WHEN you hear the word "assertive" what springs to mind? Your boss, Tony Blair, conflict, raised voices, something to avoid?

Whatever connotations it provokes, assertiveness is a quality many feel they lack, partly because it is often confused with ambition, aggression or arrogance.

However, if approached in the correct way, being assertive can have hugely positive effects on your life.

But the flipside - being passive or aggressive - can make you unhappy and contribute to mild depression.

There is no doubt approaching a thorny problem with another person is difficult. But it is possible to teach yourself to become more assertive.

Dr Chris Williams is an expert in psychiatry at Glasgow University and a specialist in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). He has written a number of books for people who struggle with anxiety or other mental health problems. He has also devised a life skills course called Living Life to the Full, which uses CBT methods to help people with a variety of problems to live healthier and happier lives.

Currently running at Anniesland College, Glasgow, the course includes a module on being assertive and is open to all members of the public.

Topics include practical problemsolving, overcoming anxiety, sleeping problems and being assertive.

Williams explains that there are two main problems with assertiveness. "First, you can be passive - just doing what other people say, giving in and not saying what you want. The other issue is that being assertive can lead someone to be aggressive, prickly and demanding.

"But being assertive is about respect.

It's not about winning or domineering.

It should be a win-win situation. It is a pattern of behaviour. But the positive thing is that it is a learned behaviour.

One of the surprises about learning assertiveness skills is that people can react well to us saying what we want."

With these things in mind, Ann McCreath, a nurse trainer with the project and GreaterGlasgow NHS, takes us through some of the course's techniques in these scenarios.

Scenario 1 - Work Acolleague continually flouts the office rules, abuses privileges - the phone, e-mail and internet - and barely does any work, leaving you to pick up their slack. You grow frustrated with their behaviour and apparent lack of concern for you and your colleagues. You want to raise the issue but fear doing so could be difficult, create a bad atmosphere or possibly make the situation worse.

How would you handle it?

Passively. Keep your mouth shut and continue to do theirwork as well as your own.

Aggressively. Wait until the next time they take a two-hour lunch and then confront them about it in full few of everyone in the office. While talking to them you list everything else they do and do not do and how hard you have to work because of their behaviour.

Assertively. First, remind yourself of the 10 rules of assertion. This will give you greater confidence in tackling the issue. Practise confronting the person beforehand with someone you trust or using "the empty chair" technique. Try meeting the person informally to discuss the differences in yourworkloads.

Tell them how you feel: say how disheartened, confused and frustrated you are. Be clear on your needs and wants: tell them you do not want to feel like this any longer and that they could help you achieve this. Avoid an accusatory tone of voice; instead speak calmly and confidently.

Scenario 2 - Relationships Steven and Rachel have been going out for two years. They live apart and have equally busy jobs and hectic social lives. They need to be organised about spending time together, as well as seeing family and friends. Steven feels he has to make more concessions to accommodate Rachel's demands.

Last week, he arranged to meet his friends for a drink to celebrate the birth of his best friend's baby.

Before he met them, Rachel called to say she'd received two preview tickets for a new film they both wanted to see. He doesn't want to let her down or disappoint her, create conflict or disrupt the relationship.

How would you handle it?

Passively. Dumping your friends, you go to the cinema. You feel obliged to do so. Over the next few days you have numerous thoughts about how you let your friends down and how you'll have to explain yourself to them the next time you meet.

Aggressively. You crack. Irate, you explain to Rachel this is not the first time she has sabotaged an evening spent away from her.You go out for a drink and you do not speak for days.

Assertively. Say no to Rachel's demands and stick to it. Do not deviate; keep repeating: "No, I have other plans."Askwhat she would do if the roles were reversed. Would she like to disappoint her best friend? Reinforce an air of calm and be confident:

rememberyou have the right to say no.

Scenario 3 - Hairdresser or other commercial transaction It's days to the office Christmas party and you want a new look to wow your colleagues.You've told the stylist what you want - something a little shorter than now but nothing too drastic. She gets to work and is finished in no time. You look up: it's awful.

How would you handle it?

Passively. You swallow hard and smile. You say: "It's fine, thanks."

You pay and make a run for it. The second you arrive home you burst into tears, curse yourself for not saying what you really thought and for paying for it.

Aggressively. You blow up at the hairdresser, telling her it's frightful.

You repeatedly tell her you are unhappy. You both argue incessantly about payment.

Assertively.Ask for five minutes to gather your thoughts before delivering your verdict. Remember it's OK to do so. Then describe how you are feeling: "I'm shocked, upset and disappointed."This is purely factual - the hairdresser cannot argue because she can see for herself how you feel.

Tell them you are unhappy and go over what you discussed with them. Tell them about your needs and wants: say you feel you were not listened to and ask them what they can do to make you happier.

Try to remember you are not going to leave 100percent satisfied but it is important to relay the impact of their actions on you.


ROBERT, a 49-year-old social worker from Glasgow, has just completed the assertion module of the life skills course at Anniesland college.

"The course has highlighted that most people find it easier to be assertive or speak up for others rather than themselves. I'm usually assertive for those I'm working with, " he says.

As for himself - is he passive or aggressive? "It depends on the situation or who I'm dealing with.

I'm a procrastinator. I'll let things be, " he admits.

"But assertion is about saying: 'I'm important and I need to look after myself and take care of myself, ' instead of always looking out for everyone else. There's not a magic wand to being more assertive, it's about learning and practising skills."

10 Rules of Assertion 1 Respect yourself, who you are and what you do.

2 Recognise your own needs as an individual separate from what is expected of you in particular roles, such as wife, husband, partner, son, daughter.

3Make clear statements about how you feel and what you think.

"I feel very uncomfortable with your decision."

4Allow yourself to make mistakes.

Recognise that it is normal to make mistakes.

5 Change your mind, if you choose.

6Ask for time to think things over.

7Allow yourself to enjoy your successes, by being pleased with what you have done and by sharing it with others.

8Ask directly for what you want, rather than hoping someone will notice what you want.

9Recognise that you're not responsible for the behaviour of other adults.

10Respect other people and their right to be assertive. Expect the same in return.

Source: Overcoming Depression by Dr C Williams