This question reminds me of when I worked in a large drug company and did performance appraisal follow ups. When they described the behaviour of their staff I would often say ‘sounds as though they could do with an assertiveness course’. More often than not they would turn white, look distressed and say ‘but they are too assertive already’. This kind of reaction gave me a pretty good indication that their staff were being aggressive rather than assertive.
I don’t really believe there is such a behavior as being over assertive. If you are being over assertive you are actually being aggressive.
It’s interesting that when I run assertiveness courses, which are still my favourite courses to run since you can see people having ‘light bulb’ moments as it progresses, very few of the participants are on the aggressive end of the perspective. I think this is because it takes a very brave person to tell an aggressive person that there may be something lacking in their performance. However when they do appear on the courses they are usually highly motivated to change. Why do you think that might be?
Well believe it or not I have realized only fairly recently that aggressive people don’t realize that they are aggressive? And you might say but how could they not realize? but when you think about it how often would you tell a person in a calm rational manner that you believe their behavior to be aggressive. Most of us don’t bother to do that. Whereas people are more comfortable telling a person who has a tendency to be passive that they need to be more assertive. So an aggressive person does not usually get the feedback that a passive person does. This makes the situation more tricky. However the aggressive stance is I positive you negative, so they get their needs met but they have a deep down feeling that something is wrong because people don’t like to be around them. So when an aggressive person walks in the door everyone else goes out the other exit.
So if you are open minded enough to suspect that you might have a tendency to be aggressive you need to observe your desire to win at all costs. But I hear you say ‘ but I don’t want to be like the passive people that’s no fun at all’ so you need to learn the skills of assertion and move to a more ‘I positive, you positive’ perspective which means that you have to deliberately ask for, listen to, take in and respond to what other people say. And you might say that that does not sound like a very enjoyable experience but in fact the fun does not come from always winning but from being a functional member of the human race surrounded by people who want to be around you. So in effect you have to change your goals from winning all the time to winning some of the time and losing some of the time but having supportive and constructive people around you. Backing off being aggressive is I think more difficult but the rewards are huge, particularly if you learn the language and behaviour of assertiveness.
I once coached a Director of Finance and at every single personality test he took he was told he was not a ‘people person’, which probably meant that he was very task orientated and did not involve people in his processes. Because he was a very bright man and realized that he wanted people on board with his ideas he learnt to include people as part of his task. Now he is incredible at the people bit because the moment he walks in the door he begins to build rapport and get them laughing. He creates a fun place to work where his staff would do anything for him and no one would not consider him to be a people person. So this brings me to another point that if you are prepared to change your behavior, life just becomes more fun and you actually end up doing more work because people are happy to help you to achieve your goals whereas before they would just let you get on with it.
So what happens if it’s not you but someone around you who is aggressive? Well first of all you have to be brave and decide if it’s worth it to give them feedback. I tried it once and I am still licking my wounds.
You will think they will realize they are aggressive but believe me they won’t believe that about themselves. And then when you do decide to do this, I would use the model for giving constructive feedback in the People Skills Revolution book since it keeps it tight and focused and you will not get sidetracked into an argument. But be realistic about your chances of success, unless people hear the same feedback time and time again or hear it from a number of sources they are unlikely to take it on.
Having said that I do believe that taking the stance of being aggressive is a protective one in the same way that taking a passive stance is a protective one so do bear in mind that they would have been brought up in a family where passivity was regarded as a weakness and it would never occur to them to be assertive because assertiveness skills largely have to be deliberately learnt.
So whether your think you might have a tendency to be passive or have a tendency to aggressive, stop criticizing yourself for what you do or don’t do and start to learn the skills of assertiveness – you will find that your life starts to open up remarkably if you do that.
For more information on the continuum of interpersonal skills, assertiveness, influencing, negotiation, conciliation, taking a stand and making peace in a step-by-step manner please refer to the People Skills Revolution and the People Skills Revolution Handbook published by Global Professional Publishing.
Please note: The information contained in this blog is copyright and cannot be reproduced in any form whatsoever without the prior permission of the author who can be contacted through her website at solutionsunlimited.co.uk.