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How to be assertive not aggressive.

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

Chris Maragkakis. Blog author

There's a big difference between being assertive and being aggressive.

Assertiveness is the ability to speak for ourselves or others in a respectful and honest way.

Whereas being aggressive, is when we are trying to dominate or attack someone else.

So let's look how to be assertive not aggressive.

The main types of aggression are:

Reactive-expressive which is physical or verbal aggression. This is usually the result of being triggered in some way. Someone has said or done something that has hit a nerve or you can't get someone to understand what you want or you can't get what you need and you become frustrated and explode or lash out.

Reactive-inexpressive which would be open hostility, being sullen, withholding information or giving someone the silent treatment in an attempt to bully them into changing.

Proactive-relational aggression or passive aggression which is a cold and planned attack on someone. The aggressor is calm and on the face of it friendly but attacks others by gossiping or spreading rumours about them or making comments such as no offense but... or you're too sensitive or through the use of sarcasm. It's intent it's to undermine others and destroy relationships.

None of these strategies are positive or helpful as they cause a lot of stress and emotional baggage which is then stored in our body and can cause long term health issues.

Aggression can be damaging to our professional and personal relationships and often cause further issues which add to the original hurt.

Being assertive on the other hand is using open and honest communication to express yourself while being respectful of others and making sure that they have an opportunity to process the information and respond.

Characteristics of an assertive response would include taking responsibility for any mistakes on your part, only dealing with the specific issue at hand rather than dragging up things from the past, using appropriate and empowering language, maintaining eye contact and non confrontational body language

Generally speaking, managing a situation assertively follows four stages.

They are, the situation, the feeling, the explanation and the request.

The situation is essentially what has happened. When you're discussing this, your language needs to be accurate describing the situation as it happened so the other person knows exactly what you are talking about. Language also needs to be non accusatory. Try not to use words like rude or unkind because you don't know what the intent was behind the action and using words like this shuts down an honest discussion because the other person becomes defensive and shuts down.

Then there's the feeling, which is the most important part as this is where you express how you feel about what happened. Make it about you, use statements like I feel or I think because staring a conversation with you can be seen as an accusation and the other person then stops listening to the true meaning of what your trying to say because they have become sidetracked with planning their defense.

After explaining how you feel, you need to explain why you feel that way. This is the third stage.

So if you have said that you feel scared when someone holds your arm when they speak to you, you need to explain that it is because your Gran always told you that someone who holds onto you when they talk to you, is trying to control you. It's really important to be honest hear and fully explain why you feel the way you do so that the other person can understand the emotions their actions are causing in you.

Finally we come to the request. So they now know what made you feel a certain way and why and now you can tell them what you want from them.

It may be an apology or a hug or for them to do something in a different way.

The key point is that it should be a positive suggestion. Don't tell them what you don't want them to do, tell them what you would them to do so that they can make a choice. It's this, this choice that is the main difference between assertiveness and aggression.

Assertive communication offers an opportunity for choices to be made in an empowered and considerate way aggression does not. Aggression is the bullying of another person to exert your will upon them, removing the opportunity for empowered choice.

Obviously the first step in improving our communication and managing our interactions when we are angry is to become mindfully aware of our thoughts, the emotions that they are producing and the actions they lead us to take.

Once we are aware of that, we have the opportunity to change from reaction to response and we can the chose to move from aggression to assertiveness.

Applying this awareness to other people can also help us to manage or protect ourselves from their aggression. Once we have become aware of what they are doing, we will be able come up with a suitable response to their form of aggression without it triggering our subconscious and a vicious cycle constantly being repeated.

It is this that gives us the power to choose how we respond to a situation and remove ourselves from the bullying or aggressive treatment that we are on the receiving end of.

Please get in touch if you would like to know more.


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