How to be Assertive

By Jessie Moniz Hardy - Royal Gazette

Published Aug 13, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated Aug 12, 2013 at 7:25 pm)

  • Psychotherapist Lorrie Peniston: Will teach an assertiveness workshop

Got something important to tell the boss, but you just don’t know how to say it? Maybe you want an increase in salary or want to raise a touchy subject.

Get some pointers on being assertive at the upcoming Bermuda Professional Women’s Association (BPWA) Power Breakfast with guest speaker psychologist Lorrie Peniston. The theme of the breakfast will be assertive communication skills, and attendees will learn how to ask for what they want in order to gain the credibility and respect they deserve.

“I think both sexes can struggle with assertiveness, but women tend to lack assertiveness skills,” said Ms Peniston. “Many people think assertiveness is a personality type, but it is actually a skill that you can learn. I will teach a model called assertive communication.”

This model helps to develop assertive communication into a positive life habit. Ms Peniston defined assertiveness as the ability to exercise direct and authentic communication that addresses problems, rather than attacking or blaming, which in turn builds credibility and respect.

Ms Peniston acknowledged that difficult conversations are an inevitable part of life but she believed that this talk will help women learn how to proceed with confidence, control and clarity.

“The ‘disease to please’ is definitely more robust with females than with males,” said Ms Peniston. “That is because women are considered the nurturers, the connectors, the communicators, and I think a lot of times, in those roles, we tend to put our needs aside and put others ahead of us. Assertive people recognise that everyone’s needs are equal, but sometimes one person’s need to be put ahead of another. There is an ebb, flow and balance.”

She said one of the first steps to having successful assertive communication, is to identify three things: what the problem or concern is, what it is you want, and what it is you would like to achieve. Often conversations go off track because these key three things are not clearly stated by everyone in the conversation.

“The other steps are about crafting the conversation in a way that is confident, clear and controlled,” said Ms Peniston. “One of the goals of assertive communication is to make it a win/win conversation.”

This involves figuring out what it is the other person wants, but it can sometimes be intimidating to ask the right questions to figure out what the other person wants, so we guess or try to mind read instead.

“Sometimes we assume we know what the other person wants which can waste a lot of energy on something the other person doesn’t really want,” she said.

Ms Peniston has been working for 26 years as psychotherapist. She has a background in traditional and positive psychology and has her own company called Synergy. In Bermuda she works mainly as a therapist for individuals and couples, but she regularly travels to Pennsylvania to work with a University of Pennsylvania elite training team that trains senior non commissioned officers for the United States Army. She works with the team for two weeks out of every month teaching them assertiveness skills.

The power breakfast will be held on August 24 from 9.30am to 11.30am at Harley’s Restaurant at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess. Space is limited so BPWA encourages people who would like to attend to RSVP early to avoid disappointment. Tickets are $35 and the cost includes a full buffet breakfast. For more information on the breakfast or to RSVP, e-mail: or call 505-7160. For more information about BPWA or YBPW please e-mail: