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Characteristics Of Assertive Body Language

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Appropriate Use

Inappropriate Use

Eye contact

Is a prerequisite for effective communication

Makes one feel more assertive

Reduces feelings of aggression (on both sides)


Not too little or too much (staring)

Maintained when an assertive statement is made. Don’t lose eye contact in critical moments.

Too little

May be regarded as passive

 Too much

May be seen as aggressive

Note: If eye contact is broken when assertive statement is made, the impact will be reduced.

Distance or personal space

0,5m to 1m is acceptable as a social distance.

Moving closer / leaning forward slowly, while making a point, may be perceived as assertive.

Seen as aggressive:

Distance less than 0.5m.

Moving closer rapidly.

 Seen as passive:

Distance more than 1m

Increasing distance.



An upright position (not rigor mortis!) communicates the message of assertiveness

Maximally Assertive Position is asymmetrical

Arms and legs not rigidly in the same position

Relaxed, carefree attitude

Spontaneous hand gestures

Passive or Aggressive Position

A symmetric position of limbs:

Arms at sides

Standing at attention

Clenched fists

Arms folded/blocked over chest


Assertive people move their hands.  Assertive expressions are further accentuated by hand signals. 


Culturally Acceptable Gestures

Arm movements beneath the shoulder

Passive Gestures:

Hands held in one position

Aggressive Gestures:

Sudden, rapid, big gestures (especially above the shoulders) / finger pointing

Facial Expressions and Head Movements

There must be compatibility between facial expressions, head movements, and verbal messages. 

Relaxed face with appropriate expression


Nodding your head while saying “no”.

Smiling while saying something negative

Deep frowning


An important component of assertive behaviour. It may increase the effectiveness of the message.

Must be managed carefully. Only touching of hands/arms area.


Using touch to the arm to reduce the impact of a negative message

Handshake to confirm discussion

Touch any place other than arm or hand is unacceptable

Click here to see a video that explains assertive body language.