There is a difference between being aggressive and being assertive. In the workplace, employees and managers working to advance themselves in their careers need to be clear on the distinction.

Aggressiveness is to be confrontational, possibly belligerent, hostile or violent behavior or attitudes toward another person. When someone is aggressive, he or she is ready to attack. People who slip into an aggressive mode make the interaction a win/lose issue regardless of relevance.

Simply, aggressiveness can be about lack of respect for the other person(s) and can show-up in the environment as:

  • Yelling
  • Cursing
  • Throwing things
  • Lack of listening to others

Clearly, aggressiveness is not characteristic of good leadership behavior. It is often hurtful and damaging to relationships. In the workplace, one wants to build and cultivate good relationships, not destroy them.

On the other hand, an assertive person showcases emotional intelligence because he or she is in control of emotions and grounded in self-confidence.

Being assertive means being clear about what is meant and being clear about the outcome. It is being able to say “yes” when one means “yes” and saying “no” when “no” is meant. It is being able to state one’s point of view and being willing to elaborate an idea when asked, willing to be challenged to further the conversation and ultimately get to the solution.

An assertive person looks for win/win results in interactions. In doing so, an assertive person shows respect for others while firmly standing his or her own ground. It is the quality of being self-assured and confident without being aggressive.

If you have received feedback suggesting you are being “too assertive” on the job, you may be perceived instead as being “aggressive.” Check your behaviors, ask those providing feedback to be more specific and listen to what they say.

  • How do people describe you?
  • Do you get angry or lose your temper at work?
  • Do you often say things you later regret?
  • What is your tone and body language when you interact with others?
  • Are you direct, honest and open in your communications?
  • Are you respectful of others regardless of their position in the company?
  • Do you listen to the opinions of others?
  • How do you influence people to rally around your ideas and then complete activities asked of them?

It is possible to change your communication style and be properly assertive. Coaching is often a good tool for improvement.

The choice is yours!

Stuart Friedman is president of Progressive Management Associates. He is a business visionary who guides organizations through cultural shifts. He promotes environments that inspire collaboration, transparency in the pursuit of strategic outcomes and heart-felt desires. Reach Stuart via email: stuart@pma-co.com