Aggressive, Passive or Assertive? Aggressive, Passive or Assertive?
Our animal ancestors have but two ways to resolve a conflict – they can either fight, or flight. You know this phrase. We people... Aggressive, Passive or Assertive?

This is part 1 of twelve articles for Assertive Communication Series.


Our animal ancestors have but two ways to resolve a conflict – they can either fight, or flight. You know this phrase. We people are not that different. We too are equipped to instinctively react by either submitting to a dominant person, or by directly engaging in a fight with the intention to win it. However, there is a third option for us, one that could be described as reaching mutual understanding by respecting certain rules of play.

Many of us, unfortunately, use this third option insufficiently or rather awkwardly. This is because we are raised in belief that we ought to acquiesce to the demands of the outside world (otherwise we would be rude and disrespectful). Other children are raised to respond to every provocation by affirming their supremacy (you know sometimes fathers teach their sons to hit the other boy back, to hit him harder, or even to strike first). And then you have an adult who will not speak her mind because she expects her plea to be rejected in advance. However, once there is that final straw on the camel’s back, they burst out in anger and aggressive fit, for no apparent reason whatsoever.

In psychology, these patterns of behavior are labeled as aggressive, passive or passive aggressive. And the third, most desirable and healthy option, is assertiveness. Each of these behaviors come with an internal mindset, and this is why we promote assertiveness as a desirable philosophy. By being aggressive or passive, we do not communicate directly and most frequently don’t resolve any problem with others (just create new ones, actually). Not only will assertive communication reduce the number and intensity of conflicts in our life, but it will gradually lead us to a greater self-respect and less stressful life.

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Although there are finesses in these forms of behavior, communication and attitude, we could outline the basics of each type. Passive personalities cannot clearly state their needs and wants, and they are equally defenseless in front of the demands of others. If there is just a hint of criticism in what the other person is saying, they immediately begin to apologize and are willing to bend over backwards to please everyone. Aggressive personalities do not lack pseudo-confidence, and don’t think twice when they are about to offend someone. Nevertheless, an aggressive person often reaches just one thing – temporary relief; in solving their problems they are usually pretty unsuccessful and become even more frustrated than before they started to “resolve” their issues. And assertive behavior enables a person to clearly define his or her requirements, feelings and attitudes. These individuals are realistically self-confident, and pleasant to other people.

Are you in a dilemma whether your behavior is passive, aggressive or assertive? It may seem like an easy distinction, but there are some people who need a little bit of guidance to determine exactly how they usually behave. For this reason, we offer a quick check-list of some typical everyday life situations for you to begin your analysis with:

  • You were in a restaurant with a friend, and the service was lousy. What do you do in this situation?
  • You were waiting in cafeteria, and someone just cut the line right in front of you, and got served by the personnel! Do you react, or do you stay quiet?
  • You bought a new Christmas lights set. When you got home, you realized that some of the lights simply don’t work. Do you go back to the store and ask for refund, or do you just say to yourself: “Oh, well, at least most of them work”?
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For the first situation, you might snap at the waitress, and make a sarcastic remark. Or smile and say that everything was great and then spend the rest of the evening talking about it with your friend. Or you could choose to behave assertively, politely express your dissatisfaction and offer a solution – propose a discount or other way restaurant could make it up to you. Think about the other two situations, how do you usually behave? Then try and come up with the best solution for them.

Don’t get discouraged if you are not sure how to resolve these and other conflict situations in your life. We will discuss all of these behavioral patterns in detail throughout our series of articles on assertiveness. You will read about different mistakes in your thinking habits that might cause you to behave aggressively or to withdraw to passiveness, and learn how to use certain assertiveness techniques to communicate more efficiently and be more confident.

Stanislava P. Jovanovic

Stanislava P. Jovanovic

Stanislava Puacova Jovanovic is a psychologist based in Czech Republic. She had worked with socially endangered groups for many years, mostly with children and young people. She is a certified peer educator and a peer life coach, with vast experience in organizing workshops, trainings, courses, seminars etc. She is also a certificated assertive communication trainer.