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Assertiveness vs Aggression

Aug 17, 2007
Ever been accused of being aggressive when you thought you were simply being assertive?

This is actually quite common because usually it takes so much effort for unassertive people to stand up for themselves that their behaviour can often look more aggressive than intended.

Here's what happens. Let's say that in your day-to-day life you don't feel very assertive. People take advantage of you; you are easily intimidated some of the time; you give in too easily; you accommodate other people's wishes often above your own.

A lot of the time you'll rehearse in your head things you could say to stop these things from happening. The problem is, you don't. What then happens is that all those little upsets begin to grow into one big one. It gets bigger and bigger every time you don't stand up for yourself and you feel you ought to.

Finally, one day you've had enough! The next time someone says something to you, expects you to stay late to finish up a report, drive the kids to school, or any number of little inconveniences, you're going to do it, you're going to say something. You plan the conversation in your head; you know exactly what you're going to say and even what they are going to say.

But this takes courage!

So you steel yourself for this encounter. By the time it comes around you've probably worked yourself into quite a lather, at least internally. When the moment comes this is what often happens: you're taken by surprise even though you were expecting it, and worst of all, all the words you had rehearsed go completely out of your head.

But in order to save the day you decide to go for it anyway. And blast the bad guy away with both barrels. Suddenly, your usual mild-mannered approach has turned into a full-scale attack. Not only that, you may be so horrified by what you have done that you either can't stop and keep on going, making things even worse, or you scurry away full of apologies and look for a corner in which to lick your wounds.

This is why you may seem aggressive when aggression is the last thing on your mind

And this is why assertiveness can sometimes get a bad reputation. If other people experience you as very accommodating and perhaps even a bit of a pushover, when you push back and it gets out of hand, people don't usually react very positively.

For assertiveness to work, it should be pretty much invisible, with not a double-barreled shotgun in sight.

When you start thinking about becoming more assertive, you need to start with small, incremental changes rather than imagining you are going to turn into this super-confident, quick-thinking and speaking person overnight.

One problem here is that we see someone else handling all these things really well, and we think, "I wish I could be like that." Personalities don't change that quickly, and besides, you are you with all your own unique qualities and abilities. What's important is to find the small things that would help you become more assertive, instead of trying to do it all in one fell, and ultimately, aggressive swoop.
About the Author
Jo Ellen and Robin run Impact Factory who provide Assertiveness Training, Presentation Skills, Communications Training, Leadership Development and Executive Coaching for Individuals.
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