How To Be Assertive Versus Passive or Aggressive

We learn styles of emotionally responding to life from those around us. If our parents were consistently passive in their communication, behavior, and choices, then it’s likely that we have picked up on that too. And if we saw the adults around us act aggressively towards others when life got challenging, then that might be our automatic response. However, the good news is that we can change our emotional responses at any time. Instead of being either aggressive or passive, we can learn to be assertive.


To be assertive means having the ability to speak up for yourself in a healthy way that is honest and respectful towards yourself and others. It’s common to be in situations that require assertiveness at school, work, or at home. Being assertive is sometimes difficult to do if you’re tendency is to be either passive or aggressive.


Passivity is often seen in those who do not know themselves well enough or who tend to give up on themselves when in relationships with others. For instance, when you ask someone who is passive what he or she would like to do for dinner, he or she might respond with, “I don’t know; what do you want to do?”  Someone who is passive is often indecisive, quiet, and soft spoken.


On the other hand, someone who is aggressive has no trouble speaking his or her mind, even if it is rude, loud, and opinionated. Aggression might mean that someone tends to dominate a conversation, interrupts frequently, and rarely listens. He or she might use sarcasm, insults, and anger to get what he or she wants. Someone who is aggressive is often insensitive.


However, someone who is assertive has neither of these traits. Being assertive means sharing your opinion honestly. If an assertive person disagrees with you, he or she will let you know in a respectful and kind way. He or she will likely be interested in the opinions of others, listens carefully, and respects what others have to say. When an assertive person has a differing opinion, he or she will share it honestly and respectfully.


Here’s what it means to be assertive:

  • You can give your opinion and say what you feel.
  • You can ask for what you need and want.
  • You can disagree respectfully.
  • You can offer your ideas and suggestions.
  • You can say no without feeling guilty.
  • You can speak up for someone else.


Those who are assertive tend to have a healthy level of self-confidence. They are not arrogant or insecure. Instead, they believe that their feelings, ideas, and opinions matter. Because they feel this is true for themselves, they tend to feel the same way towards others. And this gives them the ability to listen to others’ opinions with respect. Furthermore, those who are assertive are resilient. When they are faced with criticism, their self-confidence isn’t shaken or broken. They do not respond negatively to rejection because they have a strong sense of self. Being assertive usually means having the ability to respect the preferences of others. It’s likely that those who are assertive had experiences in the past in which their opinion, preferences and ideas were treated with respect.


On the other hand those who act passively tend to worry about pleasing others, being liked, or whether others will agree or disagree with their opinions. Those who are passive are sensitive to criticism and are easily hurt, likely because their ideas and opinions were rejected in the past. Meanwhile, those who act aggressively tend to be arrogant, focus too much on getting their needs met and have learned not to respect the opinions and preferences of others.


You might see that being assertive means have a loving and caring relationship with yourself and by doing so you have the ability to stand up for what you think and believe. You have the ability to live from your values rather than being concerned whether you’re going to get your needs met. Remember that even if you are passive or aggressive, you can always learn how to be more assertive and change the way you respond to others and yourself in a caring way.