Assertiveness vs. Agressiveness (and why the difference is huge)

So many people in our society are becoming polarized. They either become the classic “nice” person, or they become uncouth and difficult. Very few people find the balance between going after what they want and being respectful to people in the process.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with being “nice”. I suppose by nice I really mean being polite and cordial. Every person deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. Being nice goes too far when we allow our fear of disapproval to stand in the way of us pursuing what we want.

Imagine you are at a restaurant and your waiter brings out your food and it’s cold. Many “nice” people might let it go or sheepishly ask if they can have their food reheated. Aggressive people on the other hand will become immediately become offended and address the waiter harshly.

At the root of becoming assertive is realizing that we must advocate for our wants and needs, and we must make them known in a respectful way. If we believe ourselves to be fair and reasonable, other people should be more than willing to meet us half way (and if they don’t, we respond maturely). Going back to the waiter example, an assertive person would politely tell the waiter that the food is cold and they wish for it to be reheated. We don’t speak harshly to them, but we also don’t accept mistreatment.

The lie that many of us are being told is that if we are nice we will get what we want. That is partially true. People and circumstance are much friendlier to you if you have a positive attitude, but we must take it upon ourselves to be our own advocates. “The squeaky wheel gets the oil”.

Assertiveness is soft power. Aggressiveness is hard power. When you are assertive, people will learn to respect you, and more often than not they will like you more. When you are aggressive, people will fear you, but they will not respect you. Assertiveness demands that you have some level of control over your emotions to address people respectfully even in the midst of conflict. There is nothing admirable about someone who loses their temper and uses their verbal, or even worse, physical, power to impose their will.

The next time you face a conflict situation, think about whether you are responding with aggression or with assertion. Until next time…