We all want to feel acknowledged and empowered at work, but most people feel ineffective and vulnerable. They struggle to communicate with clarity and confidence and often end up reacting instead of acting.
When you’re assertive you ask for what you need and talk honestly about what you want. Of course, it’s not just what you say, but how you say it that’s important. Assertive communication is direct and respectful. But if you communicate in a way that’s too passive or too aggressive, your message may get lost in the reactions of others.
Assertive vs. passive communication
Passive communication is where an individual chooses to not express opinions or feelings to avoid conflict. As a result, passive individuals don’t respond to hurtful or anger-inducing situations. Instead, they let grievances and annoyances mount, usually unaware of the build-up. If your style is passive, you may seem to be shy or too easy going. You avoid conflict and give others the licence to disregard your wants and needs. Your intention may be to keep the peace. But always saying yes can be detrimental to your career advancement. And worse, being passive can cause you internal conflict because you and your needs always come second.
Assertive vs. aggressive communication
Often the line between aggressiveness and assertiveness can appear to be thin, but it really is a lot more clear cut. When you stand up for yourself using aggressive behaviour, you disregard the needs, feelings and opinions of others. You may come across as self-righteous, superior or a bully. While aggressive behaviour may appear to get you what you want, it also undercuts trust and mutual respect. Others may come to resent you, leading them to avoid or oppose you. Conversely, assertive people put forth their needs and views in a confident and direct manner. They stand up for themselves without the use of intimidation and they always respect the views of others.
Assertive vs. passive-aggressive communication
We’re all guilty of using passive-aggressive behaviour at work from time to time. We may use humour to deflect criticism, half-heartedly say yes when we mean no or signal disinterest by replying days late to an email. Passive-aggressive behaviour stems from feeling powerless, stuck and resentful. Rather than being direct when they need to confront an issue, passive-aggressive people use sarcasm, make snide remarks and complain behind the backs of others. The danger though, is that over time passive-aggressive behaviour, whether malicious or not, leads to a toxic work environment. Moreover, passive-aggressive communication can leave a wake of damaged relationships behind you.
Being assertive in the workplace is a balancing act. You need to be assertive to push your points or concerns across. However, you can do that without acting out in a way that yields negative outcomes.