The shocking truth about assertiveness

When I wrote my first article about becoming assertive, I talked to a lot of people. I was shocked to discover that most people were confused about the difference between being assertive and being aggressive.

The difference is simple.

Assertiveness is respectful. Aggressiveness is not.
Despite what many people think, passivity is not respectful, either.

Imagine this situation. There are two people, Mike and John, who plan to go to the movies. They’re trying to decide on what to see. Let’s look at what happens when Mike is aggressive, when he’s passive, and when he’s assertive . . .

Aggressive

close-up of boxer in the ring, looking for a fight

Aggressive

  • Mike: Let’s go see Zombie Sharks From Outer Space!
  • John: I don’t know if I want to see that. It looks kinda’ dumb.
  • Mike: So what? I’m driving, so we’re gonna’ see what I want to see.

Mike isn’t considering what John wants. He only cares about what he wants to see, and nothing else matters. He’s willing to push his will onto John. This is disrespectful of John, rude, and definitely aggressive.

Passive

a pigeon sits on a statue's head. the head is covered with bird poop.

Passive: What could be more passive than a statue letting a bird poop on it?

  • Mike: Let’s go see Zombie Sharks From Outer Space!
  • John: I don’t know if I want to see that. It looks kinda’ dumb.
  • Mike: You’re probably right. We can see something else, instead.

Mike puts John’s feelings above his own. He only cares about what John wants, and his own desires don’t matter. He’s unwilling to stick up for himself, even about something as minor as which movie to see. This is disrespectful to himself. It also disrespectful to John, as it assumes John can’t handle a difference of opinion. This is passive behavior.

Assertive

  • Mike: Let’s go see Zombie Sharks From Outer Space!
  • John: I don’t know if I want to see that. It looks kinda’ dumb.
  • Mike: I’m pretty sure it’s more than “kinda’ dumb.” It’s gonna’ be downright stupid. But I bet it’s gonna’ be awesome, too. I mean, come on, it has zombie sharks! From space!
  • John: I don’t know . . .
  • Mike: I’ve kinda’ been wanting to see it since I saw the first trailer. Is there anything you’re really set on, instead?
  • Mike let’s John know that he understands how John feels about the movie, but he then explains to John why he wants to see it. He tells John that it’s something that he’s been looking forward to for a while. This shows John that there’s something behind Mike’s desire, that it’s, at least a little bit, important. He also asks John if there is something he wants to see, which demonstrates he’s willing to consider what John wants to do. In this situation, Mike respects John and himself. He asserts his desire, but isn’t pushy.

    venn diagram showing assertive in the overlap between passive and aggressive

    So what is the truth about assertiveness? That’s easy.

    Assertiveness is not harmful. Both passivity and aggression are.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *