Assertive or Aggressive?

Assertive, Aggressive

Gandhiji once said “History is full of men who rose to leadership by the sheer force of self-confidence, bravery and tenacity.” Would you call him assertive or aggressive?

Are these some of the statements that you come across in your office?

  • Maybe this question is too basic. But better to be an idiot once than being an idiot forever.
  • I should have been copied on that mail as I worked so hard on it. I should ask for it.
  • I should be given due credit for my work and I am going to ask for it.
  • This job needs to be done my way or no way.
  • I can get my team to do what I want. They can never say no to me.

Some of the above are assertive and some of them are aggressive. So, what is assertive and what is aggressive? and are you better off being assertive or aggressive ?

Understanding Assertive and Aggressive

Wikipedia refers to Dorland’s medical dictionary where assertiveness is defined as “a form of behavior characterized by a confident declaration or affirmation of a statement without need of proof; this affirms the person’s rights or point of view without either aggressively threatening the rights of another (assuming a position of dominance) or submissively permitting another to ignore or deny one’s rights or point of view.”

Aggression on the other hand connotes behavior that is intended to cause pain or harm. Aggressive behavior is characterized by unprovoked attacks, invasions or offensive remarks / action.


Let me further explain this with the help of a story. There was once a snake that used to hiss and bite people treading along the path that it lay on. All the people in that village were tired of its aggression and so they approached a sage. The sage, being a good man, approached the snake and told him to give up this behavior.

The snake agreed and everyone was happy. After a few days, the sage went to visit the snake only to find it in a battered state. Upon enquiry, the snake said that once it stopped hissing and biting everyone, people not only started disregarding him but also started pelting it with stones and causing it harm.

The sage told the snake that he merely advised it to quit being aggressive but it did not mean that it also had to quit being assertive. So, the snake continued to use its skills towards self-preservation but quit being aggressive.


There are many instances across history that shows the distinction between assertive and aggressive. Freedom struggle is many times referred to as aggression, whereas it is a struggle for self-preservation, and hence assertive. Similarly suppression of widows is aggression, whereas regaining their rights is being assertive.

Traits of Assertiveness

To summarize, the following can be determined as the traits of assertiveness:

  1. Being confident about one self and expressing this confidence in the course of our business / employment
  2. Acting on personal goals
  3. Identifying and utilizing ones strength to fulfill personal goals
  4. Forming opinions, speaking out those opinions and being able to express those opinions without compromising the respect commanded by the other party
  5. Speaking for one self and resisting negative / hurtful influence.

Assertiveness in Office Environment

Few tips to assertive behavior in office environment:

  1. Be sure about what you are speaking
  2. Speak with confidence, not arrogance
  3. Do not make personal remarks
  4. Talk about situations, not about people
  5. Use a firm tone, not a commanding one
  6. Have a strong basis for discussing pain points
  7. Stick to your viewpoint unless you are convinced otherwise


Sharon Anthony Bower, the president of Confidence training Inc, a company that specializes in Assertiveness training says, “The basic difference between being assertive and aggressive is how our words and behavior affect the rights and well being of others.” So, should you be assertive or aggressive? Be Assertive but do not be Aggressive.

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About the Author

Supriya Mothay is a Chartered accountant by profession, with a passion to write. Being an amateur poet and creative writer, she now blogs on topics on finances, lifestyle and mythology. She likes to relate little philosophies to life and has a capability to break down trivial issues at the granular level and arrive at innovative solutions.

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