Aggressive or Assertive?

Assertiveness Training teaches that there are three different methods that men and women can use to connect with each other.

They are: 1) aggressive, 2) passive or 3) assertive.

The majority of people arrive at assertiveness training already understanding what aggression and passivity mean, however they miss the meaning of assertiveness initially.

Aggression is all about dominance. Assertiveness training will teach that an individual is aggressive whenever they impose their will onto other people and force them to submit, essentially invading that person’s personal space and boundaries. Violence is sometimes employed with this attempt, but it is not really an essential element of aggression.

Passivity and Disobedience

Passivity, in contrast is about submission. Passivity happens whenever an individual submits to another person’s dominance play, placing their own personal wishes and desires to one side in order to focus on satisfying the wishes and desires of the dominant partner. They probably do not like getting dominated, however it seems to them to be the wise course of action at the time. Aggression equals domination and invasion; it’s fundamentally disrespectful of a relationship partner’s personal boundaries. Passivity is all about submission and being invaded; it’s fundamentally disrespectful of your own individual boundaries.

 Respecting Boundaries

Unlike these two fundamentally disrespectful positions, assertiveness training is all about locating a middle ground between aggression and passivity that best respects the personal boundaries of everyone involved.

Assertive people protect themselves when another person tries to dominate them, using any necessary method to repel the invasion attempt. Though they are often strong individuals who are able to pull off aggressive domination attempts, they never act in an aggressive manner. They understand that to do so would lead them to disrespect the other partner’s boundaries. A different way to say this is that assertive people use aggression defensively, but not offensively.

Gandhi and Martin Luther King

There are numerous classic instances of assertive conduct in history that you may draw upon for direction and inspiration. The examples of Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King spring to mind. Both were leaders of oppressed, invaded groups who had been dominated by an upper class (British colonials in the example of Gandhi, and the American white establishment in the example of Dr. King).

Gandhi and King arrived at an understanding that submission to the ruling powers was no longer working and that something extreme needed to happen. Both leaders opted for a path of non-violent resistance – this is exactly what makes their behavior assertive as opposed to aggressive.  It is important to note Gandhi is quoted as saying, “Many people mistake non-violence as compromise or avoidance of conflict. It is not. On the other hand, it is standing up for what is right (truth) and justice. Fighting a violent war is better than accepting injustice.  So, really there is no contradiction in fighting a just war, and believing in non-violence. Both are duties to be carried out to preserve justice and truth.”

Their dedication to non-violent opposition is really what made them unique and successful. And this is what assertiveness training can teach you. Both leaders demonstrated and protested against oppression by the powers that held them down, but did so in a fashion that respected the individuals wielding those powers. Both stuck to their posture of assertive protest despite becoming targets for rising violence towards their person and their families as well as the people they represented. Ultimately, both succeeded in making important reform occur, albeit imperfectly. They created change through assertion, and you can do it too, with the right assertiveness training.

Learning Assertiveness

It can be extremely challenging for individuals accustomed to acting passively to learn the best way to act assertively. A lot of people new to assertiveness training mistake aggressiveness for assertiveness. The reason being that their standard posture is passivity, and they actually cannot imagine that there is any other way to simply give in to the demands of others apart from “fighting fire with fire.”

Such newly “assertive” people will often begin yelling and screaming back at those who have historically yelled and screamed at them, not realizing that by acting in this manner, they go beyond what is required to protect themselves, and might get into the world of becoming abusive and dominating themselves. This early mistake may well be inevitable, and is okay to make as a short-lived and transitional phase towards better understanding of how to become assertive, but no one should stay there needlessly long. To do this is to substitute aggression for passivity, and to turn into a bully yourself.

Assertiveness training can help guide individuals through this transitional phase and lead the way toward a more successful career, or relationship.

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From regional manager to international executive with quadruple the pay, Karen Keller’s unique blueprint carefully outlined the step-by-step process for creating high-impact influence and let me know when I was being influenced in a way that didn’t serve me.
Lloyd Moore
Global Director Supplier Quality & Development - Lear Corporation – South Carolina