Assertive > Aggressive
Being assertive demonstrates respect and leads to better relationships and outcomes than aggression
As leaders we come across different personality traits which can often be confused as one. One of the most common ones for me has been assertiveness and aggression. While many of us use these terms interchangeably, they are very different forms of communication in their expression, approach and outcomes.
What is Assertive Communication?
Being assertive is a way of communication that is based on mutual respect and confidence. It not only shows that you are rightfully asking for what is yours, but also gives importance to the viewpoints of others.
Direct, assertive communication is always respectful. Unlike passive or aggressive forms of communication, your message lands better when communicating assertively. Remember, assertive communication doesn’t mean always agreeing with what people around you say. It just means being respectful even in your disagreements.
I became an entrepreneur quite early in life. I let my passion and energy get the better of me many times and my behavior would turn aggressive. I must confess that I mis-handled many conversations with my colleagues when I could just have been assertive.
Over the last few years, I have realized that channeling your passion and energy into assertiveness is a very powerful tool. You can stand firm for what you believe is right, and try to push your point of view through without being rude or impatient.
As a leader, you always have the choice of being assertive. For example, recently one of our senior leaders at work asked me to provide some resources from my team to support their work. While I would have loved support, all members of my team were already assigned on the projects. Now, I had a choice to just ignore the message and be passive about it. However, I assertively explained to the leader why my team would not be able to support them at this point. The message was taken very well and the leader later on told me that they respected that I was conscious about the bandwidth of my team.
Is Assertiveness only a Privilege of “Senior” Employees?
I believe that anyone and everyone can be assertive in the workplace. It is a way to manage conversations while maintaining the right balance of respect towards others, even while disagreeing.
As an example, your manager asks you to finish a report before you leave for the day. You agree. But you are disappointed because staying late would mean missing your kid’s birthday dinner. This is passive behavior which builds negative feelings in you towards your manager, and could lead to conflicts in the long run.
Alternatively, you can be assertive and respectfully help your colleague to understand why you can’t help them that day. At the same time, avoid being disrespectful. As that would be considered aggressive behavior, which may lead to stress in your relationship with them.
A lot of times I have also seen long-term passive behavior turning into aggression due to stress, resentment and seething anger.
How can You Be Assertive Without Sounding Aggressive?
There is no denying the fact that there is a thin line between being assertive and aggressive. And I have seen many people who avoid communicating assertively, because they think they might sound aggressive.
However I believe that anyone can learn to be assertive without getting aggressive. Here are some points to remember while you are trying to be assertive-
Describe the situation without letting your emotions get the better of you
Explain what you like and dislike, objectively
Communicate clearly that you are taking ownership of your own needs and behavior. This also helps to signal that your stance is not a criticism of other people or their actions
Stay firm and consistent
Do not be disrespectful
Be Assertive and Not Aggressive
The choice is clear - be assertive and not aggressive:
Being assertive brings positivity, while aggressive behavior is rooted in negativity
Assertiveness is respectful to the listener, aggression is not
Assertive behavior signals standing up for yourself, aggressive behavior signals standing against others
I realize that assertive communication has allowed me to achieve more successful outcomes and build deep trusting relationships versus displaying aggression or staying passive.
It’s never too late to be assertive!
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