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Assertiveness Games and Activities

Several folks have requested ideas for teaching Assertiveness. In the handful of discussion posts that I found, following is a compilation of some of my favorite ideas.

First, Arthur Lerner explains: “Introverted behavior is not by itself a particularly good indicator of non-assertive or passive behavior, this is doubly true if one looks at behavior of ISTJ’s or (even more) INTJ’s. Don’t mistake not being outspoken on a regular basis for lack of assertiveness. Conversely ENFP’s may talk and interact a lot, but often take a stance of being (compulsive) helpers, lieutenants instead of captains, etc.” Others expressed that level of assertiveness can, at times, be linked to self-confidence.

Understanding the language can help

There are different frameworks through which to view assertive and non-assertive behavior. The following are but two.

1) One is based on behaviors being characterized as: Passive, Aggressive, Passive-Aggressive, Assertive.

2) The second distinguishes these psychological stances: Dependent, Counter-Dependent, Independent, and – rarest of all – Interdependent.

Familiarity with these related concepts will help you and your trainees have a deeper understanding (and recognition of themselves and others). ~ Posted online by Arthur Lerner

To make this fun, you can discuss a variety of TV characters that fit each of these profiles. You can also how would “X” respond to a situation such as someone sitting in their pre-assigned seat. ~ Posted online by Susan Goldstein

Two ways to enter a circle

Right off the bat, before sharing names or “stats”, have your group stand in a circle for two “meetings.” The first time, ask them to go to the center of the circle as if they were getting onto an elevator. Of course they will all be reserved and full of “excuse me” and keeping our bodies, eyes, and voices mostly to ourselves. After a quick “What was that like?” (2 min max), have them enter the circle as if they were arriving at a reunion or a party where they were happily seeing folks we hadn’t seen in a long time. Suddenly, you will see eye contact, handshakes and hugs, happy greetings with inviting questions. This is a great discussion starter — seeing how drastically different behavior is for the different settings, and how each of us actually felt more comfortable with the group, even though we still didn’t know each other’s names. 🙂  ~ Posted online by Dawn Walker-Elders

Small group discussions

Plan small group activities where groups report back. Typically, it’s easier for introverts to talk in groups of 3 or 4. You could assign each group identify and demonstrate common behavior patterns for different types of people — aggressive, assertive, passive, etc.  They can discuss eye contact, physical space, stance, etc.)  ~ Posted online by Stephanie Legatos

Start with an assertiveness quiz

Here’s one from

Get an audience to stand up

I once attended a workshop where there were about 80 people and the facilitator had us come out to the front of the audience one by one – the aim was for us to get the audience to stand up … was amazing, very few people could actually get them to stand up – this demonstrated the difference between aggressive people (no-one stood); passive people (no-one stood) and assertive people – the audience stood. And he gave none of us any directions.  ~ Posted online by Ann Andrews

Practice and Role Play

When I run Assertiveness training I get participants to practice specific techniques such as “broken record”, “saying ‘no’ without making excuses”, “receiving negative feedback with equanimity”, “making ‘I’ statements (rather than ‘you’ statements) etc. This can be done in pairs, or in 3s with an observer in each group. ~ Posted online by Jon Trevor

I use pair role-plays where one is the boss scolding the other for a mistake. The other attempts to respond to the boss using I’m OK – You’re OK language and posture. Start with one pair to allow the group to observe and comment and then ask the pair to redo the role-play. It is always much better! Then everyone pairs up and has a go. ~ Posted online by JoAnne Freeman

Start with some scenarios drawn up on posters and posted around the room, such as ‘A stressed colleague tells you she really needs you to stay late to help with with an unexpected event. You already have social plans.’ ‘You are making a presentation and an audience member interrupts to ask a question you can’t answer.’ Have participants go and look at them all, discuss them, and then stand by the one they would find hardest to deal with. Then launch into a discussion of how our thoughts and feelings affect our level of assertiveness; how we need to recognize and manage both before we can speak and act assertively. ~Posted online by Sue Duraikan

A variation on a live role-play, that may be less threatening, is do it at a written exchange:  Get people in groups to think of a situation in which they need to be assertive. Have them write out a summary of the scenario, plus their assertive response. Ask groups to pass their scenarios to another group, so they can write out what the other person might say in response. Then, they write another assertive respond which goes back to the other group for a reply and so on. Obviously you can have lots of these going on at once. You can then read out the conversation and discuss the learning points. Aside from not feeling “put on the spot,” it gives people time to think and discuss positive ways to respond. ~ Posted online by Derek Hughes

Handling Aggression – a planned outbreak!

