Assertiveness, Problem Solving, Goal Setting

Counselling in Perth

How can counselling can help me learn social skills such as being assertive, solving problems, and setting goals?

As human beings, we are social creatures and need to interact with others regularly.  During our lives we must learn how to make decisions, set goals for our future, and speak up for ourselves so that we get our needs met.  Procrastination can often be the result of an inability to make a decision or set yourself a realistic goal.  Knowing how to respond to a challenging situation in an assertive manner instead of an aggressive manner decreases the chance of conflict and misunderstandings, as well as more honest and open interactions with others. 

Children too can benefit from learning these types of social skills to help them deal with the different the different types of social situations they are faced with day-to-day learning, bullying, peers, siblings, discipline, demands and expectations.

Seeking help from a counsellor may assist your process because they are not involved nor have a vested interest in the outcome, they are neutral, and can help you to find a balance between emotion and logic.


Types of Communication

Passive – “I’m not OK, you’re OK”.  The use of submissive, compliant, vague, meek, subservient, dutiful language, often putting themself last or down whilst praising others.  They believe that the other is always right and may have few real opinions of their own. Eye contact is avoided or snatched; body posture is hunched, stooped, shuffling feet; voice is soft. They may fiddle with their hands, touching their face or hair.  Actions and words do not align.  Personal space is often invaded without challenge to inappropriate touching. Using this sort of communication results in giving in to others, rarely getting their own needs met, feeling frustrated and self-critical. People with a passive way of communicating may present to counselling because they feel:

  • anxious because they feel they are not in control of their own life, people “walk all over” them
  • depressed because they feel stuck or helpless
  • resentful because they are not getting their needs met, or because they think that people don’t consider their feelings
  • confused because they don’t know what their needs are

Aggressive – “I’m OK, you’re not”.  The use of harsh, demeaning, cruel, bullying, superior language that shows little respect or consideration for others. Will interrupt, talk over the top off, and cut people off mid-sentence. They hold the belief that  they are right, they are more important, and they deserve or are entitled to have things done their way.  It’s a “my way or the highway” type attitude.  Eye contact is direct and often threatening, staring or narrowed.  They hold their body stance in a manner that makes them seem bigger – head high, hands on hips, feet apart.  Aggressive people will often point their finger at another, pound on the table, or shake a fist at someone.  They will not hesitate to invade someone’s personal space, and struggle with the concept of boundaries.  Consequences of this aggressive communication style may be that they make enemies and alienate others, as well as feeling and angry and resentful when they do not get their own way.  Aggressive communicators will often only present for counselling because something negative has happened in their life (at work or at home) and they have been force to address it.  “my wife says that she will leave me if I don’t come to counselling to address my anger…the boss says that I have an anger management issue and I won’t get the promotion I deserve if I don’t do something about it”.

Passive – Aggressive – “I’m not OK and I’m going to make sure you’re not OK as well”.  The use of verbal and non-verbal language that appears to be passive and accepting on the outside, but the following actions are indirectly hostile or undermining to the other.  They use sarcasm as a tool to mask their real resentment of a situation, mutter to themselves under their breath, and have difficulty owning their anger, frustration and resentment.  They seem to be co-operating but underneath they are somehow sabotaging or disrupting the process.  Consequences of this type of communication is that they get trapped in a cycle of feeling powerless and resentful, then acting out in a negative way towards others around them, which alienates them, leaving them feeling powerless and resentful. People lie this present to counselling with:

  • depression because they feel socially isolated and powerless
  • anxiety because they do not understand the conflict between the way they feel and the way they behave
  • anger, frustration and confusion because they cannot see what they have done wrong

Assertive – “I’m OK, you’re OK”. The use of verbal language that is respectful and polite and aligns with their body language, gestures and actions. Is open to calm discussion of alternatives and different perspectives.  Interacts with others as equals.  Eye contact is warm, comfortable and direct, body posture and gestures are relaxed, open, confident and appropriate.  Personal space of self and other is respected, as well as an awareness of no inappropriate touching . As a result of this style of communication, people develop and maintain healthy, happy relationships with others.


