Chris Markiewicz's Blog
Every Monday – thoughts, observations and ideas that hold up a mirror to who & how we are

Assertive? Aggressive?

One of the most common questions I am asked on courses is:  “What is the difference between assertive and aggressive behaviour?”

Although the majority of people who come on assertiveness courses tend  towards the passive/submissive end of the scale, occasionally someone will turn up (usually sent by their manager) because they are too aggressive. Almost always, they are baffled because they consider themselves to be assertive already – they’ll usually describe themselves as “firm but fair” or say “I give as good as I get”, yet others will have perceived them as aggressive rather than assertive.

 So, what is the difference?

 Yes, assertive people can ask for what they want, they can say no, they can stand up for themselves, they can be forthright, strong and prepared to “go boldly”……

…….. but so can aggressive people.

 The difference?

 Assertive people listen. Aggressive people do not.

 You can believe that you are the most assertive person in the world but if you don’t listen you are, by definition being aggressive.

 A few years back I happened to hear an interview with a professor – whose name I unfortunately don’t now recall – who said, with mouth full of juicy plums:  “ I am uncomfortable about the current vogue for people going on assertiveness courses – I think it encourages them to be selfish”. My reaction was to think that, despite his status, despite all the letters after his name, he had got it dreadfully wrong.

To be assertive is not to be selfish per se. It is to clearly and unflinchingly communicate your needs  and to equally respect the needs of others in the process. In other words looking for outcomes where all parties’ needs are fulfilled.

 In order to do that, it is vital to listen. Assertive people can ask for what they want – and listen, they can say no – and listen, they can stand up for themselves – and listen, they can be forthright, strong and prepared to “go boldly” – and listen.

 So, to reiterate: assertive people listen and aggressive do not.

 That’s it in a nutshell.           


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