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Part III: Act Like a Professional > Be Assertive, Not Aggressive

Chapter 25. Be Assertive, Not Aggressive

Assertive communication is a key skill. Professionals must learn to hold their own in a positive way by learning assertiveness. No one is consistently assertive. All of us use the three basic styles described below depending on the situation and personal factors. The good news is that we can learn to become more assertive more of the time.

Nonassertive communication is passive and indirect. It communicates a message of inferiority. By being nonassertive, you allow the wants, needs, and rights of others to be more important than your own. Nonassertive communication helps create “win-lose” situations. A person behaving nonassertively will lose or at best be disregarded while allowing others to win. Following this road leads to being a victim, not a winner.

Aggressive communication is more complex. It can be either active or passive, direct or indirect, honest or dishonest. It always communicates an impression of superiority and disrespect. By being aggressive you put your wants, needs, and rights above those of others. You attempt to get your way by not allowing others a choice. Aggressive communication is usually inappropriate because it violates the rights of others. People behaving aggressively may “win” by making sure others “lose,” but in doing so, they set themselves up for retaliation.

Assertive communication is active, direct, and honest. It communicates an impression of self-respect and respect for others. By communicating assertively, you view your wants, needs, and rights as equal with that of others. You work toward “win-win” outcomes. An assertive person wins by influencing, listening, and negotiating so that others choose to cooperate willingly. This behavior leads to success without retaliation and encourages honest, open relationships.


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