Summary of The Assertiveness Workbook by Randy J. Paterson

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  • Post last modified:September 18, 2023
The assertiveness handbook book cover

Summary: 26min

Book reading time: 5h25

Score: 6/10

Book published in: 2000

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  • You can’t control other people.
  • Everyone is responsible for their own behavior and their own reaction.
  • Passivity, aggressivity, and passive-aggressivity are three inefficient communication styles.
  • Assertiveness is standing up for yourself in a respectful and cooperative manner.
  • Lack of self-esteem and confidence often cause a lack of assertiveness.
  • We inherited our communication style from our parents.

Table of Contents

What the Assertiveness Workbook Talks About

The Assertiveness Workbook is a book written by Randy Paterson. It defines different communication styles, outlines the problems of these styles, and proposes assertiveness as the ideal solution. The book contains theories on psychology as well as many exercises readers can use to become more assertive in their daily lives.

I found this book on Nick Wignall’s website.

I am a little bit disappointed.

First of all, the book hardly teaches anything new. Everything is very common sense.

Secondly, the book doesn’t discuss the root of a lack of assertiveness enough to my taste. Instead, it focuses on changing the behavior in the situation itself, exactly like cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Thirdly, there are too many exercises, they’re too long, and too hard, and you can be sure nobody has done them, which makes most of the book pointless.

So, what did I learn?

In a way, I learned to be more selfish. Last time I went to a friendly meeting, I wanted to leave early because I was bored, but leaving that early could have been considered rude.

Well, to hell with it, I stood up, thanked the host, and left.

I have also figured out that I was reacting passively in a lot of situations due to my childhood, which is why I decided to reread No More Mr. Nice Guy next.

Finally, I learned more about my aggressiveness (and I can be extremely aggressive) and that I need to tune it down.

Do I recommend the book?

No. Just go to therapy. Or read something else. I would recommend No More Mr. Nice Guy, or The Disease to Please.


Summary of the Assertiveness Workbook Written by Randy J. Paterson

Introduction: Being There

Assertiveness isn’t about hiding behind a fake personality to get what you want. It’s about taking down the defenses you hide behind to show your real personality, and get what you want.

Assertiveness, therefore, is first and foremost about “being there”.

Many people fear conflict and criticism, so they hide and become invisible.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t work. Extinguishing your self leads to helplessness, depression, etc.

Other people think that life is a competition. If they don’t become transparent, then other people have to be. This approach doesn’t work either. People eventually leave those that try to control them.

The solution is being there, that is, being more assertive.

Part One: Understanding Assertiveness

Chapter 1: What Is Assertiveness

Assertiveness is a communication style. There are four communication styles:

  1. Passive: giving control of your life to other people: saying “yes” to things you don’t want to, “hoping” problems will be fixed by themselves, not criticizing, not offering your opinion, etc.
  2. Aggressive: forcing control over people, using any means possible to ensure you will get respected, forcing them to submit to you, etc.
  3. Passive-aggressive: not standing up for yourself and reacting to things you don’t like in an unclear, subtle, and aggressive manner.
  4. Assertive: understanding that the way others react is their problem, and the way you react is your problem.

The Passive Style

Being passive is a choice, but we often don’t realize we make this choice consciously. It’s often because we believe we’re not allowed to act in any other way – we believe we’re not allowed to take our lives into our hands.

Beliefs that hold you back

  • Other people are more important than I am.
  • Other people are entitled to have control over their lives. I’m not.
  • They can do things effectively. I can’t.
  • My role in life is to be a servant.

Passive Emotions

  • Fear of rejection if you don’t do what you’re asked.
  • Helplessness and frustration, which lead to depression.
  • Resentment at the things people ask you.

How Does the Passive Style Develop?

  • Some people are taught in a young age to be perfectly obedient.
  • In some families, children’s requests are never respected. They become helpless as they understand that what they want will never be granted.
  • In some families, assertiveness leads to violence.

