Assertiveness and Aggression

Assertiveness can help you control stress and anger and improve your coping skills.

Being assertive is an important communication skill. Assertiveness can help you express yourself effectively and stand up for your point of view while respecting the feelings, rights and beliefs of others.

Being assertive can also help boost your self-esteem and earn others’ respect which can in turn help with stress management. If you have a hard time saying no, developing your assertive communication skills will help you remove the stress.

Some people are naturally assertive but if you’re not, you can learn to be.

Assertiveness is based on mutual respect. Being assertive shows that you respect yourself because you’re willing to stand up for yourself and express your thoughts and feelings. It also demonstrates that you’re aware of the feelings and rights of others and that you’re willing to work on resolving conflicts.

How you say what you say is more important than your words. Assertive communication is direct and respectful without aggression. Being assertive gives you the best chance of successfully delivering your message whereas communicating in a way that’s too passive or too aggressive, your message may get lost because people are too busy reacting to your delivery instead of listening to the message.

Assertive vs. Passive Behaviour

If your style is passive, you may seem shy or overly easy going. You may routinely say things such as “I’ll just go with whatever the group decides.” and you tend to avoid conflict. This can be a problem because the message you’re sending is that your thoughts and feelings aren’t as important as those of other people. When you’re too passive, you allow others to ignore your wants and needs.

Consider this example: You say yes when a colleague asks you to take over a project, even though you’re already busy. The extra work means you’ll have to work overtime and miss your daughter’s school performance. Your intention may be to keep the peace but always saying yes can poison your relationships, and worse, it may cause you to feel bad because your needs and those of your family always come second.

The internal conflict that can be created by passive behaviour can lead to:

  • Stress
  • Resentment
  • Anger
  • Feeling like a victim
  • Wanting to get revenge
  • Doubting or questioning yourself

Assertive vs. Aggressive Behaviour

Now consider the other side. If your style is aggressive, you may come across as a bully who ignores the needs of others, their feelings and opinions.  Very aggressive people embarrass, intimidate and scare others and may even be physically threatening.

You may think that being aggressive gets you what you want, however, it comes at a cost. Aggression weakens trust and mutual respect. Others may come to resent you, leading them to avoid you or actively work against you.

Assertive vs. Passive-Aggressive Behaviour

Now consider passive-aggressive behaviour. If you communicate in a passive-aggressive manner, you may say yes when you want to say no. You may be sarcastic or complain about others behind their backs rather than confront an issue directly. You might show your anger and feelings through your actions or negative attitude. You may have developed a passive-aggressive style because you’re uncomfortable being direct and speaking up about your needs and feelings.

Over time, passive-aggressive behaviour damages relationships and weakens mutual respect. This makes it difficult for you to get your goals and needs met.


Benefits of Assertiveness

Being assertive is a healthier communication style than either passive-aggression or active aggression. Assertiveness helps you keep people from taking advantage of you and can also help you from acting like a bully towards others.

Behaving assertively can help you:

  • Gain self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Gain a sense of empowerment
  • Understand and recognise your own feelings
  • Earn respect from others
  • Improve communication in all relationships
  • Create win-win situations
  • Improve your decision-making skills
  • Create honest relationships
  • Gain more job satisfaction

Learning to be more assertive can also help you effectively express your feelings when communicating with others about issues.


Learning to be More Assertive

People develop different styles of communication based on their life experiences. Your style may be so ingrained that you’re not even aware of what it is. People tend to stick to the same communication style over time. But if you want to change your communication style, you can learn to communicate in healthier and more effective ways.

Here are some tips to help you become more assertive:

  • Assess your style. Do you voice your opinions or remain silent? Do you say yes to additional work even when your schedule is full? Are you quick to judge or blame? Do people seem to dread or fear talking to you? Understand your style before you begin making changes.
  • Use ‘I’ statements. Using I statements lets others know what you’re thinking or feeling without sounding accusatory. For instance, say, “I disagree,” rather than, “You’re wrong.” If you have a request, say, “I would like you to help with this” rather than, “You need to do this.” Keep your requests simple, specific and clear.
  • Practice saying no. If you have a hard time turning down requests, try saying, “No, I can’t do that now.” Remember that ‘No.’ is a complete sentence and you don’t need to explain why you choose to say no. Don’t hesitate — be direct. If an explanation is appropriate, keep it brief.
  • Rehearse what you want to say. If it’s challenging to say what you want or think, practice general scenarios you encounter. Say what you want to say out loud. It may help to write it out first, too, so it is clear in your mind.
  • Use body language. Communication isn’t just verbal. Act confident even if you aren’t feeling it. Keep an upright posture and make regular eye contact. Crossing your arms or legs might make you appear defensive so avoid this if you want to come across confidently. In addition to what you say, your body language and facial expressions are also important.
  • Keep emotions in check. Conflict is hard for most people. Maybe you get angry or frustrated, or maybe you feel like crying. Although these feelings are typical, they can get in the way of resolving conflict. If you feel too emotional going into a situation, wait a bit if possible. Then work on remaining calm. Breathe slowly. Keep your voice even and firm.
  • Start small. At first, practice your new skills in situations that are low risk. For instance, try out your assertiveness on a partner or friend before tackling a difficult situation at work. Evaluate yourself afterward and adjust your approach as needed.

When You Need Help Being Assertive

Remember, learning to be assertive takes time and practice. If you’ve spent years silencing yourself or coming across bullish, adapting to become assertive probably won’t happen overnight. If anger leads you to be too aggressive, you may need to learn some anger management techniques or talk to a professional – you can find some good resources here – Anger tools

If certain issues such as anger, stress, anxiety or fear are getting in your way, consider talking with a mental health professional. The payoff will be worth it. By becoming more assertive, you can begin to express your true feelings and needs more easily. You may even find that you get more of what you want as a result.