Assertive v. Aggressive – How to Draw the Line

Drawing the line between aggressiveness and assertiveness is always a difficult proposition, whether you’re managing a team or trying to advance in your career. When you must take a stand, you may second-guess yourself: “Will I step over the line? If I do nothing, will I lose ground?” You can walk the tightrope by increasing your people sensitivity and emotional intelligence.

Everyone admires assertive versus aggressive people — those who put forth their needs and views confidently and directly. They stand up for themselves without wielding a metaphorical weapon, and always consider the views of others.

In contrast, aggressive behaviors in the workplace can sometimes look like the age of the Neanderthal — the ones with the biggest clubs grab the grub, have the best caves and swagger around thumping their chest. These forceful bosses or employees dominate others, and can sap morale by grunting just a few words, e.g., “I want this now.” Ultimately the approach backfires. You can trust someone who is assertive. Not so much with an aggressor.

I shared additional thoughts on the distinction between assertiveness and aggressiveness in a LinkedIn Pulse article. Here are some highlights:

General Distinctions

Making commands or having too high an expectation of others puts you squarely in the aggressive column. If, on the other hand, you use poise — and rightly claim versus demand rights to something, you’re probably on the right track.

Office Scenarios Play Out Differences

Aggressive managers say, in effect, “It’s my way or the highway and your opinion doesn’t count.” You can subconsciously hear them say, “Na, Na, na-na-na,” much like a defiant toddler.

Assertive managers are friendly; make eye contact; are self-assured; listen to others; and check on the prevailing mood before speaking.

Watch Your People Radar

The core difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness centers around emotional intelligence. Know your timing; judge the true reaction of those around you; and carefully consider the results of your prior patterns.

When Is Your Confidence Level At Risk?

Then there’s the question of confidence. When do you begin to look timid by not pushing back? A good rule of thumb is to wait your turn, first give credit to your “challenger,” and then stick to the facts.

Learn more about walking the fine line between being assertive and aggressive by reading the full article on LinkedIn Pulse.