negatively to it.
If you're planning to try assertive behavior, remember that the other person is used to your behaving in a certain way, and may be confused when you change your communication style. Why not tell the other person up front what you're trying to do? It helps to choose a peaceful moment for this.
An example of an assertive communication:
"I need to tell you something and I'd like you to hear me out before you comment. I've noticed that whenever we have midterms, you forget to clean your side of the room. I know you get anxious when you have to take exams, but you're not cleaning the room really frustrates me. Can we clean the room together to create less stress for both of us?"
Use assertive body language. Face the other person, stand or sit straight, don't use dismissive gestures, be sure you have a pleasant, but serious facial expression, keep your voice calm and soft, not whiney or abrasive.
Use "I" statements. Keep the focus on the problem you're having, not on accusing or blaming the other person. "I'd like to be able to tell my stories without interruption." instead of "You're always interrupting my stories!"
Use facts, not judgments. "Your punctuation needs work and your formatting is inconsistent" instead of "This is sloppy work." or "Did you know that shirt has some spots?" instead of "You're not going out looking like THAT, are you?"
Express ownership of your thoughts, feeling, and opinions. "I get angry when he breaks his promises." instead of "He makes me angry." or "I believe the best policy is to..." instead of "The only sensible thing is to ..."
Make clear, direct, requests. Don't invite the person to say no. "Will you please ... ?" instead of "Would you mind ... ?" or "Why don't you ... ?"
Broken record -- Keep repeating your point, using a low level, pleasant voice. Don't get pulled into arguing or trying to explain yourself. This lets you ignore manipulation, baiting, and irrelevant logic. Example: You are taking something back to a store that you know gives refunds, but the clerk first questions your decision, tries to imply that there's something wrong with you because you changed your mind, tells you that she can only give a store credit, etc. Using the broken record, you walk into the store and say "I decided I don't need this and I'd like my money back." Then no matter what the clerk says, you keep repeating "I decided I don't need this and I'd like my money back." If she doesn't get it, simply ask to speak to a manager and say the same thing.
One of the most common problems in communication is caused by trying to read people's minds or expecting them to read yours. If you want people to respond to your ideas and needs, you have to be able to say what they are, and say it in a way that will make others want to respond appropriately. Do you remember the self-efficacy part from the beginning of this piece? The belief that if you do something in a particular way, you will be effective? Even if you don't believe that now, but you muster your courage and try some of these techniques in situations that are not extremely threatening, the results will probably be so encouraging that you will begin to believe in your effectiveness.
If it's really scary to think about being assertive, try it first with people you don't know. Think of someone you know who is assertive and pretend you are that person. Once you become comfortable with assertive behaviors in less threatening situations, you can crank it up a notch and use it all the time. When assertiveness becomes a habit, you will wonder how you ever got along before you started using it. After you've become truly assertive, you probably won't need to use these techniques very much.
As people practice assertive communication, you can almost see that little spark of self-respect glimmer, flicker, take hold, and burst into flame. People can sense it when you respect yourself, and they will treat you with respect. And that is the ultimate goal of assertive communication.
- Temper/violence -- If you can't express anger appropriately, it may build up.