Assertive Vs Aggressive

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You may be wondering, what is the difference between being assertive and being aggressive. Is one style of communication better than the other? Does being aggressive result in better outcomes or will being assertive be more beneficial? In this article, we will discuss the differences between assertive communication and aggressive communication and provide examples of each.

What is Assertiveness?

Assertive communication is when a person is able to express their views, thoughts, feelings, or desires in a manner that is honest and direct while simultaneously respecting the viewpoint of the other person. Assertive communication seeks to set healthy boundaries, where one can ask for what they want and need without being insulting or manipulative. Assertive communication comes across as respectful and confident.

Assertiveness can be conveyed through language as well as non-verbally. Some indicators of non-verbal assertiveness include making direct eye contact, using good posture, and speaking in a tone of voice that is firm yet respectful. Using assertive communication is helpful for establishing and maintaining positive relationships personally and professionally.

Those who grew up in families where this style of communication was predominately utilized are likely adept at being assertive themselves in adulthood. Those who are assertive tend to have more harmonious relationships, higher self-esteem, and maintain healthier boundaries.

What is Aggressiveness?

Aggressive communication does not demonstrate respect for other people. People who use aggressive communication styles tend to place more emphasis on “winning” than they do on resolving a problem. Aggressive communication tends to be demanding, blaming, manipulative, and/or abusive

Just like other forms of communication, aggressive communication can be expressed non-verbally. Imposing your size above someone else, talking with arms crossed, and using glaring facial expressions, are all examples of communicating aggression through body language. Using aggressive communication can negatively impact relationships, both professionally and personally.

Aggressiveness tends to be a learned behavior. Those who grew up in homes with abuse were likely exposed to this form of communication. The potential to become either passive (not communicating or repressing feelings) or aggressive as an adult is likely a result of a learned coping mechanism from dealing with aggressive behavior and communication in childhood.

Assertive vs Aggressive: What’s the Difference?

There are several differences between these two types of communication styles. While each person may desire the same outcome, the way in which they go about communicating their desires comes across very differently.

Uses respectful language and demeanorUses demeaning language or demeanor
Issues requestsMakes demands
Endorses equitable relationshipsDoes not care about others’ feelings or desires
Uses a direct but respectful tone of voiceUses a raised voice or makes threats
Appears in controlAppears out of control
Appears calm and collectedAppears agitated or emotional
Forthright and honestManipulative

The person on the receiving end is much more likely to appease the requests of those using assertive communication than those using aggressive communication. The message received from assertive communication is often collaborative and respectful in tone. 

Those who are spoken to aggressively find themselves in a difficult position. They can either tolerate the behavior and sacrifice their comfort to maintain a relationship with the aggressor or they must choose to walk away from the behavior. In these situations, the person being spoken to in an aggressive manner might feel intimidated, they may feel they have few options or, they grew up with this communication style and normalize this style of communication.

Examples of Assertive vs Aggressive Communication

“I would like to talk with you about getting a raise at work.”“I’ve been working for you for 2 years and I deserve a raise. If I don’t get one, I’m walking.”
“It hurts my feelings when you don’t get me a gift for my birthday.”“After all the things I do for you, and you don’t even acknowledge my birthday with a gift!”
“Could you please put away your clothes, it’s important to me to have an orderly home.”“You’re such a slob, put away your clothes. What’s wrong with you?”
“I’d like to visit my family for the holidays, and I’d you like to join me, what do you think?”“I’m going to see my family for the holidays, and if you don’t come with me, I’m not sure I can stay in this relationship.”
“There is no smoking in our home, please smoke outside”“Blow your smoke somewhere else, don’t you know you’re killing people around you?”
“I’d like to talk to the manager about an issue I am having.”“Get your manager now! Don’t you know how to do your job?”

Can You Be Assertive Without Being Aggressive?

Yes, as you can see from our examples and previous definitions, these are two distinct forms of communication. It is important to note, that women tend to be identified as aggressive even when they are being assertive due to cultural stereotypes and/or expectations. However, it is important to listen closely and objectively before assuming a woman is communicating aggressively rather than simply being assertive. 

Passive, Aggressive and Assertive Communication

Those who communicate passively, may not communicate at all and risk not having their needs met. Those who communicate aggressively risk both professional and personal fallout. Those who choose to communicate assertively, have the most optimal style of communicating which is reflected in both their personal and professional relationships.


Though it may feel as though you are destined to have a certain communication style, we can all improve our communication through education and support. If you have a passive or aggressive style of communication, it can be helpful to work with a therapist to learn more assertive techniques. Role-playing is one such way a therapist might work with you to help you strengthen your communication skills. 

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