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How to Make an Assertive Request for a Behavior Change

State Empathy, Respect, Problem, Goal (ERPG)

Tom G. Stevens PhD
Psychologist/Professor Emeritus, California State University, Long Beach
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How to Make an Assertive Request for a Behavior Change

Tom G Stevens PhD

What to do when you are in a social situation and have the following objectives:
*To make any request
*To get the other person to change his/her behavior-- to start doing something he/she isn't doing or didn't do, or to stop doing something he/she is doing.
*To persuade the other person to want to change.
*To maintain friendly relations with the person.

Index: The Steps to the ERPG Assertive Request
1. Get ready
2. State positive feelings
3. State problem and negative feelings
4. State the goal and request for new behavior
5. Follow-up

The Assertive Request Rating Scale


Know Your Goals: Be clear in your own mind, ahead of time, what behavior you want from them and what the consequences are for you and them. For difficult situations try covert (or overt) behavior rehearsal to know what you will do and how you will handle their reaction.

If Possible, Pick the Time, Place, and Mood: It's best that you initiate the issue, otherwise you may seem defensive. Nevertheless, even if they pick the time, it is usually best to initiate a new request rather than be non-assertive. Sometimes initiating immediately after they do the dirty deed is best because you have the evidence.  Taking a deep breath and imagining a positive scene may help you feel better and set a good mood in yourself.

Establish Empathy and Respect and STATE POSITIVE FEELINGS

Empathy (E): Attempt to understand their feelings and communicate this willingness.

Example 1: "I understand you have really been overworked lately and haven't had time to get everything done; however, I hope you will also understand that this is very important to me."

Example 2: "It seems we both have some real pressures that we are under, but let's see if we can reach some agreement."

Example 3: "I can see that you really need to get some transportation because you have some things to do which are very important to you. I am afraid you will be hurt if I don't loan it to you; however, the last two times I lent it to you, you returned it so late that I wasn't able to use it when I needed it. I was annoyed at not having it when I needed it."

Respect (R): State respect and caring for the person, the parts of the person's behavior you like, or other aspects of the person's behavior that you think will help you (honestly) keep the communication as positive as possible.

Example: "If I didn't value our friendship so much, I wouldn't tell you this."

Example: "The fact that I really respect you so much makes me feel very upset about saying this to you."

Example: "You have been doing an excellent job. You have done almost everything I asked at a very high standard of performance. You know I believe this because I have told you so many times. So, I don't want you to think what I am about to tell you threatens how I feel about your work overall."

Example: "You have always been so honest and direct with me that I was really disappointed in you when I discovered . . . . ."
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Enlist their helper - empathy motivation - set their problem-solving on your side, not against you.

a. You may ask for their help -

Example: "I have a problem which I hope you can help me with." (It's much more effective in enlisting their help and concern than, "You  have a problem.")  And, if you are the one
who is upset, (no matter what they did) then your upsetness is your problem--not theirs.

Example: "I am upset, and I know it's basically my problem. However, I get upset whenever you ..."

b. You may tell them how it affects you personally. State the problem or old behaviors, the effects, and your negative feelings.

Example: "When you (specific behavior), it does (specific outcome) to me, and I feel (specific feelings).

Example: "When you step on my toes, it puts extreme pressure on them, and I feel excruciating pain."

Example:  "When you are very late, I start worrying if something has happened to you and that makes me upset."

Example: "When you call me "inconsiderate," I feel hurt and I start trying to defend myself instead of looking at the problem from your point of view.



(Note: Sometimes you will not want to state both 4 and 5. Sometimes just stating the problem will be enough. Other times the problem may be obvious, and you will want to state only a request in a new behavior. Stating both may come across as highly redundant. In more complex situations, stating both the problem and goal may be needed.)

State the desired new behavior and how you would like for it to affect you personally.

Example: "If you would (specific new behavior), it would do (specific outcome), and that would make me feel (specific feelings)."

