Assertiveness and Effectively Communicating with Difficult Peers


This training aligns with CRLA Peer Tutor Certifications Guidelines. Upon completion of this training, peer tutors will be able to:

  • Identify differences and similarities between passive, aggressive, and assertive behavior
  • Demonstrate comprehension of assertive behaviors and techniques and how to successfully implement this skill when trying to handle a “difficult” student.
  • Recognize that being mentally prepared and aware of circumstances helps in potentially difficult situations that may occur during a peer tutoring session.

In-Person Training

Materials Needed

  • Index Cards
  • Balloons


Brainstorm 6 or more “difficult student” personalities or circumstances of a difficult tutoring session (e.g. The Interrupter, The Know-It-All, Mr.Crankypants, unfocused/uninterested students) and write them on separate, small pieces of paper. Roll up the sheets and place each one into a different balloon along with an extra item to weigh them down a bit. Blow up enough balloons so that there is one for every person present.

Part 1:

1. Give the tutors a simple task to complete (e.g. tie your shoe, fold a paper airplane, do two jumping jacks, sketch a self-portrait, etc.). Then, throw the balloons at them as they try to complete their task.

2. Note how each tutor reacts. Do they acknowledge a distraction being thrown at them? Ask them what they think the balloons represent. After discussing their reactions, identify whether they were passive (ignored the balloon) or aggressive (pushed the balloon away).

At this point, discuss the characteristics of being passive or aggressive.

Passive communication is characterized by not expressing honest feelings, thoughts or beliefs and allowing others to violate your rights. This could be by thinking things like “If I say no then I may upset someone and I will be responsible” and “People will think badly of me or not like me”. Common behaviors include self put-downs, apologies, hesitation, averting your gaze, and covering your arms for protection. In a tutoring setting, this could open the doors for students to take advantage of you. You may achieve your task of tutoring, but you have not dealt with the issue making the session more difficult.

Aggressive communication is characterized by standing up for your personal rights and expressing your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs in a way that is usually inappropriate and which violates the other person. Common behaviors seen in this style of communication are sarcastic tones, fast, abrupt pace, condescending voice, gesturing and staring at specific people. In a tutoring setting, this could cause others to feel intimidated and demeaned by you. You may create a hostile learning environment because you have dealt with issues in an aggressive manner, causing a residual attitude or crankiness in your session.

Part 2:

1. Split the tutors into two groups: passive and aggressive.

2. In their groups, have them perform Part 1 and see how their reaction changes. Identify how each group of tutors changed in their reaction to the balloons. Do the tutors overcompensate and go to extremes? Or will they try to find a happy medium?

Neither extreme is beneficial. We have to learn to be assertive in our communication so that we can communicate openly and honestly without violating the rights of others. Assertive communication has common behaviors like a steady even pace, sincere and clear attitude, constructive criticism without blame, and a willingness to explore other solutions.

Have everyone find a balloon and pop it to see what situation is inside. Have each tutor read it aloud. How would that situation affect a tutoring session? Think of a way that they could acknowledge and handle the situation in an assertive manner in a tutoring situation.

After hearing all the “difficult” situations, find the one that would bother you the most (maximum 2 people per situation). In your pair, discuss and complete the following worksheet.

Independent Training

Step 1

Download the following PDF and Review the PowerPoint. The worksheet is to be completed with the PowerPoint below.

Step 2

Download the following PDF. When instructed by the PowerPoint, fill it out. Be sure to follow the link on the PowerPoint and watch the video.