The Aggressive Style

Aggressive people don’t feel dominant. They feel helpless and attacked, so being aggressive is the only way they can hit back.

Advantages of Aggression

None in the long term. All advantages are in the short term.

  • People do what you ask them…until they’ve had enough.
  • People will leave you alone because they fear you.
  • It makes you feel powerful.
  • It can make you feel good for “taking revenge”
  • Blowing off steam.

Moments of aggressiveness are often replaced with shame and guilt for hurting people.

Why Do People Act Aggressively?

  • Parents were aggressive
  • Low-esteem leads to feeling threatened and attacked
  • Positive feedback loop (you have been aggressive and it worked out)

The Passive-Aggressive Style

The passive-aggressive style is not standing up for yourself, then being angry at people that gave you things to do, without telling them. It’s basically disguising your aggression in order to avoid taking responsibility for it.

The consequence is that people begin to see you as unreliable, clumsy, untrustworthy, etc. Self-esteem decreases, anxiety increases. Shame and guilt can also play.

The Origin of the Passive-Aggressive Style

Usually, they come from both passive and aggressive situations.

These people are angry and want control, but fear the consequences of expressing their anger and taking control. They may also want to be saved.

The Assertive Style

Assertiveness is not a strategy for getting your own way. Instead, it recognizes that you are in charge of your own behavior and that you decide what you will and will not do.

Likewise, assertiveness also means that we recognize that other people are in charge of their own behavior, and that we should not try to control them.

We can make requests, but we need to understand that nothing guarantees that these will be executed.


  • Helps us relate to others with less conflict and resentment
  • Helps us relax around others because we know we can handle situations well.
  • Helps us keep self-respect
  • Increases self-confidence by reducing the need for approval
  • Gives us control over our own life

How Do the Styles Connect?

Some people think that assertiveness stands between passive and aggressive.

But it’s not.

image 11

It’s above.

Another Style: The Alternator

Some people act passively, then suddenly explode aggressively. This isn’t passive-aggressive. This is just alternating.

The key for these people is to learn to be more assertive.

Checkpoint: Where Are You?

Check which situations you identify the most with to know towards which side you lean.

image 12
Screenshot from the book.

Chapter 2: Overcoming the Stress Barrier

Being assertive means having some skills that are both difficult and stressful to acquire.

This chapter will deal with the stress that may arise when you’re being assertive.

What Is Stress?

In brief, the stress response is a bodily reaction to the perception that we are under threat.

Stress isn’t caused by a stressful situation. It is caused by the way your body reacts to it.

If you train your body not to be stressed, it won’t.

Why would you want to do that? Because in lots of cases, stress doesn’t help. Most people are less good when stressed than they are when relaxed.

Stress used to compel you to do two things:

  1. Fight the danger.
  2. Run away as fast as you can.

When you’re stressed, your body changes.

  1. Your heart beats faster to pump more blood.
  2. Rise in blood sugar for energy
  3. Increased blood supply to muscles. Decrease in blood supply to the skin and digestive system.
  4. Release of endorphins
  5. Senses become more acute

These were designed in a dangerous natural environment. Today’s environment does not contain these dangers anymore. So being stressed today is not worth it, especially in our environment.

So, how can we turn down stress? To answer that, we need to understand how it works.

Situation -> appraisal -> response

Stress comes from a signal from the outside world. If you don’t receive the signal, you won’t be stressed.

There are different ways to deal with stress:

  1. You can deal with the situation itself.
  2. You can deal with the appraisal: is this situation really worth getting stressed for?
  3. You can deal with your response by breathing.
  4. You can make some lifestyle changes to change your reaction to stress.

Stress and Assertiveness

To respond well to a situation, we need to remain calm and take the time to choose the correct words. This is exactly what stress prevents us from doing.

Once you feel threatened, it’s difficult to be assertive.

Building Stress-Related Resistance

Some people get stressed when the smallest confrontation appears. If this is your case, you need to change your physical response to stress.

Here’s how you can do so:

  1. Exercise: daily.
  2. Eat well: whole foods.
  3. Get enough sleep: between 7h-9h. Wake up and go to sleep at the same time.
  4. Don’t drink too much coffee.
  5. Lead a balanced life: don’t work too much, don’t do too much stuff.

Examining Your Appraisals

Before you decide if a situation is stressful or not, consider the following criteria.

  1. Is your life in danger? If yes, then you’re right to be stressed. If not, then no.
  2. Will stress help the situation?
  3. What’s the worst thing that could happen?

Calming the Stress Response

Sometimes, you’re too stressed to deal with the situation at hand.

In that case:

  1. Take a break, go for a walk. Take time to calm yourself down.
  2. Burn it off: stress is creating a lot of energy in your body. Use it by going for a run, or doing something physical.
  3. Breath

Chapter 3: Overcoming The Social Barrier

People won’t be happy to see you becoming more assertive, particularly if you were passive.

If you can already think of people that may be annoyed if you became more assertive, prepare an explanation to give them if they ask.

They may be surprised to see that you have changed the way you react in situations. Don’t blame them for being surprised.

If you were passive, you will gain back control over your life by being assertive. Expect people to resist that.

Similarly, assertiveness includes setting boundaries to what you will and will not tolerate. People that used to walk over your feet won’t like this.

When you become assertive, things become worse before they become better. You’ll have to give people time to get used to the new “you”.

  • Only set boundaries that you are willing and able to defend. Don’t make threats you can’t keep.
  • Don’t start getting assertive when you are strained to the limit.
  • Don’t back down.
  • Don’t become assertive with everyone in your life at once.

Chapter 4: Overcoming The Belief Barrier

We don’t react to the real world, but to what we think the real world is.

image 14

Eg: your friend announces he/she is getting married. The way you react will depend on your beliefs.

We learn our beliefs in the following ways:

  • From our parents.
  • From example (we copy what others believe)
  • From experience

Some beliefs prevent you from being assertive.

Beliefs that support a passive role (you should abandon them)

  1. Assertiveness means getting your own way all the time → assertiveness means in fact making you on an equal footing with other people.
  2. Being assertive means being selfish → assertiveness means expressing your preferences. It doesn’t engage other people to follow them.
  3. Passivity is the way to be loved → you can both be yourself and still be loved.
  4. I am only worthwhile as long as I am doing something for someone else.
  5. The way to be accepted and appreciated by others is to give and give.
  6. It’s impolite to disagree.
  7. If others disagree with me, then I must be wrong.
  8. I have to do everything I am asked to do → you have the right to decide for yourself what you will and won’t do.
  9. Other people can’t handle my assertiveness → this usually comes from mixing assertiveness and aggressiveness.
  10. If I start speaking up I’ll never stop.
  11. It’s important to be nice → no.
  12. My opinion doesn’t matter.

Beliefs Supporting an Aggressive Role:

  1. I’m entitled to be angry → yes, you are. But will being angry have a positive, or negative impact on your life?
  2. If I’m not aggressive nothing will happen → will being aggressive have a positive, or negative impact on your life?
  3. Honesty is the best policy → honesty is great, but there are nice ways to express it, and aggressive ways to express it. Be nice when being honest.

Beliefs Supporting Passive, Aggressive, and Passive-Aggressive Roles:

  1. People should be more considerate → some people believe that others should pay more attention to them. Unfortunately, they don’t. You have to communicate to people what you want.
  2. I’m afraid of trying to be assertive and failing → you will fail, but this is the only way to get better.

Make sure to be aware when the belief hits you. Make sure to challenge it as well.

Chapter 5: Reality Check

The reason why we’re not more assertive is ourselves. We obey imaginary rules we made for ourselves and are miserable because of them.

These rules are not carved in stone, we can change them.

We have had a look at restrictive beliefs in the previous chapter. Let’s now have a look at beliefs that create more freedom for you.

You are in charge of your behavior; others are in charge of their behavior.

