DO YOU understand the difference between submissive, aggressive and assertive behaviour?

I’m not sure a lot of people do, because I hear comments such as, “He’s very assertive!” or “How do you manage people who are too assertive?”

What these people are really commenting on is the behaviour of others who are aggressive — not assertive. So what’s the difference?

Assertive behaviour is positive; it will help you communicate clearly and confidently your needs, wants and feelings to other people without abusing in any way their human rights.

It will produce better results when managing a difficult person, and it can be learned. Let’s look a bit closer at each type of behaviour:



I’m sure you are familiar with the “fight or flight” responses. These are in-built programmes to help you survive and deal with different situations; we all use them when appropriate.

Submissive behaviour is the flight response. It’s natural behaviour and, depending on your upbringing, you may develop it throughout your life. Submissive people tend to:

•   Avoid stating their needs and feelings;

•   Communicate their needs and feelings in an apologetic way; and

•   Give others rights that they don’t take for themselves.

•   Example: “I’m really sorry; I just don’t have the time to go through those reports with you just now. I’ve got to get all these accounts finished before lunchtime. My boss is a real pain, asking me to do this today. I’d really like to help you; I’ll look at it later if that’s okay?”



Aggressive behaviour is the fight response. Again, this is an in-built programme that can be developed throughout your life. If you learn that you can achieve things by using aggressive behaviour, you continue to develop it. Naturally, this is to the detriment of your relationships with other people. People who are aggressive tend to:

•   Encourage others to do things by flattery or manipulation;

•   Ignore the needs and feelings of others, either intentionally or by default; and

•   Take rights for themselves that they don’t give to others.

•   Example: “Do you think I’ve nothing better to do than check those reports?”



This is logical, thinking behaviour; it is not driven by emotions. And although it may be natural for a few people, it tends to be learned behaviour. It is about:

•   Being clear and direct in what you say;

•   Stating your needs and feelings in a straightforward way; and

•   Standing up for your rights without violating the rights of others.

•   Example: “I am unable to help you with those reports this morning. I am doing accounts at the moment, and I will be pleased to help you this afternoon. What time suits you?”


Techniques that work

None of this is good or bad; it’s just the way many of us are programmed. But if you want to be better at managing difficult people, you need to ensure that:

•   You don’t use submissive or aggressive behaviour;

•   You recognise submissive or aggressive behaviour in others; and

•   You learn and use assertive techniques.

Try these two assertiveness techniques:


Broken record

This is the skill of being able to repeat over and over again, in a calm relaxed and assertive way, whatever it is you want or need. This continues until the other person concedes or agrees to negotiate with you.


Negative assertion

This technique is used primarily to deal with criticism from a difficult person. This is where you calmly agree with the true criticism of your negative qualities.

Let’s say a colleague turns to you at work and says: “Your desk is a real mess, there are papers everywhere. How can you work in a mess like that?”

You respond to this aggressive behaviour by saying: “I agree; it is untidy.”

He may make further remarks but if you keep agreeing with him calmly he will eventually give up and go away. And he will have got your message that your untidy desk is none of his business!

Assertiveness is a very positive response in any interaction. It makes it clear to the other person what you are unhappy about, and allows you to calmly state your case without violating their rights. And of course, that will make life much less stressful for you!


Article by Alan Fairweather, “The Motivation Doctor”. He is an international speaker, best-selling author and sales growth expert. For more information, please visit: Article source: