Assertiveness vs Aggressiveness vs Passivity

Assertiveness is the balance between Aggressiveness and Passivity and is a characteristic of someone who is Emotionally Intelligent. When you are assertive, you are able to state your point of view in a way that is clear and direct, while still respecting others. Learning to communicate in an assertive manner empowers you to minimize conflict in an emotionally intelligent way. Assertiveness is a powerful way to communicate in both personal and professional relationships. Assertiveness will gain you respect and influence in ways Aggressiveness and Passivity never will. Yet, it is a style of communication which many people struggle to put into practice, partly because it is seldom discussed nor defined and partly because it takes practice.

Defining all three may help you to interpret the areas where you may need to work on this valuable communication skill.

Aggressive Communication

People often confuse assertiveness with aggression, because it involves sticking up for yourself. But the two are actually quite different:

AGRESSION ASSERTIVENESS
Force your needs or opinions onto others Express your needs clearly but respectfully
Often involves bullying or pushing others around Others are treated with respect
Only your needs matter Considers the needs of others as well as yours
No compromise Often compromise
Damages relationships Stronger relationships
May lead to shouting or physical aggression Using clear language to get point across
Damages self-esteem Builds self-esteem

 

For example, imagine you are standing in line somewhere and someone else pushes in front of you. An

aggressive response could be to grab them by the arm or shoulder and say loudly:

Hey! What do you think you are doing?

You aren’t more important than the rest of us, move to the back!

Blowing off steam might help for a few moments, but you will most likely spend the rest of the hour frustrated and angry about the interaction. Or perhaps the other person will shout back at you, escalating the situation and creating a scene that will leave you in a horrible state of mind.

An emotionally intelligent, or assertive response might be to gently tap the person on the shoulder and say in a confident but respectful voice:

Excuse me, perhaps you are mistaken. The line forms back there.

Could you please move the back to the line and wait like the rest of us?

In many cases, the response would be positive with this approach – the other person might even apologize and move to the back of the line, or you may find they have a good reason for their actions. However, there is always a risk that they will display aggressiveness despite your efforts – but at least you will benefit from the positive attempt at assertiveness and feel great that you did the right thing.

Passive Communication

PASSIVITY ASSERTIVENESS
Not speaking up for yourself, either because you think your views don’t matter you simply want to ‘keep the peace’ Choosing to share what needs to be spoken in a kind and respectful but firm manner
Putting your needs last to the needs of others Realizing that if you do not take care of your needs, you will never fully meet the needs of other adequately and likely feel resentful
Allowing yourself to be bullied or ignored Stand tall, recognize your value and politely walk away or take a stand in a non-aggressive way
Often involves speaking quietly or with a hesitating voice, or with body-language like looking at the floor or shrugging the shoulders Practice confident and gregarious body language. Speak in a clear, projecting voice with a mindset of compassion and inner strength
You may undermine your opinions with passive phrases such as: only if you don’t mind, or: but it really doesn’t matter that much to me Stand firm but courteous in what you believe and speak. Realize that you have value and intellect making it worth the risk to express yourself respectfully
   

 

Passive communication is often mistaken as being thoughtful. However, it can be very damaging to your self-esteem, and also to relationships. If you use a passive communication style, others are more likely to ignore you, take you for granted, or use you, which may leave you feeling bitter and resentful.

Guidelines for Assertiveness

Think of assertiveness as midway between Passive and Aggressive – the perfect balance!

Those who are defined as “Passive Aggressive” are simply unfamiliar with or unpracticed in this valuable attribute of an Emotionally Intelligent Individual

Guidelines for Assertive Communication:

Practice stating your point of view or request clearly and respectfully
Speak honestly but take time to really listen to them as well
Tone and volume of voice: how you say it is as important as what you say. Speak at a normal conversation volume, rather than a shout or whisper, and make sure that you sound firm but not aggressive.
Make sure your body language matches. Your listener will get mixed messages if you are speaking firmly while looking at the floor. Try to look the other person in the eye, stand tall, and relax your face.
Try to avoid exaggerating with words like always and never. For example: You are 20 minutes late and it is the third time this week, rather than: You are always late!

 

Try to speak with facts rather than judgements. For example: This report is good but it is missing some key items, rather than: you messed it up again!

 

Use “I Statements” as much as possible, to tell the other person how you feel rather than be accusing. For example: When you leave messes behind, I feel frustrated because I have enough of my own to clean up, rather than: You’re such a pig!

 

Practice at every opportunity – assertiveness is a skill which requires you to practice in many different situations. And don’t forget to reward yourself for each effort while resisting the temptation to quit or beat yourself up when you slip