This means that while you are entitled to your reaction, others are also entitled to theirs.

Eg: you have the right to change your mind about a decision you have taken. Your friends has the right not to like it, but that’s how life works.

Accepting responsibility means accepting that it is your decision, and that no one forced you.

  • I decide for myself what I will and will not do.
  • I am my own judge.
  • I don’t have to justify myself to others.
  • Others do not have to justify themselves to me.
  • People can ask me anything they want: but you don’t have to answer them.
  • My life is my own, and I can turn down requests made by others if I wish.
  • People change their minds: the decision you have made is not set in stone forever.
  • Everyone makes mistakes; this doesn’t give control of their lives to others.
  • I don’t have to be logical, nor do others: we’re emotional creatures, you are entitled to do stuff that has no logical ramification whatsoever. And you don’t have to justify yourself.
  • I have the right to be alone.
  • I don’t know everything, and I don’t have to: and you also have the right to ask.
  • I have my opinions and convictions, and others have theirs: you are entitled to think whatever you want even if others don’t have the same convictions.
  • I have the right to protest unfair treatment or criticism.
  • I have the right to ask for help or emotional support.
  • Others can give advice, but they don’t make my decisions.
  • I am not responsible for other people’s problems.
  • Others are not responsible for solving my problems.
  • Direct is usually better.

Chapter 6: On The Launchpad: Preparing For Change

Before you got out and become assertive, you need to lay the groundwork to become so.

Here are some ideas to help you out.

Assertiveness Is What You Do, Not Who You Are

Assertiveness is something you need to learn. It has nothing to do with “personality”. Everyone can be assertive. You too.

Allow Errors

Becoming assertive means taking more risks, and taking risks means making mistakes. Welcome them. You can’t learn without making mistakes.

Start Easy

This means practicing posture or vocal assertiveness first, or simply being assertive in certain situations (the easy ones).

Don’t try to be assertive in “tough situations” when you begin.

It’s Not Necessary to Be Assertive All the Time

If you’re at your friend’s house and they’re offering a cup of coffee, you can take it even though you don’t really want it.

Consider Your Timing

Some people answer without thinking and then regret their answers. Take the time before you answer, you’re allowed to.

Strike While the Iron Is Cool

Wait until people calm down to discuss sensitive matters.

Breath, go for a walk, go for a run.


  1. Problems should be fixed asap not to be forgotten, or not to let me transform into bigger problems.
  2. Some people will never calm down.

The Bonsai Principle

Be as specific as possible and as short as possible. Like a bonsai.

Who’s in Charge Here?

You are in charge of your own behavior as much as others are in charge of theirs. Don’t control others. And control yourself.

Using Humor

You can use humor, but:

  • It will likely be misinterpreted by people who don’t know you well.
  • Don’t use self-deprecating humor.
  • Don’t use humor with angry people.

Pick a Model

Think about people that are assertive, and wonder what they would do in a situation where you don’t really know what to do.

The purpose isn’t to become like them. It is to get unstuck.

Consider Your Safety

Don’t endanger yourself.

Cultural Factors

In some cultures, being more or less assertive may appear rude.

Part Two: Becoming Assertive

Chapter 7: Becoming Visible: Nonverbal Behavior

There are two ways to communicate:

  1. Verbal: what we say.
  2. Non-verbal: how we look.

People mostly pay attention to the non-verbal because it indicates:

  1. The emotional state
  2. How you feel about what’s being discussed
  3. How you feel towards the person you’re talking to
  4. Whether you think the discussion is important
  5. Your level of confidence
  6. How you see yourself compared to the person in front of you (superior, inferior, equal)

If you say “I love you” while sighing and looking away, the person you’re saying it to isn’t likely to believe you. The verbal can lie. The non-verbal rarely does.

The reason why it’s important to practice non-verbal communication is that it may communicate to the other party stuff you don’t mean.

Assertive Nonverbal Communication

An assertive nonverbal style communicates respect for yourself and the other person. It signals an expectation that your point of view will be heard.

