How to Differentiate Between Assertiveness and Aggressiveness

Anger management, self-help, and confidence-building literature always explains the importance of being assertive in your daily interactions rather than resorting to being aggressive. Recognising which approach you're using can sometimes be difficult if you're in the thick of trying to sort out your personal development and interpersonal relations. Yet, it's important to know when you've finally embraced an assertive approach and laid the angry self to one side.


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    Consider how you respond to things that upset you normally. Do you immediately feel a surge of heat, a sense of unfairness, and a desire to lash out or seethe? Or do you respond calmly, realising that life will always throw obstacles in your way and that you need to face the situation with a firm resolve while staying respectful of others as well as of your own boundaries?
    • Anger leaves you feeling bad. It carries well beyond the event that triggered it and it often leaves you feeling frustrated, angry, and indignant. Often, you feel "forced" into making a choice that you wish you hadn't made and you feel angry long after and want to "punish" the person or situation that left you feeling this way. Anger can also lead you to say things that you later regret, such as racist, classist, selfish, sexist, bullying, etc., things – and you can't wish them back. Or, it can lead to you yelling out aloud when up to that point, people saw you as a mouse.
    • Assertiveness leaves you understanding that while you might not have changed what feels like an unfair situation, you have made it clear what you're able to do and no more, and have not given in to disrespecting yourself or blowing up at others.
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    Consider this example: If your boss asks you to stay back late to work and you miss an important personal occasion, do you resent the boss, seethe, and then allow it to burst out eventually? Or, do you inform your boss politely but firmly that you've already arranged an event for the evening and while you're happy to come in earlier than usual tomorrow to help out, you cannot work tonight?
    • In the first case, the resentfulness, the failure to stand your ground and the eventual outburst are signs of anger, mostly internalized but eventually finding its way out.
    • In the second case, you've stated your case and limitations, thereby being assertive. You walk away respecting your boss, yourself, and the worth of your decisions and time.
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    Realize the consequences of each style of relating with others. Anger hurts more than the person you fling it at; ultimately it hurts you most because your peace of mind, your workplace reputation, your home life, and your relations with people will be harmed. People won't understand why you carry around so much inner anger. You end up demolishing other people rather than the case they're making, deriding their worth rather than pointing out why their request is unreasonable. And that soon leaves people disliking you and keeping apart from you out of fear of your anger. Assertive behavior, on the other hand, quickly establishes that you absolutely mean what you say but it doesn't minimise the worth of the other person and it creates balance. Your peace of mind is both restored and maintained when you know you've stood up for yourself.
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    Be realistic about the place of anger in your life. Anger is real and it affects every person at one time or other. It is a problem when becomes your usual method of responding to people and when it colours your outlook in life, such as seeing the world as always unfair, always pushy, always hurtful. That kind of perspective is emotionally and physically unhealthy and can cripple your chances at connecting with people genuinely. However, occasional anger is not something to be afraid of – anger can spur action, kick you out from a slump, and focus you like nothing else. Just be sure it's for a really important reason, and not your daily personality.
    • Try to avoid making others the target of your anger. When you lose your temper and take it out on someone else just because you are convinced you're right, does it leave you feeling any better for knowing that you were right? Usually not. Verbally cutting someone down to size is hurtful, no matter how wrong they are and how right you are. And you will carry their look of surprise, their reaction of hurt, and your own feeling of going over-the-top with you for long after the event.
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    Differentiate between intimidating people and being self confident. Intimidating behavior is about anger and trying to control people from the angle of your own irritations and shortcomings. Perhaps you're annoyed with an office member because they can't do the things you employed them for, and you take your own poor interviewing perception out on them. Being self confident, on the other hand, is assertive behavior because you trust in yourself and your decision-making abilities. You don't try to control people but feel confident enough to let their own abilities shine alongside yours, and to find ways to help them improve. Taking the example of the office member who isn't as good at her job as you'd hoped. Rather than yelling at her for incompetence, your assertive self starts to notice what she is good at and starts thinking about how to shift her into a role where she can play to those strengths and get a new person with the right competencies to take her existing role. Or perhaps, if that's not an option, you could get her some training, with a firm but kindly explained understanding that it's the training or a new job somewhere else.
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    Stick to your goal of relating to other people well. If you're worried about confusing aggressive and assertive behaviour, keep the following things in mind:
    • Focus on the impact of your words. How will the words you use make the other person feel?
    • How are you feeling? If you know clearly that you're angry, withdraw from the situation to give yourself time to think it over. Sleep on it. On the other hand, if you know you are feeling confident that something needs to be fixed, use the right language and be clear in your concepts to help the other person see your point of view.
    • Consider the context. Is it right to get angry on this occasion? Sometimes showing a little controlled anger can ensure that you don't get bumped from a queue or shoved out a door. Most times however, it will ensure that you are overlooked for someone who isn't displaying aggressiveness because aggression frightens people or puts them on alert to be extremely wary.
    • How will you feel tomorrow when you look back on this moment? Ask yourself this and make a choice to take an assertive approach to ensure you won't look back in regret.

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Categories: Building and Maintaining Self Confidence