The happy medium between passivity and aggressiveness

Written by: Dain Hong / Communication / May 2019

Do you find yourself overusing apologetic phrases like I’m afraid… and sorry, but…when making a request because you don’t want to be perceived as demanding? Do you resort to making suggestions using words like possiblyor perhaps, rather than saying directly what you want and why? Is it easier to give into a request you disagree with rather than to risk damaging the relationship? 


If you relate to these circumstances, you are probably convinced that this approach—passivity—is a far better alternative to aggressiveness.

Thankfully, it is not an either-or decision, as there is a happy medium: assertiveness. 

What is assertiveness?

Assertiveness is the quality of being self-assured and confident. It is respecting oneself as well as others by letting the thoughts, feelings and beliefs of both parties be heard. An assertive communicator is direct, honest and appropriate, and is effective in communicating what they want in a clear, level-headed manner. Such an individual listens actively, negotiates carefully, and influences powerfully. 


The sentences of an assertive communicator are well-composed and logical, driven by their observation and interpretation, rather than by feelings of anger or frustration. When bringing attention to an area of improvement, the communicator uses “I” statements to discuss their opinion on it, rather than using blaming language with “you” statements. Note that they use these “I” statements sparingly and with discernment. Through this step-by-step guidance into the speaker’s point of view, the listener sees the thought process of the communicator and understands the reason for the message. 


Moreover, the clarity and conciseness of the statements make it easy for the listener to relate, if not empathize with the speaker. The assertive communicator welcomes contributions of others and is willing to compromise as appropriate to achieve the greater good. 


If assertiveness is the point of balance on the spectrum of effective communication, on one end is passivity and on the other is aggressiveness

What is passivity?

Passive communicators use vocabulary to craft a world in which they are unworthy of the time and space they occupy. In addition to apologizing for speaking up, with phrases like I’m sorry to interrupt but…, they put themselves down in comparison to others. I’m really not good at this, they may say, or I’m no expert in this domain


When such self-deprecating statements are used as opening sentences, users discredit their message even before they share it. Frankly, no listener would be convinced by a speaker who doesn’t seem convinced of the idea themselves! These words denote uncertainty and lack of confidence, rather than denoting humility as some may think. 


Additionally, individuals employing a passive speaking style may feel they require permission to do things they have every right to do. They may ask with questions like Do you mind if I go ahead, or Is this ok with you? These questions give unwarranted authority to whom the question is directed, and fuel imbalance in the relationship. They also support decision-making based on an individual’s consent rather than through a logical and evaluative process. 


Overall, passive communicators dismiss their own needs, thinking I don’t really need this, and It’s ok- I can manage. They use few “I” statements, in fear of sounding threatening, and would prefer peppering their speech with umlike and well…as that may make them more approachable. 


What is aggressiveness?

Aggressive communicators use language to accuse and put down others. Their sentences are loaded with “I” statements, as they want to deliver their request as quickly as possible, and can spare little time for the opinions of others. They threaten using ifstatements which lead to undesirable consequences if the request is not fulfilled. An example of this is, If you don’t comply, I will see to it that….Through such uncooperative language, they create a space in which orders are given and are expected to be followed, leaving no room for negotiation and compromise. In this reality, cooperation is forced and productivity is impeded. 


Communicators using this aggressive approach often deliver opinions as facts. When their message faces disagreement, they may feel personally attacked. This is because they associate themselves with their idea and thus feel that when their ideas are challenged, they as an individual are being challenged. For defense, the aggressive communicator may gather artillery of emotionally charged words, sarcasm and mockery. Such a contentious atmosphere is unconducive to critical thinking and idea refinement. 


Overall, assertiveness is a fine balance between passivity and aggressiveness. It is also a learnable skill, and a valuable asset in social and professional settings. 

Book an appointment today and begin the assertiveness journey to becoming one who communicates directly and honestly, all in all respecting oneself as well as others. You can book an initial consultation with us using the link below, or by calling (647) 795-5277.