The way you treat others is often how you yourself end up being treated. If you’re careless, you might make others feel misunderstood or disrespected, and that reflects on you.
Sometimes it’s definitely impossible to control how people will perceive you, particularly when you’re trying to get a point across. In such cases, it becomes difficult to understand how to enact the difference between assertive and aggressive behavior.
But if you know the social cues and actions which entail both behaviors and learn how to apply this knowledge so as not to confuse those you interact with; you can communicate more clearly.
So below, we’ve discussed how to tell assertion apart from aggression, and which contexts each is appropriate in.
Aggression Vs. Assertion: An Overview
It’s quite understandable that so many people are unable to draw the line between assertion and aggression. After all, when boiled down, they’re both behaviors associated with getting your own way.
But while an assertive person remains respectful in their approach, an aggressive person is more likely to offend the one they are speaking to.
But more on that later. Before we dive into what sets the two behaviors apart, it’s worth looking into the individual definitions of assertion and aggression. Here we’ve referred to Merriam-Webster:
· Aggression (noun)
Definition 1: a forceful action or procedure, especially when intended to dominate or master
Definition 2: hostile, injurious, or destructive behavior or outlook especially when caused by frustration
· Assertion (noun)
Definition 1: insistent and positive affirming, maintaining, or defending (as of a right or attribute)
Definition 2: a declaration that something is the case
Note the negative words that have been used to describe the noun “aggression”, i.e., “forceful”, “hostile”, and “injurious”.
In contrast, “assertion” is described as a “positive” affirmation that lends itself to “maintaining” something, such as a status quo. Perhaps you’re already beginning to catch on to the main difference between the two behaviors. Let’s see how that translates to interpersonal relationships.
Identifying Assertiveness and Aggressiveness
Let’s consider two people who are having an argument: Jim and Bob. Bob is the calmer of the two, speaking confidently and in a composed manner. Jim speaks loudly, authoritatively, might use personal attacks and sometimes even attempts to talk over Bob. Bob, however, is not submissive to Jim’s claims.
Can you identify who of the two is aggressive, and who is assertive? That’s right: Bob is clearly the assertive one, while Jim is simply coming off as aggressive.
To an onlooker, it probably won’t matter whether Jim is in the right. Because he’s speaking harshly, he’s less likely to be respected or taken seriously, at least as much as Bob is.
So here are the defining traits of each type of person.
An assertive person is one who is confident and firm, but also polite in how they make their claims. Good communication skills are a must, and part of this is using a calm tone and adopting a composed mien that does not threaten the other person.
In fact, part of being assertive is also being open to others’ input. This in turn helps them feel more accepted and therefore more likely to do things your way.
Aggressive people are easily identifiable by their seeming lack of a filter during conversations and arguments. These are people who are interested in putting their opinions and claims out first, which frequently makes others feel belittled.
And of course, aggression is typically accompanied by matching negative behaviors, such as mood swings, threats, making ad hominem attacks, or speaking loudly and harshly. In short, the main thing an aggressive individual lacks in comparison to an assertive individual is respect.
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Summary: Difference between Assertive and Aggressive Behavior
To comprehend how assertion and aggression differ, consider the following points;
Assertiveness Is Actually a Good Thing
Being assertive is necessary when you’re trying to get your point across, particularly in situations where someone has some sort of power to influence your life.
That’s why assertiveness is considered a positive trait, as it shows that you value people and are able to stand up for yourself. Aggression, on the other hand, is dismissive of others.
Aggression Does Not Lead to Productive Outcomes
In most cases, unless you’re dealing with a completely irrational or obstinate individual, aggression will not get you anywhere. That is to say, if you want real results, assertion is the way to go.
Let’s say there’s a strand of hair in the food you ordered at a restaurant. You might be tempted to yell at the waiter, throw down your cutlery, or threaten to post bad reviews.
And the next time, the personnel at this restaurant will know not to let you in. However, if you calmly show the waiter the hair, chances are you will receive a solemn apology and possibly even a refund.
Assertion Is Respectful, Aggression Is Not
This is basically the main takeaway from all of this. An assertive individual is able to stand up for whatever they need, believe, or desire, without making others feel disregarded in the process.
When it comes to aggression, there is a marked lack of respect, leading to a threatening environment that causes you to be marked as a self-centered person who needs to win.
The result is that, even if you get your way by being aggressive, it’s because you instilled fear rather than confidence. And that’s not how you want to be remembered.
All that being said, it’s important to understand that no one is perfect. We all lose our cool sometimes in confrontational situations and end up acting aggressively.
However, when we are able to maintain our composure and speak with assertion and respect, the outcome is beneficial for all parties involved. Most importantly, it preserves our reputation and makes it more likely that we will get our way the next time as well.
Good luck and stay calm!