Have you considered how you can walk the line between aggressive and assertive?

Walking the line between assertiveness and aggressiveness

Many people fear coming across as aggressive when they first try to become more assertive. It often feels like there’s only a thin line between the two behaviours. However, I’ve found that there are a few core distinctions that set them apart, allowing you to easily judge your responses.

Here’s how you can ensure you don’t cross that line.

Managing your own behaviour

Assertiveness is all about being respectful towards yourself and everyone around you. A part of this is understanding you have a responsibility to manage your own behaviour, and how it impacts others.

For example, while it’s important your viewpoints are heard, it’s equally vital that you don’t interrupt or speak over anyone else to ensure they’re able to express their ideas too. Pushing into a conversation and talking over others comes across as aggressive. However, waiting for a lull or making a signal that you wish to speak next lets everyone have their say while preventing you from being passed over.

To walk the line between assertive and aggressive, you should think your actions through and check they don’t negatively impact the people around you.

Focus on creating a positive outlook

Aggressiveness is a negative approach to a situation. Generally, it presents no room for compromise and leaves the other party feeling resentful or pressured.

Over the years, I’ve learnt that one of the best ways to dull any edge of aggressiveness in my behaviour is to frame everything as positively as possible. This doesn’t mean being overly cheerful or unrealistic. Instead, it’s considering what good can come out of a situation and learning how to stand up for yourself without pointing fingers. A couple of tricks I’ve learnt include:

  • Monitoring body language – Non-verbal communication plays a big part in how you come across in any given situation. Keeping your stance open, upright and relaxed helps convey a more positive, but still confident, attitude.
  • Using ‘I feel’ statements – The benefit of talking about how behaviour impacts you is that you’re not accusing the other party of anything. For example, ‘you never listen to me in meetings’ comes across accusatory and negative, whereas ‘I don’t feel heard in meetings’ takes the blame away while still alerting the other person that there’s an issue that needs dealing with.
A positive approach helps create an open environment, dispelling the chance of appearing aggressive. A positive approach helps create an open environment, dispelling the chance of appearing aggressive.

Maintain professionalism

I think an easy check to see whether your behaviour is assertive or aggressive is to consider how professional it is. If you’d react badly to someone else treating you like that in a workplace, then it’s unlikely your actions are walking the line between the two behaviours.

When she could, an old colleague of mine used to imagine stating her case to the director of the company before going to her team member or manager. If she wasn’t comfortable saying it to the head of the organisation, she knew she needed to rethink her approach.

Be open to compromise

There’s a difference between standing up for your ideas and refusing to budge on them. Opening yourself up to the other suggestions being put forward, shows that you’re willing to work with other parties.

Allow space for other people to join in the discussion and listen to them. If you believe your idea is still the best one to move forward with, unpack your reasoning to persuade rather than simply bulldozing forward with it.

If you’d like to learn more about assertive behaviour and how you can use it to improve your workplace relationships, reach out to ICML today. We offer training courses in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane to help you develop your assertiveness and communication skills.


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