The intimacy of a massage could be the closest physical contact a client has with anyone in their life. All too often, this translates into a client’s desire to elongate a session by hanging around to chat post-treatment. After all, the massage therapist may be the only person who listens to them and provides both compassionate and physical interaction.

Assertive communication skills can effectively remove the awkwardness of having a client who simply won’t leave. While many massage therapists are compassionate givers with a genuine desire to help people, not all have successfully mastered the art of being assertive.

The three primary styles of communication are aggressive, passive and assertive.


Being aggressive is protecting one’s own rights at the expense of the rights of others. Aggressive communicators see their perspective as the only option, and may result to violence or verbal abuse.


When a person is passive, they allow their own rights to be violated by failing to express their honest feelings. Passive communicators typically defer to others’ opinions or desires to avoid conflict.


Being assertive is stating and protecting one’s feelings, opinions and needs, while still being respectful of others. Assertive communication may feel risky in the moment, but it typically strengthens relationships in the long run.

Many people are concerned that if they assert themselves, others will think of their behavior as aggressive. However, there is a distinct difference between being assertive and aggressive. As opposed to being aggressive, assertiveness does not hurt, abuse or violate the person being addressed.

Assertiveness is an attitude and a way of relating to the outside world, supported by a set of skills for effective communication. To be truly assertive, you need to see yourself as being worthy of respect. At the same time, you value others equally, respecting their right to their opinion as well as to enjoy themselves. Being assertive allows you to engage respectfully with other people, while also valuing your own needs.

An important part of assertiveness is open, secure body language. The way that you present yourself has an impact on how you are perceived and treated by others. Passive body language includes hunched shoulders and avoidance of eye contact, while an aggressive stance is one with clenched fists, glaring eyes and intrusive body language. Assertive people generally stand upright but in a relaxed manner, looking people calmly in the eyes, with hands held open. A good first step to becoming more assertive is to consider your own body language through role play.

According to Dr. Linda Tillman, a licensed clinical psychologist, “Most of our personal styles are established when we are very young. If your parents were rigid and controlling, then you may have felt invalidated so much as a child that now you are afraid to speak up. If you were taught that it is good manners to be focused on the other person and not on yourself, then you may feel that it is not okay for you to ask for what you want.”

On a conceptual level, it’s easy to understand the need for assertiveness. However, mastering assertive social skills, and being able to use them can be challenging. Being assertive primarily involves three skills:

  1. Clearly expressing yourself to others – Leaving any room for doubt or alternate interpretation can open the door to an undesired reaction.
  2. Persisting with your goals in the face of opposition – This may require the massage therapist to imitate a broken record, but when done calmly and with logic to support your goal, your intentions are made crystal clear.
  3. Appropriately standing up for yourself in the midst of conflict or criticism – Possessing enough self-confidence to demand respect means that you will not tolerate a dismissal of your request.

Many massage therapists encounter the client who refuses to leave. As you depart from the room after completing the massage, state they should take a few moments before getting up and you’ll meet them outside at the reception desk in a few minutes. If further suggestions to leave your office are ignored, assertive communication skills can accomplish your needs. Defining your boundaries with yourself and with clients clarifies an appropriate linger time length. Below are some suggestions for being direct, assertively defining your boundaries:

  • It was good to see you. I need to prepare for my next client. See you next time.
  • I really cannot socialize between sessions because I need to rejuvenate and prepare for my next client. Thank you for respecting this.
  • Allow me to escort you out. I value you as a client and appreciate you respecting my schedule.
  • (Insert name), our session has come to an end. I hope to see you again soon.

You have the right to set boundaries, even if it feels rude. Being direct is different from being rude. An additional tip towards being direct is to use “I” statements. When using an “I” statement, you own your needs, without passing judgment or attacking someone else.

Learning to become more assertive and clearly define your boundaries takes time and practice. Role play with colleagues or friends, to become comfortable with this newly found strength. Being assertive allows you to communicate better and command respect, ending the frustration of lingering clients, as well as strengthening your confidence as a healing professional.

References:, Assertiveness Training, Cal State San Marcos, 2006., Improving Assertiveness, The British United Provident Association Limited, 2006., Assertiveness Training, Michigan Technological University, 2002., Speaking Up: How To Be More Assertive, Edel Jarboe, Pioneer Thinking Company, February, 2004.