Unbeknownst to the participants, I have someone primed to burst into the room claiming angrily that they have booked this meeting room and can we please leave so they can set up. Then we will’ freeze’ the ‘intruder’ and discuss different options for responding to this aggressive outburst, before trying each one out to see what effect it has. ~Posted online by Sue Duraikan

Try Non-verbals

Working in triads each person communicates an emotion with only non-verbal language. The two others try to determine which emotion is being communicated. As the practice goes round the triad, each gains skill in using congruent non-verbals, and each strengthens skills in recognizing and interpreting emotion. In fact, the non-verbal is often the strongest part of the message. ~Posted online by Margo

The Chair (or chocolates)

Ask someone who you feel is fairly strong and able to behave assertively to sit on a chair in the middle of the room.

Select 4 other people and assign them a behaviour type – assertive, aggressive, passive, passive-aggressive and advise them that their task is to persuade the person on the chair to relinquish the chair. It puts the behvaiours you have already discussed into context. I have always found that it works extremely well. ~Posted online by Fosties

A variation on this is to give the person in the chair a box of chocolates and have people take turns getting them to share those.


Try this exercise to help people draw the line between assertiveness and aggression. Split the group into pairs. Half the members will receive one set of instructions; they other half a different set of instructions.

Person A’s instructions read: Person B will make a fist. You MUST get that fist open.
Person B’s instructions read: make a fist. Person A is going to attempt to get you to open your fist. You must NOT open your fist unless he/she asks you politely and assertively.

Most people will try to pry the fingers open, which is why I added the caveat about physical contact.  ~Posted online by Karyn R

Sample Situations

Here are a handful of examples of situations, (sound threatening and some not), together with one or more possible responses. Ask your group to identify whether the response is assertive, passive or aggressive. Alternatively, ask if they can think of a better way to respond. For example:

Situation: The barmaid serves you the wrong drink in the pub.

Response: “What do you call this? I asked for a shandy, not lager – get your act together, love.”

Situation: A new colleague, with whom you share an office, smokes continuously. You dislike the smell of smoke.

Response: “Gosh, I’ve really got a headache, but then smoky atmospheres always bring on my migraine.”

Situation: You are feeling put upon at work and decide to ask for a higher grade.

Response: “I’d like to talk about my grade with you. Please could we meet next week to discuss it further?”

Situation: You are waiting to pay for some shopping but the two sales assistants at the till are deep in conversation and appear to be ignoring you.

Situation: Your employer expects you to take on extra work but your existing work load is already very heavy.

Situation: You make a mistake at work and your supervisor tells you off in a very abrupt and angry manner.

Ask Line . . . “NO” Line

Often assertiveness is hard when you face a challenge or need to ask for something. For that reason, I like this Negotiation exercise.

The participants form two lines. One lines is the “Asking Line.” They ask for anything from a pay raise, extra resources, time off, etc. The other line is the “No Line.” Their job is to say no. Encourage them to be realistic in their delivery but to find a reason to say no. The Ask Line is then forced to ASK a what, how, or why ONLY question that forces the No Line to elaborate. No yes/no answers.

The Ask Line then reformat their ask with the new information from the No Line. The No Line then offers the honest reconsideration of the request. Facilitator coaches participants one at a time, but each pair goes fairly quickly. This really helped us overcame the anxiety of the No and cultivated our ability to bounce back and be assertive by asking probing questions and re-stating the Ask. The lines then switch.

(Source of activity Ji Eun (Jamie) Lee at a Smith College Women’s Leadership Conference,  ~ Posted online by Nathalie Ais


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