I have a professional pet peeve. This pet peeve negatively impacts woman and minorities at work all the time. It is used to devalue meaningful contributions in meetings. It is so pervasive it holds people in all professions back from feeling valued and empowered in their workplace.
It’s the misunderstanding between what is assertive, and what is aggressive, communication.
Those two words tend to be used interchangeably, often implying through tone of voice (rather than choice of words) what the speaker means; “Well, she was assertive in the meeting today!”. Confusing? Very.
I work with very talented professionals every day, and this comes up a lot, particularly when we explore the benefits assertiveness has to offer at work. Immediately I get a quick reaction: “Oh, I don’t like to interrupt others in meetings!”. Or “I don’t want to be egotistical [pushy, harsh, brash, insistent, etc.], I don’t like it when others do that to me.”
I love the conscious awareness, please keep that, but there is a balancing act between being respectful and being nice. You want to aim for respectful, because in organizations, nice people often do “finish last” (as the saying goes).
Being assertive, and being aggressive are two completely different things, but I understand why there is confusion. Beyond the fact we treat those words like they both mean the same thing – which they don’t - they share a lot of the same characteristics.
Both assertive and aggressive communication use interruption, both are clear about what the speaker wants, and both create awkwardness.
Let’s break that down:
Assertiveness plays a huge role in your personal empowerment and career impact, but it is one of the least practiced tools in our organizations today because of the confusion between assertion and aggression.
So, here is your call to action: start powerful conversations on the differences between assertive and aggressive communication where you work (and if that feels like too far a reach, start by having these conversations at home). This is an important dialogue we need to have at work, bringing understanding and opportunity to have better discussions, which empower stronger outcomes, while building everyone’s confidence. Win/win/win.
And that is the biggest difference between assertive and aggressive communication. With assertive communication, everyone wins.
To support this powerful conversation where you work, share this infographic as a starting point.