This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure for more info.
You may wonder about assertive vs. aggressive communication and behavior styles, and the difference between them.
There are several subtle differences, but here is the most important one:
Assertiveness is the ability to speak up for yourself and stand your ground when discussing important personal matters, while being respectful toward others.
Aggressiveness is similar to assertiveness in one respect, but there are major differences between the terms, as I will soon highlight.
While aggressiveness enables you to get your point across, too, this communication and behavior modality can more often result in conflict.
This is because aggressive people tend to be hostile in their communications, including an overtone of contempt for others' opinions.
Table of Contents
- 1 Looking at Assertive vs. Aggressive Differences More Closely
- 2 How Assertiveness Can Improve Your Life
- 3 Assertiveness vs Aggressiveness Examples:
- 4 Final Words
Looking at Assertive vs. Aggressive Differences More Closely
Assertive vs. Aggressive - Here are the Primary Differences
Assertiveness and aggressiveness can sometimes look alike. However, they have important differences.
Assertive communication is an open, honest, respectful, and direct form of communication.
In contrast, aggressive communication is selfish, disrespectful and uncooperative.
Assertive communicators can express their feelings and thoughts in a way that does not violate the rights of others.
In contrast, aggressive communicators put down other people to get what they want.
Assertive behavior includes standing up for yourself in a way that is not destructive to you or others.
Aggressive behavior, on the other hand, usually involves putting others down in order to get what you want.
Assertiveness enhances relationships because it respects everyone's needs — including your own needs — and helps you feel good about yourself at the same time.
Aggressiveness damages relationships because it is focused on winning at all costs and doesn't care who gets hurt in the process.
How Assertiveness Can Improve Your Life
"To be passive is to let others decide for you. To be aggressive is to decide for others. To be assertive is to decide for yourself. And to trust that there is enough, that you are enough." ― Edith Eva Eger
Assertiveness is the ability to constructively express your feelings, beliefs, and opinions. It involves expressing yourself honestly, being able to respectfully disagree with others, and standing up for your rights.
Being assertive is a skill, and like any other skill, it can be learned. It may not come easily to you at first, but with practice and patience, you can learn to be more assertive.
And the benefits of learning this skill are worthwhile.
Being assertive can improve the quality of your life in many ways.
As an assertive person, you'll find that:
Your relationships will improve. Assertive people communicate clearly, without attacking or blaming others.
Assertiveness helps you to express your needs and wants directly, without hurting others or compromising your own values.
This means that others are more likely to listen to you, and more likely to meet your needs — because they'll know what those needs are!
You'll feel better about yourself. Assertiveness increases self-esteem and reduces feelings of frustration, anger, guilt, and depression.
When you express yourself effectively, you're less likely to feel resentful or be taken advantage of by other people.
You'll feel good about yourself when others respect your rights and opinions as much as you do.
You'll be able to make decisions for yourself — confidently. When you're assertive, rather than aggressive or passive-aggressive, your thoughts and feelings are clear.
By expressing them clearly to others, you are making the declaration that you're your own person with your own set of ideas, opinions, and thoughts. You're not overly consumed with the fear that others may reject you because of your differing viewpoints.
You'll be able to deal with confrontation in a healthy way - In order for assertiveness to be effective, you must be prepared in advance for what you want to get out of the interaction.
This involves knowing what outcome you want from the situation and how you see yourself moving toward it.
Your goal should be clear, but so should your limits. What are you willing or unwilling to do or say? What are your boundaries?
Knowing your approach and limits in advance may help diffuse, not escalate, confrontation.
You'll be able to deal with stress in a better way - You reduce stress because you don't bottle your emotions inside. Instead, you express them in a healthy way, rather than taking them out on other people or letting them build up inside you.
Stress reduction is also possible because you're no longer allowing people to walk all over you when you rely on assertiveness.
The tension created in altercations with others becomes diminished when you speak up for yourself when warranted.
Learn how to say no without feeling guilty - You don't need to offer any excuses when you're assertive.
