Choose your words DESC

The DESC Model for Assertiveness

What is assertiveness?

The word ‘assertiveness’ is used to describe a certain pattern of behaviour or a style of communicating with others. It is a way of behaving which means we are communicating our feelings, thoughts and beliefs in an open, honest manner, without violating the rights of other people. It is an alternative to being aggressive or manipulative, where we abuse other people's rights, or to being passive, where we abuse our own rights.

When we are assertive, we can:

  • ask for what we want from others
  • say no to the requests of others
  • express a range and depth of emotion without feeling self-conscious or aggressive
  • express personal opinions without becoming defensive

We often find ourselves in difficult situations where we want to be assertive, but we lack confidence in how to communicate our feelings. The ‘DESC’ model provides a useful framework to help us express our feelings and achieve our desired outcomes.

The DESC Model

(a script created by Sharon and Gordon Bower in their book Asserting Yourself)

1.    Describe – specifically describe the behaviour which is affecting you in a negative way. Stick to the facts.
2.    Express – explain how the behaviour makes you feel. Use ‘I’ so that you take ownership of your feelings.
3.    Specify – be clear about the outcome you want, i.e. what behaviour you want them to change.
4.    Consequences – tell them what will happen if the behaviour does/does not change.

Here is an example of how the DESC model can be put into practice in the workplace. An employee is feeling frustrated that her Manager regularly asks her to work beyond her finish time because her Manager has agreed a deadline without checking to see if this is realistic……here’s how the employee could use the model to be assertive:

Describe – “I am working late 3-4 times a week to meet the deadlines you have agreed for the management reports.”

Express – “I feel under pressure to meet these deadlines and annoyed that I can’t leave work on time like the rest of the team.”

Specify – “checking with me regarding my workload before you agree to the deadlines will enable us to discuss what is realistic and avoid me having to work late so often.”

Consequences – “if I am consulted before the deadlines are agreed, then I will be able to focus on the detail of the reports, rather than rushing to finish them.”


For this model to work effectively, also consider:

Your use of language and body language – make eye contact and keep your voice calm and controlled.

Be brief and stick to your point to get your message across – don’t keep adding to your message or repeating your words.

Write your script in advance and practise with a trusted colleague and ask for feedback as to how it sounds.

Try not to be distracted by excuses the other person makes. Whilst you may acknowledge these, the key to the effectiveness of this approach is to stick to your point and get your message across.


By being more assertive we can improve our sense of identity, our confidence and our self-esteem. A snowball effect is created: the more confident we feel, the more assertive we are and so on. By stating more clearly what our needs are, we increase the chances that these needs will be met.

Being assertive leads to a saving in energy and a reduction in tension.   We are no longer preoccupied with avoiding upsetting others, and no longer overly concerned with making gains in an aggressive way. Being assertive increases our resilience.  The more we practice it the easier it gets and our resilience develops as a result.