The passive style communicates that you don’t expect the other person to listen to you. The aggressive style communicates that you have no respect for them.

Here’s how each style is communicated in practice.


  • Assertive: An upright posture with the shoulders back.
  • Passive: The body is hunched, as though you want to make yourself smaller than you really are.
  • Aggressive: The posture may be large and threatening, or crouched as though you are a tiger ready to pounce.

Movements and Gestures

  • Assertive: movements are relaxed and fluid. No muscle tensions. Limbs are opened.
  • Passive: some look depressed and lethargic. Others speed up.
  • Aggressive: physical gestures tend to be rapid and sharp.

Physical Distance

  • Assertive: Depends on the culture. In some, the distance is large. In others, it’s short.
  • Passive: Greater than normal.
  • Aggressive: Shorter than normal.

Eye Contact

  • Assertive: Frequent and broken often.
  • Passive: Usually avoided.
  • Aggressive: Direct and fixed.

Facial expression

  • Assertive: The face generally communicates openness via a direct gaze, a calm expression, and little muscle tension.
  • Passive: Anxious or apologetic. Tension in the forehead.
  • Aggressive: Tension in the jaw. Expression is fixed rather than changing.

Physical Contact

  • Assertive: Varies from culture to culture. When touching occurs, it is usually gentle and intended to express empathy for the other person.
  • Passive: Touching is minimal.
  • Aggressive: Firm and rapid.

Voice Tone

  • Assertive: Voice is warm and well-modulated.
  • Passive: Voice is quiet. The tone may be complaining, particularly during self-justifications or attempts to pacify the other person.
  • Aggressive: Shouting.


  • Assertive: The flow of words is even and conversational, without rushing or hesitating.
  • Passive: Hesitation caused partly by stress and partly by a search for the words that will satisfy the other person. Slow, or rush due to anxiety.
  • Aggressive: Little hesitation.

Physical Appearance

  • Assertive: Look chosen at least in part to reflect the person’s own preferences and personality.
  • Passive: Purpose is to blend with the group. Some people use glasses or makeup to hide behind.
  • Aggressive: Clothes are designed to intimidate.

Choose one of these categories to work on for a week. Choose the one you’re particularly passive or aggressive in.

Put some reminders around you (bracelets, pics, notes, etc).

Working With Your Posture

Go for a walk in your city and walk as if you were confident.

  • Get your body straight
  • Hold your head up
  • Maintain a relaxed, easy pace
  • Adopt a pleasant, friendly expression
  • Walk in the middle of the path rather than on one side only
  • Look at people in the eye…and smile.

Walk for a while this way, then walk back as you used to before. Which one feels better?

Working With Your Voice

Pick up the phone and call someone you don’t know to ask for information.


  • Hotel to know about room prices
  • Restaurant to know information about group bookings.
  • A shop you saw an ad of to ask about the availability of the product advertised

Use a warm conversational tone. Don’t apologize. Don’t become angry or impatient.

Don’t self-criticize.

Chapter 8: Being Present: Giving Your Opinion

To be assertive is to participate in the events of your own life and the lives of others.

You do so by revealing your desires, opinions, etc.

Some people stopped giving their opinions because they were never asked. Some shout them aggressively because they’re never listened.

See which style you usually give your opinions in:

  • Passive: You wait for others to give your opinion before giving yours. Or you avoid doing so altogether.
  • Aggressive: you give your opinion and consider stupid everyone that doesn’t agree with you. You make fun of them. You harshly judge them and criticize them.
  • Passive-Aggressive: You criticize others’ opinions indirectly. “Vegans are moron. Oh, I didn’t know you were vegan”. You use sarcasm.
  • Assertive: you express your opinions and take ownership regardless of the other opinions expressed. You can change your mind with new information, but you don’t change it because other people think differently.

Try to offer your opinions more often. Here are some tips.

