Passive, Assertive, Aggressive, What’s the Difference?

One on One CoachingIn communication with others, there are three basic patterns. There’s aggressive communication, passive communication, and assertive communication. Most of the women I know default to passive communication. Aggressive communication is confrontational and rude, and we aren’t taught how to speak assertively.

But passive communication leads to misunderstandings, unspoken thoughts, and a sense of powerlessness.

The good news is that you can change. You can make your speech patterns assertive, and being assertive is NOT offensive. Think of passive communication on one end of a line, and aggressive communication on the other end. When you express your preferences as information rather than request, you’re on the passive end of the line. When you express your preferences as a demand rather than a request, it’s the aggressive end of the line.

Consider this scenario. Two or more people have gathered together to eat a meal, and one person asks the most dreaded question in the world: “Where do you want to eat?”

That question is invariably answered in passive ways.

“Anywhere is fine with me.” “I don’t know, where do you want to eat?” “I don’t have any preference.”

What comes next is the continuation of passive chat, as people offer suggestions which are apologetically eliminated.

“There will be a wait there.” “They don’t have any good vegetarian options, I’m sorry.” “That’s too far out.” “I don’t agree with the politics of the owners.” “I was thinking somewhere cheaper?”

Just think how welcome it would be if the person began the conversation with assertive communication, ie: “Let’s go get some pizza at Mod.” If assertive communication continued, you’d hear comments like:

“I can’t eat pizza tonight, it’ll give me indigestion. Do they have salad there?” “I love pizza, but could we go to Assaggios? They have yummy desserts.”

When we use assertive communication, we eliminate a lot of misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

So what makes a comment passive, aggressive, or assertive? It’s all in how you say it.

When you phrase a preference as a demand, it’s aggressive.

When you phrase a preference as an explanation or opinion, it’s passive.

When you phrase a preference as a request, it’s assertive.

I think examples are the best, so here we go!

You’d like your spouse to make you some soft boiled eggs for breakfast.

Aggressive: “I’m hungry! Soft boiled eggs, NOW!”

Passive: “Did you know that my favorite breakfast food is a soft boiled egg?”

Assertive: “Would you please make me a couple of soft boiled eggs for breakfast?”

There are dirty dishes in the sink from yesterday, even though your spouse agreed to wash all the dishes this week.

Aggressive: “Are you kidding me? You need to wash these dishes now!”

Passive: “I was going to wash some grapes, but the sink was too full of dirty dishes for me to use it.”

Assertive: “Hey, would you be able to wash those dishes before dinner?”

You and your spouse agreed to watch less TV, but after the kids are in bed, he turns the TV on without even asking you.

Aggressive: “What are you doing? We talked about this! Turn the TV off!”

Passive: “Oh, are you watching TV tonight? I’m not really in the mood, myself.”

Assertive: “Can you turn the TV off? We agreed to watch less TV.”

Let’s tackle something more difficult. Maybe you want to have a second child, but you and your husband haven’t talked about the issue.

Aggressive: “I’m ovulating, so get in bed with me now!”

Passive: “Four is the perfect number of family members, in my opinion.”

Assertive: “I know we haven’t talked about this, but I would really like to have a second child. Can we set aside some time this week to discuss it?”

What do you think? Other examples of the differences? Comments about my examples? Let me know in the comments below!

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