Employing assertive behaviour involves standing up for your own personal feelings, thoughts, and beliefs in an honest and appropriate manner. It is quite different from aggressive behaviour, which fails to consider the personal rights of the other person and usually upsets the recipient.
Aggressive vs. Assertive Behaviour
Aggressive behaviour can manifest itself in multiple forms, including ignoring someone, commanding rather than asking, and failing to consider another person’s feelings. On the other hand, an assertive person is always clear in his or her communication and interested in creating a win-win scenario, where both peoples’ personal rights and feelings are legitimized. It can be quite a distressing or even frightening experience to be on the receiving end of an aggressive person’s message. Often, the receiver is left wondering what he or she did to deserve such aggression or is bamboozled at what could have possibly instigated such behaviour.
Passive and Passive-Aggressive Behaviour
A passive or passive-aggressive approach to communication is equally as harmful as an aggressive one. Passive individuals allow others to make decisions for them. Responding in a passive manner results in a failure to communicate your feelings or thoughts, producing a buildup of negative and unresolved feelings toward a co-worker or boss. Passive-aggressive behaviour occurs when a person expresses hostility indirectly. Instead of saying he or she is upset with you, a passive-aggressive person behaves in ways that distress, frustrate, or discomfort other people in a manner that is not an outright verbal attack, yet is still quite upsetting for the recipient.
Examining the Outcomes
Assertiveness is viewed as the balance point between the extremes of aggressive and passive behaviour. Here is an example of the three different approaches in action:
One of your employees is performing dismally. Her deliverables are slipping and her co-workers are beginning to complain about picking up the slack. How do you react?
- Passive Approach: You stay up until the early morning, redoing another one of her terrible first drafts of a report. The next day, you angrily bash her when talking to other colleagues.
- Aggressive Approach: Caught in the grip of anger, you call her to your office, and then proceed to rant about why she is such a lousy employee and how you are doing her a favor by not firing her.
- Assertive Approach: Clearly communicating why her work isn’t acceptable, you point out her failure to reach core procedural requirements, while being vigilant to not assault her personal qualities. Through empathy and emotional intelligence, you ask her to tell you if anything else is going on. Maybe she is not clear on her role in the office or has personal circumstances distracting her from work.
In the first two approaches, your actions are unique; however, the results are the same. Your relationship with your employee worsens and her work continues to suffer. By utilizing assertive behaviour in the final approach, you create a win-win scenario, resulting in an outcome where both you and your employee come out on top.