  • Relax before you start
  • Rehearse
  • Don’t show a lack of confidence
  • Feel free to signal your openness to other views
  • Own your message: don’t start with “a powerful economist said that…”.
  • Don’t apologize for having an opinion.
  • You are not the source of all truth: avoid giving your opinion in a way that leaves no space for others’ opinions.
  • Don’t intimidate
  • Don’t let it slide: you don’t need to give your opinion every time…but sometimes, you should give it.

Chapter 9: Taking The Good: Receiving Positive Feedback

Many people find it hard to accept compliments.

They may:

  • Ignore
  • Deny
  • Argue: “No, it’s not as great as you think it is”.
  • Joke: “I was glad to help you, I got nothing else to do anyway”.
  • Self-insult: “I guess it was ok for someone as dumb as I am”.
  • Question: ” Why do you think I sing well?”
  • Narrow: “These look good because the person that made them is very good at it”.
  • Boomerang: “I may be funny, but you were hilarious”.

Why don’t people accept compliments?

  1. They think it’s arrogant to do so.
  2. They want to reestablish balance. If they get a positive from someone else, they insult themselves and give a compliment in return.
  3. They think they’re indebted and feel the need to repay the debt by getting rid of the compliment.
  4. People with low self-image don’t think they’re worth complimenting so they find another explanation.
  5. Some believe that there is another motive behind the compliment.

What happens when you avoid compliments?

These people think it’s virtuous to decline a compliment. In fact, it’s rude.

So…accept the compliment. Let it in. And say thank you.

A compliment is a gift to be accepted. It is not a bomb needing to be defused, nor a volleyball needing to be returned.

Accept the compliment as openly as you can.

Chapter 10: Giving Helpful Positive Feedback

The more passive someone is, the less likely they are to give compliments. They also avoid the expression of positive feelings.

Aggressive people measure everything, because everything is a competition. Providing positive feedback may help “others get ahead”.

Passive-aggressive people don’t give compliments at all, because passive-aggressive people want to bring others down, not up.

Why give positive feedback?

  • They’re essential in human relationships. Helps to build and maintain them.
  • Rewarding for good behavior works better than punishing for bad behavior.
  • It’s essential when learning a new skill.

Why don’t you give more positive feedback?

  • We only focus on the negative.
  • Nothing meets the standards you have set
  • You don’t know how to do it
  • You’re afraid to “lose”: if you have an aggressive style, giving compliments can help others “get ahead”.
  • Fear of widening the gap: if you already feel inferior, giving a compliment can make you feel even more inferior.
  • Fear of not being important enough: if you don’t think others take you seriously, why would you give them compliment?
  • Only for great stuff: you think compliments should only be given in case of exceptional circumstances.

None of these reasons are true. Compliments strengthen relationships and will make you look better in the eyes of others. You should give more compliments.


  • Don’t give false compliments
  • Don’t give fake compliments: “You look much better, much less fat than you used to look!”
  • Don’t use compliments to get something: “your new car is great…can you drive me to…”
  • Be specific: “I really liked this sentence”

Here are some exercises you can do to train yourself.

  1. For one week, give one compliment per day.
  2. Every time you find someone that you don’t know personally that did something great, say it.
  3. If you are quick to criticize and slow to praise, inverse it. If you haven’t found anything positive, you are not allowed to say something negative.
  4. Find someone you have a tough relationship with and give them a compliment.

Chapter 11: Taking the Valuable: Receiving Negative Feedback

While it’s hard to hear what others like about us, it’s harder to hear what they do not.

Criticism, though, is mandatory. As a result, we should learn how to receive it.

While feedback from others acts like a mirror, sometimes, it doesn’t.

This is due to:

  • Mood: the person is angry and doesn’t believe what he says.
  • Unrealistic Standards: some people expect others to be perfect.
  • Manipulation Attempt
  • Jealousy
  • Competition
  • Frustration
  • Fear

There are different forms of criticism:

Non-verbal criticism: looking away, frowning, etc, are non-verbal criticism.

