Assertiveness Styles in Leadership


Assertive people:

  • feel empowered – they do not feel that they are unjustly controlled by others
  • are proactive – that is, they make things happen – and are not reactive, always waiting to see how they will respond to the words and actions of others
  • know how to assert their rights and fulfill their responsibilities in dealing with others
  • are able to resist the aggressive, manipulative and submissive ploys of other people.

But to be assertive, or to become more assertive than we are today, requires the deployment of a different communication style, and to this end there are four possible styles which may be applicable. These styles arise because individuals bring different levels of energy and empathy to any conversation and this allows a four-quadrant grid model to be constructed, as can be seen below.

The model below has one axis describing the level of ‘energy’ that an individual may adopt in a situation (running from ‘Strong’ to ‘Gentle’). This includes the verbal energy in terms of speaking (when the voice may be louder and more forceful), but also the non-vocal characteristics such as leaning forward or backwards, high/low use of other body language and/or facial expressions, etc. The other axis on the grid relates to the level of ’empathy’ that may be preferred by an individual. This runs from ‘warm’ to ‘cool’ and clearly relates to the interest in and warmth towards the other person.

By intersecting these two axes the grid created shows four assertiveness styles.

Every one of these four styles may be adopted in different situations, although it is likely that most individuals will stick to their greatest preference in most circumstances that they encounter. Of course, all of these styles have their associated strengths and weaknesses and some are more useful and applicable in different circumstances, than others.

Firm and positive assertiveness requires considerable practice for most people. However, it is fair to say that successful efforts to be assertive often arise from a strong feeling of self-worth, or high self-esteem, combined with a strong and positive belief about the intrinsic worth or value of others around you.

Individuals may actually draw on all four of the different styles in the same communication, or in different situations from time to time. In addition, an individual can learn or choose to use more of a particular style than another. However, for the most part, an individual is likely to have a primary and/or a secondary style that is considerably stronger than the others. This means that they are likely to adopt this style (or styles if there are two) more often and with greater ease than other styles.

Of these four styles, research tends to suggest that it is the ‘Firmly Asserting’ style that is used the most and is adopted more than any other by people that are seen to be the most positive in their efforts to be assertive (and who are happy with the end result of their efforts). This is followed by the ‘Warmly Proposing’ style, the’ Aggressively Controlling’ style and the ‘Passively Observing’ style last.

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at


Colin is the Director of ResourceZone International. He has 30 years of ministry experience as a pastor, college lecturer and consultant/coach to consultants, denominational leaders and local church pastors. He can be reached at



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About the Editor and Primary Author

Colin Noyes

Colin Noyes is a Brisbane (Australia) based coach and consultant with extensive experience in the areas of organisational health and growth, change management, leadership development, recruiting/staff development and coaching. Read more

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