Focus on your own needs and desires when making decisions — not on what others might think or want for you. Remember that you don't need to justify your choices to anyone.
You do not become compliant and say "yes" when you really mean "no," or stay silent when you really want to say something.
You become more in touch with your own needs and wants - When someone is not assertive, they may often put other people's needs ahead of their own.
Often, this is simply a habit that has developed over time.
However, it can also be a coping strategy for dealing with anxiety or fear of conflict.
Assertiveness is a tool to logically think about and express your unique needs and wants.
As you are cool and calm, using the tool of assertiveness, you're able to form and relate your perspective with greater clarity than someone who is aggressive.
What's Wrong with Aggression?
Being aggressive is a form of communication that can be destructive. It often leads to conflict and people getting hurt, both emotionally and physically.
Aggression is often used as a way of expressing anger. Anger itself isn't necessarily a bad thing — it's a normal human emotion — but it needs to be expressed healthily.
If you're being aggressive, you're probably thinking about yourself and what you want without considering the other person or people involved. You want to get your own way at any cost and will do whatever it takes to achieve it.
Aggression isn't always physical, though this is the form of aggression we most often associate with violence and bullying.
It can also take the form of verbal abuse, like swearing or shouting, or emotional abuse like manipulation or intimidation.
Aggressiveness is also a direct expression of clear intent, but with an additional agenda: to harm or otherwise demean the other person, often in order to raise yourself up.
Aggressive people generally talk more than they listen.
They tend to be demanding and self-absorbed, unwilling to accept feedback from others.
When you're aggressive, your approach is short-sighted and reactive; you do not consider how your actions affect others or how those actions might come back to haunt you in the future.
The aggressive approach may work in the short term, but it can also cause significant problems later on down the road — problems that are much harder to fix than if you’d avoided them in the first place.
What About Passive-Aggressiveness? What is it?
Passive-aggressive people do not communicate their needs directly. Instead, they communicate them indirectly.
They may communicate them through manipulative behaviors like procrastinating on assignments, not responding in a timely manner to requests from others, making excuses, or complaining about others.
Passive-aggression is often an indirect response to anger and resentment.
Passive-aggressive individuals are typically unassertive, and they often have difficulty expressing aggressive emotions directly.
People who are passive aggressive tend to be very good at hiding their true feelings from others. They may also hide their feelings from themselves by denying that they feel angry or resentful toward another person.
It is common for passive-aggressive individuals to deny both to themselves and others that the resentment is present.
Passive-aggressive behavior often stems from the way individuals were raised and how they were treated as children by their parents, teachers, guardians, and peers.
Individuals who were taught to repress their emotions and were discouraged from openly communicating anger are at risk of developing passive-aggressive behaviors later in life (e.g., "children should be seen and not heard").
When confronted with their behavior, passive-aggressive individuals may deny any hostile intent, claiming they were merely joking or kidding around.
The defining characteristic of passive-aggressive behavior is a pervasive pattern of negative attitudes and passive resistance in interpersonal situations.
Prolonged passive-aggressive behavior causes great distress to others and often has a severe impact on relationships between people in families and at work.
Assertiveness vs Aggressiveness Examples:
"Being assertive does not mean attacking or ignoring others feelings. It means that you are willing to hold up for yourself fairly-without attacking others." - Albert Ellis
1. Assertive: "I would like to have some help with the dishwasher." Aggressive: "You didn't do the dishes, so I had to!"
2. Assertive: "I would like you to call me when you are going to be late." Aggressive: "Why don't you ever let me know in advance when you're late?"
3. Assertive: "Do you think we could talk about this later? I don't have time right now." Aggressive: "Shut up and leave me alone!"
4. Assertive: "I'm not in favor of this idea for these reasons." Aggressive: "What's wrong with you? You can't be serious!"
5. Assertive: "I'm looking for someone with more experience." Aggressive: "I don't know why you think I would hire you, based on your lack of experience alone!"
These scenarios play out every day in life.
