Aggression and assertiveness: It’s a thin line that you shouldn’t cross

Updated on:29 November 2021, 14:48pm IST
There exists a very thin line between assertiveness and aggression, which is why it is essential to understand the differences between the two.
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We live in a world that encourages people to be ‘vocal’ about what they want, pushing them to take the requisite steps to achieve it. Isn’t that a great thing? Well it is, but it all boils down to how you go about it. And if it treads into negative territory, your assertiveness could turn to aggressiveness. It is very simple to mix up the two, because there does exist a very thin line.

Take for instance, an office meeting. You are surrounded by several senior members of your team, who are not too convinced with your ‘big idea’. When they disagree with you, you raise your voice, start getting defensive and turn red. Watch your emotions then dear, because you just turned aggressive.

But that’s exactly what we want to understand today, with the help of Meenakshi Shivaramakrishnan, Senior Clinical Psychologist at IWill. She tells HealthShots what is the difference between aggressiveness and assertiveness, and why being assertive is more important than being aggressive.

The difference between being aggressiveness and assertiveness

“Assertiveness is not what you do, it’s who you are!” These words by prolific author Shakti Gawain ring true in every possible way. But why do we often confuse assertiveness with aggressiveness?

Shivaramakrishnan tells HealthShots, “There is a very thin but rational line between the two. Assertive behaviour and aggression are different approaches to handling confrontation, which have distinguishing factors and lead to very different outcomes.”

Let’s understand more about this:

1. Assertive behaviour is a positive form of expression, while aggression is a negative form of expression

“Assertive behaviour is rooted in mutual respect, while aggression comes from a place of self-importance at the cost of neglecting others’ feelings or thoughts. Assertiveness, therefore, is not about scoring points but simply about communicating a point of view respectfully,” adds Shivaramakrishnan.

2. Aggression often makes matters worse, while assertive behaviour is more productive

Notice that every time you are firm and assertive, you tend to make the right impression! But every time you act all negative and try to show that you are better than others, things always go down south.

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3. Assertive behaviour is all about standing up for yourself and your values in an unthreatening manner, while aggression puts others down

“True assertion comes from a secure sense of self and individual values, and an attitude of acceptance and respect for others and their actions. This is compared to an insecure space, where doubt and suspicion of others’ intentions is the reason behind the aggression,” shares Shivaramakrishnan.

4. Assertive people recognise boundaries between their ideas and those of others

People responding assertively are aware of their feelings, and the tensions are kept in a normal, constructive, and situationally appropriate range. Assertive people stand comfortably, but firmly, and speak in a steady tone of voice. Assertive words include statements reflecting responsibility for self, “I think”, “I feel”, “I want,” and cooperative words such as, “let’s see, how can we resolve this,” “what do you think”, and “what do you see.”

“When someone invades another’s boundaries or individual rights; that person is usually behaving aggressively. The intention of aggressive people is to dominate others to get their own way. It is reflected in statements that are confrontational, abusive, ridiculing, or hostile. Mannerisms demonstrated by aggressive people include leaning forward with glaring eyes, pointing a finger, and a raised tone of voice,” she adds.

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The last words

It’s always a good idea to be assertive than to be aggressive! Assertiveness is one of the key traits/skills one needs to fully develop and channelize one’s self-expression and enhance their Emotional Quotient (EQ).

“With intentional effort and practice, one can modify their assertiveness behaviours. The starting point is to recognise one’s current level of assertiveness. Being able to balance assertiveness (as appropriate for each circumstance), one can increase their chances of being successful in a wide range of interpersonal situations,” concludes Shivaramakrishnan.

Geetika Sachdev Geetika Sachdev

An independent writer and journalist, Geetika loves sharp and fresh humour, just like her coffee! If not writing, you'll find her cafe-hopping and raiding the best book stores in town.