Be More Assertive. It Isn't Mean, It's The Middle Ground Between Passive And Aggressive

Aug 06, 2022

Be more assertive. It isn't mean, it's the middle ground between passive and aggressive

(Photo by Ronaldo Guiraldelli)

Are you living life on hot or cold?

A helpful way to think about assertiveness is to imagine it as part of a spectrum. Assertive would be in the middle with passive on one extreme and aggressive on the other. But what do these labels actually mean? And how do we stay in the middle?


People may be passive for a number of reasons. They may be afraid of standing out, creating waves or letting people down. They may undervalue their feelings or desires by assuming that other people don't care about how they feel. They may mistake standing up for themselves or voicing their opinion as aggressive behavior. 

Most of us can only be passive until we reach a "breaking point" and switch to aggressive behavior. If you struggle with being passive, you may even associate assertiveness with aggression. But they're not the same at all, assertiveness isn't about conflict. It's about making yourself heard and feeling understood.


People may also be aggressive for a number of reasons. They may be under a lot of pressure elsewhere in their lives. They may assume that others have information that they don't have. They may feel out of control and want to do everything they can to get back in control of the situation.

People who react in an aggressive way may do so with hostility or anger. But being aggressive occasionally doesn't make you an aggressive person. There may have been a time in your life where you reacted to a situation less calmly than you would've liked. What was the reason behind your reaction?


People who use this method are respectful with their communication. They are direct and helpful. They stand up for what they believe and hold their own opinions regardless of what others think. They say "yes" when they want to say yes, and "no" when they want to say no.

If conflict mediation were Goldilocks, this bed would be juuuust right. 

Maybe you don't find yourself in the assertive group right now, but don't worry. Below are some ways to get you where you need to go.

Respect your boundaries… or no one else will

Practice saying no or communicating your preferences when there is very little consequence. Low risk situations like restaurant choice, or what to do with friends on a day off. This can be the perfect time to say no to something just because. 

Obviously you want to be mindful of the other people involved and their feelings. But if you don't love the idea of going to a burger place, it's okay to say no. Also, it can be helpful to give an alternate suggestion. Think about it, what do you want to do?

Here is a simple exercise that can be helpful. Write down situations that come up this week where you have an opportunity to speak up for yourself and what you want. This is to get you used to being aware of how you feel in those situations. 

Learn to see where the opportunities for choice show up and how you feel when they do. This can be an eye opening experience. 

How we communicate is as important as what we communicate

Try to pay attention to how you convey your feelings and needs. Whenever possible, you should communicate in a positive way; not just with your words but body language as well. You may find that visualization can be helpful.[166]

Practice communicating your needs in your head. Just be careful not to start looping and having simulated arguments. This is counterproductive. 

One reason that many people avoid being vocal about their needs or preferences is they believe they will be met with an argument. That's a totally reasonable and understandable fear. And it's okay to communicate your fear while you're communicating your needs. It's all about being understood.

Practice a calming technique. One that can prepare you for the stress you may feel when you go to voice your opinion. Box-breathing is a very helpful technique. Inhale slowly for 5 seconds, hold for 1 second, and breathe out slowly for 5 seconds. Repeat as many times as is necessary.[168] [169]

Show others how they are allowed to treat you

One important aspect of being assertive is setting boundaries.[18] [100] Clearly defined boundaries let people know how they are allowed to treat you. And it also lets them know how they can expect to be treated by you. 

Using "I feel" statements is a great and respectful way to let people know where your boundaries are. Phrases like, "I feel a little overwhelmed by this." Or, "I'm feeling a bit tired and it's tough for me to follow what you are saying."

One of the main differences between assertive and aggressive behavior: assertiveness relies on mutual respect. Be kind and calmly communicate your feelings. Instead of being accusatory or defensive, you are extending respect to the other person. You are asking them to reciprocate by respecting your feelings. 

Going forward

Pay close attention to the communication style of people that you regularly interact with. How do they use their words and body language to communicate their boundaries? What do you think your style of communication is?[168] [169]

Remember, passivity is sometimes viewed as "being nice". More often than not, we are nice to others at the expense of being nice to ourselves. Make sure you're taking care of yourself before taking care of others. This will help you feel the best about yourself, which will help you be more assertive.

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