Passively Aggressive Assertion

There are times when we need to be assertive either in the work place or at home to make sure that we are heard and our views are considered.  In a leadership role we need to demonstrate assertiveness in standing up for our teams, communicating with impact and developing healthy boundaries.

It’s a fine line though between being passive and letting everything wash over us or being a pushover, assertive and getting our point across, or aggressive and being rude or insensitive.

Nidhi Kush Shah wrote a series of articles on “Bold, Brave, and Brilliant You”, and offered five signs of healthy assertiveness (in the workplace) without being aggressive:

  1. You are able to say No respectfully without feeling guilty, apologetic or beating around the bush;
  2. You are able to express opinions and disagreements respectfully without downplaying your own thoughts;
  3. You are able to respect others when they say no and express their disagreement without taking it personally, staying calms and assertive yourself;
  4. You know who to express presence and poise through non-verbal communications, remaining calm, steady, grounded, open and with positive eye contact;
  5. You speak with higher authenticity and do not make statements to please people, ensuring your words matter, offering genuine support, encouragement and praise. Not saying something just because it sounds good on paper, realising it’s not possible to please everyone, sticking with what feels true.

Practicing assertive communications and behaviours can help increase our presence, strengthen our leadership, reduce stress and boost overall happiness.  It applies in all walks of life, not just the office.

At work we are given tools to enable us to have good conversations, particularly as leaders who may have to have difficult conversations with others, using the BUILD acronym. It’s a process that I employ in other walks of life too:

B – talk about the behaviour, not the person

U – understand why it did or did not happen

I – describe the impact it had either on you, others or the service

L – listen carefully to what the other person is saying

D – what needs to be done differently in future to avoid it happening again?

I can be pretty assertive when I need to be, but there are times where I am extremely passive, even when I’m experiencing inner challenge. It can be a case of can’t be bothered to put my point across because no one is going to listen anyway, or even being talked over so I clam up and don’t bother.

As an introvert and a leader of large teams I am often conflicted between having to be assertive and show decisiveness and direction versus wanting a quiet life, or wishing I rather be anywhere else.

A quick Googlesearch offers much advice on how to practice assertiveness, for example the following is prefixed under the heading of “Here’s a short summary how to become more assertive”:

  • Pay attention to your needs, wishes and desired.  Be gentle and attentive towards yourself;
  • Identify areas where you are healthy assertive and where you are not and practice skill and mindset transfer;
  • Face your fears and practice being assertive with moderate self-exposure. AT every opportunity practice assertiveness by being in the learning zone;
  • Learn to manage your fear, doubt, shame and guilt.  Acknowledge them, make room for them, use them as a trigger for self-reflection and even more to reinforce healthy, assertive beliefs.

I’m not entirely sure how these statements actually help without giving any real practical ideas other than what might be summarised as “fake it ‘til you make it”.  That may well work for some, but others may need more practical guidance.

What’s your go to advice on how to be more assertive without being aggressive?


One thought on “Passively Aggressive Assertion

  1. Sorry, I have no idea. I generally find assertive people do have a level of aggression or are bossy. I try not to be guilty of it and would actively avoid folks I consider guilty of being like that 🤔😌


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