Assertive vs. Aggressive Communication: What’s the Difference?

Communication—the human connection—is the key to personal and career success. – Paul J Meyer

The ability to communicate effectively with others is a vital life skill. Everyone can value an assertive person, but not so much an aggressive person.

Not knowing where to draw the line, many people avoid expressing their true feelings for fear they will be judged as pushy and aggressive. So, they say little or nothing about what’s really important to them. Electing a passive approach, by not trying, is self-defeating.

Different Styles

“Assertive” and “aggressive” are two common styles of interpersonal communication. It’s really about two different behaviors— how people act and react with others. Knowing “what” to say and “how” to say it, sets them apart from each other, especially in the results they produce.

The words we choose make a big difference when it comes to getting our message across to other people. Non-verbal cues can also make, or break, the message as well. Here are some examples to demonstrate the differences in communication styles:

Assertive Behavior

• Speaks to the point with honesty and openness

• Speaks clearly in a conversational tone

• Maintains good eye contact

• Keeps an attentive and open body posture

• Listens carefully with a relaxed appearance

• Shows respect for other people’s thoughts and feelings

Aggressive Behavior

• Makes demands

• Speaks loudly or yells

• Glares or makes faces

• Sits back with arms crossed or leans into other people’s space

• Interrupts and talks over others

• Attacks or ignores other’s opinions

Different Results

Assertive people express their views to others with clarity, confidence, and fairness. They avoid using words as weapons. They demonstrate a willingness to build trust and mutual agreement.

Speaking passionately is not necessarily speaking convincingly. Having unrealistic expectations or making excessive demands puts you in the aggressive category. The same goes for “fighting fire with fire.” Aggressive people are saying, in effect, “My way or else.”

Speaking with poise and confidence, while respecting the rights of others, leads to positive outcomes. If your goal is to convey your feelings to another person or to help them understand your point of view, which one would you choose?

It Takes Time

Assertive communication is a skill that no one is born with, but everyone can learn. Even if you tend to be passive or aggressive currently, knowing how assertiveness and aggressiveness are different will help you get started.

Don’t consider it a “fail,” if someone feels hurt, or does not react as you expect when you assert yourself. We can’t really know until we experience how others will react. Keep in mind, it’s a skill that requires practice and will improve over time, and their reaction does not mean you did anything wrong.

Trying to avoid aggression by acting passively keeps you from speaking your voice and informing others about your needs. You are the one who is hurt.

Assertive Communication is often referred to as the only healthy style of communicating. Practice it daily! Learning to assert yourself will not just get you further in life, it will make your life better.