Families spend on average 49 minutes a day arguing. Workplaces are not spared either. A study published by the Harvard Business School shows that people tend to respond negatively to others’ bad soft skills. Ignoring this type of behaviors would be wiser, of course. Being aggressive is also disrespectful. Another study tells us that employees are 30% less creative in environments where they feel disrespected. It is not a secret that companies bleed talent because of aggressive working cultures. According to another study, the remaining ones will produce up to 38% less quality work. All these rather unwanted effects can be avoided by understanding how and why people tend to use aggressiveness. Which is a rather primitive approach.
Contrary to popular belief, aggressiveness is, in the modern society, not a sign of power, but a weakness. It is rather instinctual, as it is a knee jerk reaction triggered when someone’s stringent needs are not being met. The aggressive pattern of communication is one of the first one to pop up when people feel the need to regain control. We inherit it, as most of the animals have this pattern of fighting in order to survive. And the modern society reinforces it through aggressive games, movies and even social conditioning. After all, heroes always seem to be getting what they want by beating the crap out of the ‘bad’ guys.
An aggressive communication style can be quite easy to spot whenever accusations, insults, shouting or other obvious techniques are being used. But oftentimes aggressiveness is not that obvious. It may happen to people to feel an aggressive person as being hostile, without really being able to pin point the reason why they feel so.
Aggressiveness usually evolves into conflict, especially when both parties are tempted to use it. Sometimes there is a winner, but the winner never takes it all in a real life war.
Knowing all these, one might be tempted to go to the other end of the spectre and adopt a rather passive approach. While this may sound like a wise idea, more often than not passive persons constantly have to completely compromise on their needs and do too much to please others, in order to avoid escalating conflicts. Arguably, conflicts may be diffused faster with this approach, but the people-pleaser could experience burn-out, increased stress and frustration, which will ultimately result in other problems. Psychologists agree that passivity can be a useful strategy and a healthy coping mechanism in certain circumstances, however if it becomes a habit it does more harm than good.
The ability to balance and regulate aggressiveness and passiveness, combined with strategic thinking and empathy are key ingredients of the pattern of Assertive communication. If we were to picture this pattern, it would surely resemble to the image of a person riding their bike, applying force and gently steering, in order to gently move forward toward their destination.
An assertive person is aware of the impulsive desire of getting defensive and learned to control the urge of using “aggression” to dominate the other side and get what they need. They learned to read other person’s needs, not only their weaknesses that can be aggressively attacked. This approach allows them to find win-wins, without the long term side effects of the other techniques.
Learning when and how to be assertive empowers people to easily diffuse or avoid conflict and still turn the tables in their favour. It may sound complicated, but it all comes down to training to observe, analyze and strategize their approach. It then quickly becomes simple and enjoyable. Just like riding a bike.