Updated: Jul 17, 2021
Assertiveness is an elusive behaviour, because as much as the persons behaviour and thoughts are important, so is the social contexts, organisational culture, age, gender , position, and experience.
There is a difference between assertiveness and aggressive, but the line is generally wielded by the beholder, a perfectly assertive statement can be mistaken for being aggressive if the context is not right or if the demand is not perceived to be fair. What matters most, like in any communication situation, is the timing, tone, and non-verbal cues of the delivery more than the content of the statement.
For example, it commonly heard of bosses dumping work before an employee goes for vacation. It is generally said that the boss is being aggressive. However, how the employee responds to this situation will determine, if the employee is passive-aggressive, aggressive or assertive.
A classic passive aggressive response is to accept the work without rational and submissively, but being irritated, frustrated and angry, and then brood about it throughout the day and throughout the vacation, or worse is to take the work to the vacation.
Now conversely, the extreme aggressive response would be, the person would make a seen, fight out the demand irrationally and throw a tantrum on everybody and finally burn unnecessary bridges and create an unprofessional brand for themselves.
Now the response of an assertive person would be to first sort the work, priorities the work, and then rationally lay out the time frame and highlight the critical work that has to be completed and agree to complete it before going for the vacation, and to complete the rest immediately upon return, additionally, asking a colleague to put in some extra hours, that you would return the favour once you return from vacation. Once these demands are expressed to the boss, the work is accepted and the expectation is clear for both parties.
However, a boss who is passive-aggressive would generally accept this rational approach, but an aggressive boss may not respond to these demands positively, however that is where assertiveness become more tricky, it's about politely standing ground, all the while trying to accommodate the other persons demand, without infringing your own reality.
To succeed in being assertive:
it take practice to remain rational and in control of your verbal and non-verbal communication,
discipline to be polite and open to others reality and demands;
and wisdom to discern between assertiveness and aggressiveness, and also to discern the actual need to be assertive
A word of caution, the spectrum of assertiveness to aggressiveness is influenced greatly by culture, social perceptions and traditional roles. Which means, a perfectly, assertive response in a work situation in one company may not be acceptable in another company, where you may be branded as an aggressive person. Hence it is very important to understand your situation, and adapt your assertiveness style according to it, because your aim is not to be right or win, rather it is to uphold your rights without infringing yours or others by expressing your rights.
There is no One-Size-Fit-All approach to assertiveness. But on an emotional, behavioural, cognitive and feeling level, it is the same, it comes from the place that you value yourself, your time, your talents, your experience, your space and your aspirations. Many a times, you are pushed over by others, because you do not express verbally or non-verbally that you value yourself. Without you first valuing yourself, others will not value you. Without you first expressing your rights, others will not understand your rights.
Self esteem/self worth and assertiveness have a directly proportional relationship. Which mean, an increase in one will increase the other, conversely, decrease in one will decrease the other.