Are You Assertive or Are You Selfish? Subtle, but Important Differences

In the fine art of interacting with others, you get better results when others perceive you as being assertive (positive impression) rather than selfish (negative impression). Either way, you’re letting others know what you want or need, so why is there such a difference, and why is it so important?

Assertiveness is viewed as a positive quality that actually makes others feel good about helping you get what you want. On the other hand, selfishness, a negative quality, pushes others away. It makes them want to avoid helping you get your way, and may even encourage them to take action to keep you from getting your way!

Let’s look at some examples:


When you appear selfish, it looks like you’re only thinking about yourself and making sure you have an advantage while ignoring or excluding the feelings, wants, and needs of others. Your focus is completely on you, and this might just trigger others to feel negatively toward you.

You could be perceived as demanding or even rude when you’re behaving selfishly.

Selfish Examples

John said, “I’m hungry NOW and I don’t want to wait two more hours to eat. Let’s head for the restaurant right now!”

Susan loudly demanded the waitress bring her a whole new entrée because the meat in her entrée wasn’t cooked to her liking.

Jane insisted that she had to be the first to get into the car when she was caught in a sudden rain shower with friends. “My hair will get wet!”


When you’re assertive, you appear self-confident, definite, emphatic, and positive about what you want.

You might not like the way something has occurred (or is about to occur), but you’re able to stand up for yourself and openly say what you require. You have no malice toward others, am not seeking an extra advantage to the exclusion of someone else, and you’re not feeling frustrated.

You’re simply asking for or stating what you want to happen with confidence and courtesy.

Assertive Examples

Jim said, “I’m pretty hungry and I know we’re not planning to leave for the restaurant for a couple of hours. I’m going to have an apple and some cheese now – does anyone else want anything?”

Gloria was subtle as she motioned the waitress over and spoke quietly. “I’d like my steak well-done. Could you please throw it on the grill for another few minutes? I’d really appreciate it.”

Julie was concerned about her hair getting wet in the rain as she and her friends noted the rainfall as they prepared to leave the restaurant after lunch. She said to Michelle, who drove them, “Since I have a meeting at work this afternoon, could I wait inside for you to pick me up so my hair won’t get wet?”

What would your natural reactions be to these requests? Intentionally considering the feelings of others can make all the difference – regardless of what you’re asking for.

Your Own Feelings When Being Selfish or Assertive

You can take a few moments to help you determine whether you’re acting selfish or assertive, depending on how you’re feeling when you make a request:


When you’re reacting in a selfish way, you’ll find yourself experiencing negative feelings and thinking negative thoughts. You can’t figure out why others don’t see that you’re not happy or not getting the attention you deserve. Why don’t they understand?

You may feel frustrated or short-tempered.

You want your way. You want what you want when you want it. And you want it now!


On the other hand, when you’re assertive, you likely don’t have negative thoughts or feelings. You’ve thought about the current situation and realized your needs weren’t being met so you stepped forward to state them clearly, firmly and without negativity.

You have no negative or hidden agenda to “get back” at someone or “get over” on someone and you have no need to loudly demand what you believe you should have.

You feel you can calmly state what it is you’re after. It’s clear and understandable. You just want to resolve the situation.

Use these points to consider whether you’re behaving selfishly or assertively in a given situation. Strive to use assertiveness more often to help you accomplish your life goals and you’ll find that you get where you want to be much quicker, without the negative repercussions of selfishness.