This is a form of passive-aggressive strategy extremely powerful to destabilize someone else because the person that has done this can deny they even did it by saying “I didn’t say anything”.

This leaves you angry.

Indirect Criticism: similar to above, except that the person actually speaks.

Eg: How brave of you to do a presentation on a topic you’re so unfamiliar with, or depression just seems like a sign of a weak character, don’t you think?

Looks like a compliment, but it’s actually an insult. It’s a passive-aggressive way of criticizing other people.

Hostile Criticism: aggressive remark.

Eg: You are incompetent instead of you made a mistake.

Direct Criticism: criticism that isn’t aggressive.

Eg: You made a mistake.

Usually assertive, but can also be aggressive, or too emotional.

Reactions to Criticism

Here’s how we commonly react to criticisms.

Fear: the fear can be attributed to the comment itself (maybe I am really bad), to the consequence of the comment (maybe I will lose my job), or the reaction of the person (maybe they will scream at me).


Counterattack: frequent patterns in couples. Instead of defusing, the other attacks.

Denial: “Your critic is completely unfounded”. Often goes in pairs with counter-attacks.

Defense: “I think I have done a pretty good job”. The problem is that you’re giving power away to the other person when you are defending yourself.

Shame and inadequacy: “Ok, sorry for doing this, how can I do it better next time?”

Skills for Coping with Criticism

  1. Relax: criticism leads you to tense up, which makes it harder to come up with an adequate response.
  2. Avoid retaliation: don’t counterattack right away. Stay on their topic.
  3. Hold back: most of the time, the other person wants to upset you. Don’t give them this pleasure.
  4. Don’t demand perfection: don’t expect people to give you perfect feedback.
  5. Validate their perception and emotions: I see what you mean, I understand why you feel upset goes a long way.
  6. Agree in part
  7. Listen and wait
  8. Narrow and specify: people are often vague, ask exactly what didn’t go well.
  9. Explain without offering excuses: I’m sorry I missed the call is better than long excuses as they highlight a lack of confidence.
  10. Don’t try to change their mind
  11. Thank the critic
  12. Respond to the style: if the critic was kind, react this way. If it was aggressive, point that out.
  13. Ask for time: sometimes it is better to ask for some time before answering.

Chapter 12: Constructive, Not Critical: Giving Corrective Feedback

Some people find it highly uncomfortable to give negative feedback.

Without it, most relationships are likely to degrade and fall apart

When you become uncomfortable, one of the following actions can happen.

  1. Avoidance: you avoid giving negative feedback altogether.
  2. Aggression: you get angry at yourself and so give aggressive feedback.
  3. Vagueness

So, how do you do it properly?

The most important is to focus on the behavior, not on the person.

Don’t say “You’re incompetent.” Say “you’ve made a mistake”.

Observe the following principles too:

  1. Get your timing right: don’t give negative feedback when the person is stressed, in a rush, etc.
  2. Give as much positive as negative feedback.
  3. Know what you will say. Don’t improvise.
  4. Talk one-to-one: don’t give public negative feedback.
  5. Be specific
  6. Give information, not advice: People don’t like unsolicited advice.

Chapter 13: The Assertive “No”

Passive people have a hard time saying no.

If you cannot say no, you are not in charge of your own life.

You become a slave.

So, why don’t people say no?

  • If others didn’t ask, you wouldn’t have to say no.
  • They won’t take no for an answer
  • You will be rejected if you say no
  • You can’t say no because you think it is rude and selfish.

Here are a few tips to learn to say no.

  • Use assertive body posture
  • Decide what your answer will be before you speak: and decide how you will phrase your answer.
  • Wait for the question: when people talk about their problems, you don’t need to offer them a solution if you don’t want to!
  • Don’t apologize, defend yourself, or make excuses
  • Don’t ask permission to say no
  • Reinforce your position: some people can’t take no for an answer
  • Don’t rephrase your answer: it seems like you are weakening. Be clear, and repeat your clear “no”
  • Don’t wait for acceptance: no one cares if the person accepts the no or not. You said it, and this is enough.
  • Expect consequences: you can say no, but others can be angry.

