Assertive behaviour occupies the attention of many performance, management and leadership discussions. It falls into the misunderstood, misused and mistaken buckets and I would therefore like to offer a definition that is simple.
More often than not assertive behaviour is placed into the grouping of passive, aggressive and assertive and applied randomly. The pendulum swings quickly between aggressive and assertive, leaving passive drifting aimlessly behind.
In my early career I struggled to understand the difference and get my behaviours aligned to achieve effectiveness. Once it clicked however, it stayed with me and I eventually placed it in my “comes naturally” tool bag.
Let me help you place this intuitive tool into your tool bag and experience a shift in your behaviourial effectiveness.
So What Exactly Does Assertive Mean?
Language and context are the foundation stones for understanding, so let us first define what assertive means. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, to be assertive means to behave confidently and not be afraid to express how or feel or what you think. That definition would lead you to conclude that being assertive means being outspoken.
There is a further aspect to this definition though that needs to be considered and the Collins Dictionary provides us with that addition when it states: “Someone who is assertive states their needs and opinions clearly, so that people take notice.”
Do you see the fullness in that definition?
In marrying the two definitions, we are able to understand that being assertive means being confident with our behaviour and expressing our opinions and what we need clearly to ensure that we are acknowledged and heard.
Both dictionaries use aggressive as a synonym for assertive and perhaps this is where a lot of the confusion begins.
Aggressive Behaviour Forcefully Pushes the Pendulum
The word aggressive may not need very much explanation. It simply refers to being angry, overly forceful, highly competitive, intensely persistent and unrelentingly invasive. When aggressive behaviour is evident it results in similar reactive behaviours and does not present many, if any, opportunities for resolve or calm.
These behaviours push the worse buttons in you and others and can cause tremendous heartache, disasters and irreparable damage.
It is in your best interest and for the benefit of others that you should avoid using aggressive behaviours unless necessary. The majority of situations present early opportunities for applying more effective behaviours but this requires an ability to define the situation or the change required. Doing that as early as you can will help you keep your behaviours within an assertive framework.
The Pendulum Rests Passively
At the other end of the pendulum lies passive behaviour. Again referring to my dictionaries I note that passive means to allow other people to be in control.
When I observe passive behaviour it seems to have little or no action. People behaving passively tend to go with the flow and are not inclined to rock the boat, confront anyone or express a difference of opinion. They do not like to cause distress to others and would go to any lengths necessary to make sure that they keep situations uneventful.
I am quite sure that you have met or known persons who behave in this way. You may also be asking yourself how persons who behave this way achieve much at all. They are perceived as quiet, reserved and not involved.
Whilst it is easy to conclude that his behaviour may not be very effective, there are situations that would require you to behave passively to achieve a meaningful resolve. However, to constantly behave this way would definitely result in lowered productivity and reduced effectiveness.
The Pendulum Keeps Swinging
Finally, there is the behaviour that constantly swings from side to side, aggressive to passive to aggressive.
Pay attention to persons and situations around you where persons are consistently pessimistic and express their feelings of being unappreciated or deceived or being taken advantage of. Your experience of them is that they are cynical and become hostile when requests are made of them. They will often sit on these requests and intentionally delay attending to them.
Have you ever heard of or experienced the ‘silent treatment’? Or maybe you have behaved that way at times? Well, if you have, you have experienced or displayed passive-aggressive behaviour. When passive-aggressive behaviour is evident, it is usually an indication that there is some inner feeling of resentment of regret that the persons is struggling or unable to express.
Passive-aggressive behaviour is like a rock that just sits there blocking any movement or progress. In most situations it leads to a negative reaction from others and contributes to a breakdown in communication.
Which Behaviour Is Better?
Let me say emphatically that there is no right, wrong, worse or better behaviour. Behaviour should be situational, appropriate and congruent. If I am in a party and I am laughing and talking loudly with friends, that behaviour is appropriate. If I behave that way in Church, it will definitely be inappropriate and could be interpreted as being aggressive.
You should become more aware of the situations you are involved in, the roles we perform in those situations and what behaviours you choose to display. With this understanding you can then begin to assess whether you should design an action plan or not to strengthen your assertiveness.
Another way to measure is to ask a trusted friend, acquaintance or relative who interacts with you regularly and who will be willing to share their experience of you. Look for someone who will be clear, direct and most importantly, honest.
Communicate Effectively Using Assertive Behaviour
Assertive behaviour is the engine that keeps effective communication strong, healthy and meaningful. You would be considered to be gifted or very fortunate if these behaviours come naturally to you in every situation. For the majority, becoming assertive most of the time takes a lot of focus, learning and maturity.
Behavioural development is not a dead end street. It is a journey that never ends. That is because our life experiences change as me move through it. The different environments, relationships and situations that we participate in demand that we ourselves adapt and change how we interact and communicate.
By living in the present and being attentive to our functioning, we will learn what aspects of our behaviours require improvements. This cycle of awareness, assessment, measurement and adaption can be summarised as a Kaizen, a cycle of continuous improvement.
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4 thoughts on “Assertive Behaviour | A Definition That Is Simple”
Never really thought about this in everyday life.
Noticed many different types of behaviour in business across many countries and whilst I feel that aggressive behaviour was more noticeable in the UK, the passive approach was more evident in Europe and Scandinavia.
Even though you were still working under a manager you were left to your own resources and it gave a feeling of trust.
Even wearing certain clothing contributes to this, especially with suits in the UK while casual clothing non-UK.
I favoured the non-UK contracts because you were left to get on with things.
Passive works for me!
Thank you for sharing
What an interesting and true perspective.
There are many things that our behaviour that often goes unnoticed, like the Passive-Aggressive Pendulum.
I like your reference to our attire and the differences across European countries.
Having worked all over the world I can say with confidence that this applies in many other places as well.
Our Caribbean-US/European interactions, for example, demand a very Colonial business dress.
I am quite certain that because of our temperatures and lifestyle, quite a few of us would prefer a more relaxed style.
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Thank you for your engagement.
I’ll admit that I am passive by nature. I am a more reserved person, but can speak up and fight when it’s necessary. I still have a lot to learn though on the right way to do it. To be assertive rather than aggressive or passive-aggressive. Thanks for this insight!
Carla, you are welcome.
Thank you for your feedback and for sharing a little about you.
In my opinion, most of us have to invest time and energy into getting the pendulum to be balanced.
And remember, there is no right or wrong.
Behaviour should be congruent and appropriate.
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