When you feel that someone is coming on too strong, it is important to stand your ground. You can do this in several ways.
Be direct. Say what you think and feel, without criticizing or attacking the other person.
For example, "I don't like being told what to do."
Use "I" statements. Express your own point of view rather than criticizing the other person.
For example, "I feel angry when you accuse me of lying."
Be specific about the effect the other person is having on you. Point out what they are doing and how it makes you feel.
For example, "It makes me irritated when you tell me I'm too slow."
What About Assertiveness Training?
Assertiveness training is a form of psychotherapy that helps you recognize and overcome passive or aggressive behavior to help you communicate effectively, set healthy boundaries and achieve your goals.
You can receive assertiveness training in individual or group counseling sessions with a psychologist or therapist where feedback on your progress is provided.
Through assertiveness training, in which people practice asserting their rights, people can learn to speak up for themselves so that they don't feel taken advantage of or ignored.
Many people benefit greatly from assertiveness training. In fact, it can be life changing.
This is because being able to stand up for yourself and ask for what you want, and need, is a vital skill for achieving happiness and success in life.
There are many situations where assertiveness is called for, including:
- Asking for a raise
- Telling someone that you want to break up with them
- Asking your spouse or partner to take on more chores
- Letting your co-workers know that you're working on a project and cannot be disturbed
- Refusing requests from friends who take advantage of you
You become more assertive by recognizing situations that call for assertiveness and responding accordingly.
Assertiveness takes practice. You can get started with these three steps which should enhance all types of communication skills.
1. Replace negative thinking with positive thoughts
If you tend to be hard on yourself and put yourself down, take a different approach. Instead of criticizing yourself, start encouraging yourself.
For example, when you've made a mistake, say "I blew it" instead of "I'm such a failure." And when you do something well, congratulate yourself on it.
2. Practice self-validation
Self-validation means accepting your feelings and needs as valid — regardless of what anyone else thinks about them or whether they are “right” or “wrong.”
Remind yourself that your wants and needs matter as much as anyone else's.
3. Learn to say no without feeling guilty
If you feel obligated to agree to every request, you're likely to get burned out or resentful. Instead of saying yes to everything, don't be afraid to say no when necessary.
When someone asks you for something, ask yourself if you truly want to do this favor before you agree to it — and if not, let go of the guilt.
“The basic difference between being assertive and being aggressive is how our words and behaviors affect the rights and well-being of others.” ― Sharon Anthony Bower
While the assertive style focuses on individual needs, the aggressive style focuses on winning.
In a confrontation, the aggressive communicator's goal is to defeat the other person, to win the argument. The assertive person strives to win respect and cooperation.
Assertive people are direct, honest and willing to stand up for their own rights and beliefs and those of others.
They are also just as willing to listen to other people's ideas and opinions.
A nonassertive person has difficulty expressing her feelings directly, especially negative ones.
She may be afraid of being disliked or rejected if she expresses herself honestly, so she often avoids conflict by not expressing her feelings at all or by hiding them under a false front of "niceness."
Nonassertive people tend to be passive, indirect and easily taken advantage of by others. They end up feeling frustrated or resentful because they don't get their needs met.
A passive-aggressive or aggressive person also has difficulty expressing his feelings honestly, especially anger, which he may displace onto others as criticism or sarcasm.
He may end up losing friends because he pushes other people away with his demands and criticisms.
In the prism of aggressiveness vs. assertiveness, it is much better to manifest the latter
It's healthier emotionally and physically. Research has shown that aggressive behavior can lead to anger, depression, insomnia, ulcers, headaches, and high blood pressure.
Assertive behavior, on the other hand, can lead to increased self-esteem, a sense of empowerment and greater energy levels.
It also helps you think more clearly and objectively because you're not caught up in emotional drama or negative thoughts about yourself (e.g., I'm no good).
In psychology and in your own day-to-day interactions, assertiveness is a skill that you can practice and learn. It is an ideal way to connect with others and protect personal rights.
May you find your assertiveness within vs. manifesting counterproductive aggressiveness.