Chapter 14: Making Requests Without Controlling Others

Being assertive usually means controlling your own behavior without attempting to control the behavior of anyone else.

When we make a request though, this may come across as us trying to control them. But it’s not. It’s just stating a desire. They are, ultimately, in control and can accept the request, or decline it.

Lots of people are passive and don’t make requests. So they hope others will offer them their help spontaneously.

Others are too aggressive when making a request.

Finally, others make passive-aggressive requests: I was trying to get another beer but I hurt my ankle. That person is asking you for another beer.

How can we be more comfortable with making requests?

  1. Focus on what you want first, without taking others’ feelings into account.
  2. Decide whether your request is reasonable or not.
  3. Don’t apologize upon asking.
  4. Don’t put yourself down: “sorry, I am too dumb to find the…”

A good framework for requests is the DESO framework.

DESO means Describe, Express, Specify, Outcome.

  • Describe: I bought this from your shop yesterday, and a piece is missing.
  • Express: Describe your emotions, stay calm, and emphasize the positive.
  • Specify: Make your request. Decide what it is before, be as short and specific as possible.
  • Outcome: What will happen if the person executes your request. Can be simply “It’d make me feel better”.

Rewards create more incentives than punishment. Promise a good outcome instead of a punishment.

Eg: Laura, when you tell me I don’t love you (Describe), it makes me feel both awful and misunderstood (Express), because I do love you very much. If you’re feeling unloved, I wish you’d tell me right away and we can talk about it (Specify). Maybe then we can figure out what happens rather than getting into arguments about what I feel (Outcome).

Chapter 15: Countdown To Confrontation

We’re all different. As a result, none of your relationships will ever be perfect.

You will have to confront people. Confrontation isn’t a bad thing. It happens in the context of:

  • Setting boundaries with children.
  • Deciding who will carry the family responsibilities
  • Discussing work assignments

Confrontations are challenging because:

  • They’re complex to deal with: you need good body posture, voice, knowing what to say, etc.
  • Stakes: the more important the relationship is (wife, husband), the higher the stakes. Also applied to the issue at hand (money, etc).
  • Symbol: conflicts over stupid stuff like the dishes are not about the dishes, but about the significance of the behavior behind it.

Here are ten steps to help you prepare for confrontations.

  1. State the issue to yourself: you have the impression of being bothered because of a problem. What problem is it?
  2. Find the symbolic value: what does the problem mean about your or the other person’s behavior?
  3. Describe the problem in behavioral terms
  4. Define your goal: what do you expect out of the confrontation
  5. Maybe it’s you: when you define the outcome, you realize you never say no to something you hate.
  6. Pick your battles: sometimes, you can just go with the flow. Be sure to say no to what you really don’t want to do. And don’t fight in battles you can’t win.
  7. Write a DESO Script
  8. Choose where the confrontation will happen
  9. Choose when you will have the confrontation
  10. Ensure your safety: some people may be violent. Make sure to be in a place with witnesses. Never use a child as a witness.

Chapter 16: Constructive Confrontation

Find some tips on how to have the actual confrontation.

  1. Relax: being stressed will only worsen the issue. Relax before and during the confrontation.
  2. Watch your body language: don’t become too close or aggressive, as it may render the other person aggressive.
  3. Maintain an even voice: don’t shout
  4. Start with the positive
  5. Take responsibility: don’t blame others for your feelings.
  6. Don’t try to win: the purpose is to solve the problem for everyone.
  7. Avoid old history: don’t complicate the fight by bringing out other issues.
  8. No absolute: Don’t use always or never.
  9. Listen to what they have to say
  10. Find common ground
  11. Give points to the other side
  12. Don’t counterattack
  13. Don’t get angry
  14. Welcome silences: wait to make sure that the other person finished speaking.

Once the confrontation is over, reward yourself.

Make sure that the confrontation yielded results and that they are upended.

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