Problem Solving and Making Decisions

Ever since the start of mankind, we have had to problem solve, make choices and decisions daily – some easy, some difficult, some life-changing.  Everything from “shall I wear a blue tie or a red tie today?” to “shall I try this experimental treatment or not?”

Some people make decisions by tossing a coin, whilst others are paralysed by anxiety about making the “right decision” and procrastinate, research thoroughly, or ask others for their opinions, and never end up making a decision, remaining stuck.

Some people use their intuition (or emotion…gut feeling…) and others use logic and reason.


Why is it so hard sometimes to make a decision to solve a problem?

  • Too much information – this is where “you can’t see the wood for the trees”. There is so much information that it is difficult to separate the useful from the not useful. Take time to do this, and the job should become easier.
  • Too little information – it’s very hard to make a decision when you do not have all the information you need. Even if you are rushing to meet a deadline, it is better to take some time to get extra information so that you are making an informed decision based on the information to hand, rather than a rushed decision made with minimal information.
  • Emotion has taken over – emotions can be very strong and able to overpower rational and logical thinking.
  • Too many people are involved – this can happen if there are many people with a vested interest in the outcome. Everyone has their own views and opinions. In this case it is important that a clear objective is reached and that there is one person who is ultimately responsible.


Use the acronym D I D I (  Define   Investigate   Decide   Implement) to help you out.

  1. Define – what the actual problem is. Make sure you identify the problem, not the symptoms.  Write it down as a single sentence if you can.
  2. Investigate all possible variables. Brainstorm all possible solutions, scenarios – no matter how insignificant or silly they seem.  What are the costs and benefits to you, and what are the costs and benefits to others (if appropriate).











  1. Decide which is the best option from your costs / benefits analysis.
  2. Implement the solution.

Goal Setting

One of the keys to setting goals is to understand what is important for you in your life so that you set goals that are values-driven making them easier to achieve.  For example, if you value learning, then some goals you may set up to help you live by this value may be to get a university degree, to finish high school, to commence online learning course to learn flower arranging, or to learn how to play the guitar.  When these goals have been achieved, you can tick them off as completed whereas the overall value of learning can never be ticked off as complete (unless you decide that you have learned enough and never want to learn anything new again!).


When you are setting a goal, use the acronym SMART to help you set a specific goal and not just have something general in mind that floats around in your mind.



Achievable or action-orientated




Ask yourself these questions:

  • Who is involved?
  • What do I want to accomplish?
  • Where – set a location
  • When – establish a time frame or finish date
  • Which – what do you need in order to accomplish it. What are the barriers to accomplishing it.
  • Why – state the reasons you want to accomplish this particular goal. What are the benefits?


How can you measure your progress so that you know when your goal has been reached? Ask yourself:

  • How much?
  • How many?
  • How will I know when my goal has been reached?


Set yourself up for success by ensuring your goal is realistic. Are you willing and able to work hard in order to achieve it?

  • Is this initial goal too big to start with?
  • Can I break it down into many little goals to work towards the final big goal?


Putting a time-limit onto a goal makes you accountable to stick to a (realistic) deadline and reach your goal.  And, if you know there is a time-limit it is more likely you will remain motivated to actively pursue your goal.


As an example, a general goal may be I want to lose weight.

A SMART goal may be I want to lose 5kgs by October 15th which is Betty’s wedding. Then you need to work through the steps you are willing and able to take in order to achieve this goal.

Another SMART goal might look like this: I have a 10,000 word essay that is due in 6 weeks. How can I break this down so that I am able to work continuously towards this date and have a completed assignment. Each week day at 10am I am going to spend one hour writing it.

If you are seeking the services of a psychologist or counsellor in Perth, please contact me on 0406 033 644 or

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