The differences between being assertive & being aggressive can be subtle. Our friends at Care2 help illuminate the nuances of being direct.
Having healthy boundaries in all of your relationships is key to being productive, healthy and happy. Often times having healthy boundaries requires assertiveness.
The problem is many people confuse being assertive with being aggressive. This often leads to incredibly passive behavior where individuals may feel like they aren’t being heard or respected.
To paint a picture, take the popular example of an employee who thinks they are overworked without proper compensation. They know they should probably ask for a raise or perhaps negotiate less duties so they don’t feel spread out too thin. If they confuse asserting themselves in negotiating with being aggressive, they may not even bother asking for proper compensation. This will then lead to that employee feeling resentful and unappreciated, and perhaps a less effective worker.
Issues with boundaries also happen in other kinds of relationships. Another popular example is a person who works from home and is constantly being interrupted by their family. If they confuse being assertive with aggression they may never ask their family to respect their time when they are working.
So what exactly is the difference between being assertive and being aggressive? While the two may look similar from the outside, the reality is that they are worlds apart.
1. Assertiveness comes from a place of valuing yourself as equal to others.
When being assertive, the main goal is to make sure all parties are being respected, including yourself. It’s not bullying and it’s not being selfish. It’s simply expressing your needs to another party.
Rather than valuing yourself less than another person (passive) or valuing yourself more than another person (aggressive), assertiveness means you value yourself equal to others.
For example, in negotiations an assertive person knows that they are looking for a fair exchange of value on all sides. An aggressive person is more concerned with what they can get out of it and may use fear tactics to get it.
2. Assertiveness is done with the intention of hurting no one.
Because sometimes people react poorly to assertiveness, it’s easy to see why someone would confuse it with aggression. The truth is, when someone is being assertive they are doing so with the intention of hurting no one, including themselves.
Unfortunately, we can’t control how other people react to our own assertiveness, so sometimes being assertive will lead to hurt feelings even if that was never the intention.
But consider aggression. Aggression is done from a place of hurting another person to get something out of it. This is the exact opposite of assertiveness because the intention to hurt is there.
You must also consider the alternative to not being assertive in order to really understand it. Those who are passive will always avoid hurting others at the expense of hurting themselves.
3. Assertiveness means you speak to the point.
An assertive person is not afraid to express their opinion and stand up for themselves, even if it won’t be liked. Again, this isn’t done with the intention of hurting another. It’s also not done with the idea of self-preservation in mind. It’s done with the intention of fostering mutual respect.
Aggression, on the other hand, looks like either attacking people or ignoring their feelings in favor of one’s own. As a Psychology Today article points out, aggression looks more like the age of the Neanderthal where the one with the biggest club always won.
The bottom line is this: being assertive is done from a place of love for all (including oneself), whereas aggression comes from a place of fear.
Written by Amanda Abella
This article was originally published with Care2; republished with permission.
[image: via Julochka on Flickr]