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Assertive Vs. Aggressive - What is the Difference?

Assertive vs. Aggressive - What Is The Difference?

People often ask me how they can tell the difference between Assertiveness and Aggressiveness

  1. You need to be assertive
  2. You must not be aggressive

So, you should know the difference.


Assertiveness is a form of communication that is rational, based on a logical interpretation of the facts and implies a willingness to negotiate.


Aggressiveness is a form of communication that is emotionalised, based on the reactions to facts and implies NO willingness to negotiate.

"Assertiveness" and "aggressiveness" are both forms of COMMUNICATION

Communication has three channels:

  1. Language /vocabulary
  2. Body language
  3. Voice tonality

Each of these three aspects may be

  • Aggressive - Emotional
  • Assertive - Rational

Let us look at each category in turn.
Let us see how to manage each aspect:

One: Language /vocabulary

Aggressive Language

Aggressive language is characterised by five components:

  1. Personal attacks - "You fool!"
  2. Talk of "how one feels"- " I am REALLY angry at you "
  3. Threats- "Do that again and you will regret it!"
  4. Abusive- "You bastard"
  5. Blame- "It is all your fault"

Assertive language is characterised by four components:

  1. Factual comments without abuse - "You are twenty minutes late! "
  2. Refraining from talking about how one feels- stick to the objective facts
  3. Suggesting a practical solution to the problem under discussion- "Next time call me if you are going to be late."
  4. Talking about the future, not blame- "Will you do that in future?"

Two: Body language

Body language represents most of the emotional component of communication.

For our purposes, body language breaks down into elements:
1. Gestures
2. Eye contact
3. Posture

Aggressive Gestures

Aggressive gestures you must avoid are:

  1. Pointing with a finger
  2. Pointing with a pen
  3. Any gestures with a fist
  4. Both arms folded tightly across the chest
  5. Leaning towards the speaker
  6. Banging tables, desks or doors

Assertive gestures

Gestures that you can use to emphasis your message

  1. Open handed gestures
  2. Counting off points on your fingers- "I need you to do this, then this, and this. OKAY?"
  3. Indicating with a thumbs up gesture

Eye contact

Aggressive eye contact

  1. Glaring into the eyes of the speaker
  2. Not breaking off eye contact

Assertive eye contact

  1. Reflecting back the equivalent quality of the eye contact that you receive
  2. Reflecting back the equivalent intensity of the eye contact that you receive

Three: Body Posture

Aggressive body posture

  1. Standing "square-on" to the other
  2. Close proximity

Assertive body posture

  1. Standing at 45 degrees to the other
  2. Not too close proximity- do

Four: Voice tonality

Your voice quality will "set the tone" of the discussion.

Aggressive Volume

  1. Shouting
  2. Too much volume

Assertive Volume

  1. Louder than normal volume
  2. not too much

Aggressive Pitch

  1. High pitch
  2. Shrill
  3. "Up tight"

Assertive Pitch

  1. Low pitch
  2. Deeper tones
  3. Relaxed tension

Aggressive rate of speech

  1. Fast and furious
  2. Says too much
  3. Goes on for too long

Assertive rate of speech

  1. Slower more measured
  2. Clear and distinct
  3. Brief


You should know the difference between

  • Assertiveness
  • Aggressiveness
  • You need to be assertive.
  • You must not be aggressive.

Assertive Language is based on factual comments without abuse

Assertive Body language is based on:

  1. Open handed gestures
  2. Reflecting the amount and intensity of the eye contact
  3. Not too close proximity

Assertive voice tonality is clear and distinct

Assertiveness is a form of communication that is rational, based on facts and a logical interpretation of them and implies a willingness to negotiate.

Learn to do the right things and you will get the best results!

Visit the Corporate Coach Group website for more information about our Leadership and Management Training courses

About the Author: Chris Farmer


Chris Farmer is the founder of the Corporate Coach Group and has many years’ experience in training leaders and managers, in both the public and private sectors, to achieve their organisational goals, especially during tough economic times. He is also well aware of the disciplines and problems associated with running a business.

Over the years, Chris has designed and delivered thousands of training programmes and has coached and motivated many management teams, groups and individuals. His training programmes are both structured and clear, designed to help delegates organise their thinking and, wherever necessary, to improve their techniques and skills.

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