The difference between being aggressive and being assertive is an interesting one and it’s sometimes a challenge for anyone who isn’t used to being either. All too often people realise that being the walked-over-passive-type isn’t working for them and flip to being aggressive… ironically becoming the very type of person that they found difficult themselves and making other people’s lives a misery.
This brief blog just highlights a few of the common misconceptions about assertive and aggressive behaviour. It isn’t intended as a full explanation!
Myth 1 – aggressive people are rude. Well true, they can be. But it’s also possible to be both polite and aggressive. The working definition of aggressive that we take in our training (which is designed for an office/workplace environment) is that aggression is when you don’t take due account of the other person’s rights and/or integrity. It doesn’t matter how politely you phrase you instruction or putdown, it’s aggression. “You need to work this weekend” can be said in the most friendly tone of voice imaginable but if you’re riding roughshod over the other person’s right to say they don’t want to (or can’t) work that weekend, it’s aggression.
Myth 2 – aggression is the best way to get what you want. It might be in the short term, but all it does in the long term is build up resentment. People will fight you whenever they can. If they don’t feel able to stand up to you directly, they’ll find ways of undermining you indirectly. For example, following on from the example above, you might be able to force them to come into the office on Saturday, but how do you think you’re going to force them to be productive…?
Myth 3 – aggressive people are strong. Well I’m sure some of them are, but all to often aggression is brittle and is being used to hide a level of insecurity. After all, it’s easier to bully someone into doing something for you than it is to tell them you don’t know how to do it and then ask them to show you how!
In reality, no one expects you to know everything, so there’s no shame in asking for help.
Myth 4 – aggression is efficient. Really? If you force me to make you a cup of tea by being aggressive, what’s going to happen the next time you want a cup of tea? You’re going to have to bully me again. And again. And again. Annnddddd agaiiiinn… Each time you do that, you’ll find it gets harder and harder as I become more and more resistant. Even if it’s not a direct row, I’m going to spoil your cup – too much milk or too little. Even if you correct me and force me to make you a fresh one it’s taking your time and energy. Believe me, I can make you spend more time, energy and effort forcing me to make you a cup of tea than it would have taken you to make it yourself! And what about the next time? You’ve got to start the battle of attrition all over again. And I’m certainly never going to make you a cup of tea voluntarily!
Myth 5 – aggressive people are charismatic. Tosh. Sometimes charismatic people are aggressive, sure, but that’s a different thing entirely. Charismatic people are charismatic for a whole range of reasons, none of them particularly to do with being aggressive – although my experience is that they can often be aggressive if they need to be.
Myth 6 – aggression is always wrong. I believe in explaining things to people so that they’re on your side. (If you can’t do that you either need to get better at explaining things or you’re in the wrong yourself – learn from that!). However, there are times when there simply isn’t time to be reasonable – in the face of an emergency, for example. But even here, think about it – do you know the story of the boy who cried “Wolf!”? If you’re known for being aggressive, you’ll be less effective than if you’re not: in the latter case, people are more likely to realise you’re being aggressive for a reason and not fight back.
So there you go – a few aggression at work myths. There’s nothing there that’s not common sense when you think about it, is there? So why is there so often aggression in the office?!
Here’s a thought to leave you with – You can’t control the other person. If they’re being aggressive, being aggressive back isn’t going to do much other than leave you both exhausted. Why not try doing something different?