Example: "If you would move your foot, it would relieve the pressure on my toes, and I would feel much better."

Example: "I would appreciate it very much if you would (specific new behavior), that would do (specific outcome)."

Example: "Instead of calling me 'inconsiderate' or using other negative labels, you could describe what I did and how you felt.  Then I would feel much less defensive and more
like helping you solve the problem."

Give the other as much choice in selecting the new behavior as possible. This will more likely lead to his/her help. The other person may even think of a better solution than you.  And they are much more likely to follow their own suggestions than yours. It gets them problem-solving on your side--not defensively against you.  Return to index


(Note: If the other person's response to the request is to avoid it, attack you, involve you in manipulative word games, makes you feel guilty or angry, makes excuses, or simply refuses to do it, then invoke other assertive techniques such as, broken record, disarming anger, escalation, dealing with put-downs and rejection, making a contract, etc.

Clearly summarize points of agreement (and possibly points of disagreement--to be discussed later). Be clear about the exact terms of any final agreement (or disagreement). One of your closing statements should summarize the exact terms of the agreement. Many times, the agreement should be written and signed. Set exact dates, place, time, persons, dollars, etc. If you disagree, sum up points of disagreement and tell what will happen next.


DURING ALL STEPS, BE ASSERTIVE--not non-assertive or aggressive

In all five steps above, make your style of responding assertive (not non-assertive or aggressive). Don't put you or the other on the defensive. Try to keep both people calm, rational, and helpful as much of the time as possible.

a. Use neutral (non-blaming, non-apologetic) words.


"rigid"                                             "continue to do it"
"poor job"                                         "didn't do it the way I wanted it done"
"dependent"                                     "you waited for me to make the decision"
"bitch", "complain"                             "give me negative feedback"

b. Also:
Use good non-verbal responses (eye contact, etc.).

*Use "I" statements.
*Be direct.
*Reduce hesitation words.
*Stick to Issues.
*Remember your goals--especially maintaining an understanding, caring, yet firm stance.  You are seeking WIN-WIN solutions.

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(Pre) 1. Get Ready
(A) 2. State empathy and positive feelings. E - empathy and R - respect
(B) 3. State problem and negative feelings. P - problem
(C) 4. State goal and request for new behavior. G - goal
(Post) 5. Follow-up.

Remember: The response is as easy as A,B,C - A-Positive, B-Problem, C-Goal

A sample formula for non-complex situation:

"I like _________________ (or understand _____________); however, when you ____________________,  I  feel ___________________. I would appreciate it if you would _______________."

"Let me summarize. We agree that ___________________, and we disagree about __________________________."



DIRECTIONS FOR PRACTICING--Think of at least one difficult situation in which you want to request a behavior change of another person.
1.Think about what rules or steps that you want to apply to the situation.
2.Write out your assertive request using all the steps and following all the guidelines.
3. Covert Practice: Make an imaginary practice response to yourself and evaluate it using the rating scale below.
4. Roleplay it with a partner and get coaching and feedback to help.


1. Explicitly states a clear understanding of feelings and thoughts of other person. Empathy (E)
2. States positive feelings about some aspect of the other person's behavior or feelings toward him/her. Respect (R)
3. Describes specifically which old behavior(s) or lack of behavior) is causing problem or describes problem. Problem (P)
4. Describes specifically how old behavior affects you personally. Tells what damage is occurring to you and your feelings. States your resultant feelings. Problem (P)
5. Describes the specific new behavior(s) you want. Goal (G)
6. Gives as much freedom of choice in choosing new behavior as possible to other person within clear limits. Goal (G)
7. Describes specifically how you think the new behavior would affect you personally. Includes how you thinks you would feel. Goal (G)
8. Use of neutral words ---complete lack of subtle blaming and apologetic words. No negative labels used.
9.  Overall directness/assertiveness of style. Good eye contact, voice loudness, use of "I" statements, few hesitation words, concise.

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