ASSERTIVENESS IS AN AREA of study with a long history. It dates back to the pioneering work in the field of behaviour therapy by Salter (1949) and Wolpe (1958), who recognised that certain individuals in society had specific problems in standing up for their rights. As a result, the skill of assertiveness was introduced during therapy in an attempt to help such people function more effectively in their everyday lives. Since then, the skill has attracted enormous interest, reflecting the importance of this aspect of social interaction across many areas. A huge volume of research has been conducted, and assertion training (AT) programmes are now widespread and at many levels.
Professionals must possess the ability to be assertive, and so AT programmes proliferate in this area (McCartan, 2001). This is because a key feature of assertiveness is that it is an aspect of interpersonal communication that can be developed and improved. As Rakos (1997:290) pointed out, 'assertion is a learned skill, not a "trait" that a person "has" or "lacks"'. It is a skill that is of importance when dealing with family, friends, peers, superiors and subordinates. It is pertinent to interactions between different groups of professionals, especially where differences of power and status exist, and it is of relevance to interactions between professionals and clients.
Early definitions of assertiveness were fairly all-embracing in terms of interactional skills. Lazarus (1971), for example, regarded assertiveness as comprising four main components, namely the ability to: