Sometimes assertive and aggressive behaviour can be easily confused. If we send an email to a colleague saying ‘Please can you get this document translated into Italian and French by Thursday at 3.00pm.’ Is this aggressive or assertive?
Let’s look at defining the words;
Aggressive – when we do not recognise the opinions of the other person.
Submissive – when we do not state our own position.
Assertive – when we stand up for our own position whilst recognising the position of the other person.
So even though we have used the word ‘please’ in the scenario, the overall approach is more aggressive than assertive, because it does not demonstrate any recognition or seek the position of the other person. We do not ask ‘if’ the person can do the translation by 3.00pm on Thursday, or ‘how’ we can achieve the deadline.
To be assertive the statement would need to read something like, ’The client requires us to translate this document into Italian and French by 3.00pm on Thursday, please can you let me know if this deadline can be achieved, or what we need to do to achieve the deadline.’
The difference in the words may be subtle but the reaction form the translator may be more clear. The first version could be interpreted as a command and could elicit the response, ‘It cannot be done!’ The second is more likely to be ‘This kind of document needs more time, at least three days. We could divide it amongst external translators to achieve the deadline, or to ensure consistency do you think the client could give us another day?’
Assertive is about putting our point whilst recognising the position of the other person. Some people say ‘they are very assertive, they stand up for themselves.’ But this is not enough. Standing up for ourselves alone may be interpreted as aggressive behaviour.