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Nadine Wu


Being Assertive, Not Aggressive

Posted On:25-Oct-2019/1:58 pm

Being assertive can sometimes come off as being aggressive. Whether this is due to how firmly you speak to people, or just how others handle assertive people, it can be perplexing. Some may see you as difficult to work with, rude, or even pushy. However, the alternative is not much better. Being unassertive can make you seem weak to others, while also greatly disadvantaging you. If others see you as a pushover, they might take advantage of your meekness, or even just outright disrespect you. This balancing act can be stressful. While others may see you as aggressive, I always say that being assertive is better than being a pushover. This comes from personal experience, because, at one point or another, I have been a pushover and I have been assertive. But, over time and through introspection, I found a good in-between.

When I was younger, I was incredibly afraid of confrontation. I would let people walk all over me, if they even slightly raised their voice. For example, when strangers were rude or just plain disrespectful, I would apologize to them! This was an impossible way to live. My friends simply didn’t respect me, and why would they? I was a “suck up” and would give them anything they wanted, just to avoid any possible confrontation (especially with my parents).                                                            

However, during college, my attitude changed completely. I’m not exactly sure why – maybe it was the shock of becoming an adult. But I was suddenly very assertive, almost too much. Instead of running from confrontation, I would look for it. If somebody was slightly rude, or I interpreted them as being rude, I would confront them. People started treating me differently. People weren’t walking all over me anymore and nobody took advantage of me. However, I did start noticing that people always anticipated that I would be angry. For example, while planning a surprise party for a friend, I suggested that we have the party at my house. Another friend of mine, however, meekly stated that she wanted to host the party, but was afraid I would get mad at her. Now, instead of taking advantage of me, people were afraid to upset me. This was not a great look for me. I had become the exact person I despised – walking all over people and taking advantage of my meek friends.

While it is important to stand up for yourself, it’s also important to not steamroll other people – so, what’s a good in-between?: I say what is on my mind and confront someone when it is needed, but sometimes I will take a step back. If the situation does not need it, I will not speak up, and if someone is slightly rude, I will just let it go…most of the time. The in-between of aggressiveness and assertiveness is to sometimes let things go. The in-between of being a pushover and being meek is not to let anyone get away with treating you unfairly. By learning this very subtle difference, you may find yourself to be an assertive, but reasonable person.


1 : Being aggressive and being unassertive are opposite sides of the same coin

2 : Being assertive but not too aggressive really is a balancing act

Category:  Life Lessons/Lessons Learned / Subcategory:  Stand Up For Yourself

Tags: rude, pushover, meek, disrespect, in between, confrontation, walk all over, stand up, respect

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Bruce Peters


Nadine, very interesting duppydom. SJakes, your point is a good one. Especially in the business world, women need to be assertive, but they cannot come off as being aggressive. At our office, this is something women in leadership positions talk about all the time. Sometimes I sit in on these conversations (or I am within earshot), and I am surprised to hear what women have say about how easily male coworkers find them aggressive.

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S. Jakes


Nadine—perhaps others can correct me, but I think this is something all women deal with on a daily basis—trying to find the middle ground between assertiveness and aggressiveness. Society says women should not be aggressive and neither should they be assertive--assertiveness is a male quality. So, if women want to get a head in the world, how are we supposed to act? I find these reins on women’s behaviors very annoying. BTW, I really like the idea of--being aggressive and being unassertive are opposite sides of the same coin. Thank you Nadine :-)

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Adaego M. Azi


I agree Nadine, we must stand up for themselves—if not, nobody is going to do it for us. I need to be more assertive at work. This is the part of my life where I think I am most unsure—and of course I do not want to get fired. You make a good point--there is a fine line between being assertive and being aggressive. I am not an aggressive person, so I do not worry about that. My problem is asserting myself. Thanks.