Assertiveness versus aggression (with a dose of empathy thrown in for good measure)

I posted a little while back about an image and quote on LinkedIn that had riled me up. You can see it below, but in short, it frustrated me that I think I’m seeing something different in this comment to many others. 

The quote implies that aggressive and assertive are synonyms. They really aren’t.

I believe that I’m empathetic (most of the time) and assertive. I really hope I’m not aggressive. 

We really need to understand that being assertive is good. It’s essential. Assertiveness is speaking up for yourself. 

Off the back of this thought I thought I would reshare the TED Talk below. In essence, it explores how speaking up is hard to do, even when you know you should. Social psychologist Adam Galinsky helps explain and navigate how to assert yourself in tricky social situations and expand your personal power.

People confuse being aggressive with being assertive. Being rude with asserting. Lots of introverts can’t do it, but it is a skill not a god given talent, and it can be developed and improved.

This TED talk has a fascinating take on assertiveness – which is to link your opportunity to assert to power. It’s really interesting. The key is how powerful you are “seen” to be (by yourself and by others). The simple idea of advocating is what I take away – it’s a brilliant reset.

Ways to ensure you’re heard when you speak up:

1) Advocate for others

2) Perspective taking (understand what others really want)

3) Give more options (signal flexibility)

4) Earn allies by advocating for others and asking others for advice (even for self-promotion with our accomplishments)

5) Show your expertise by showing your passion

In summary this article is to remind you

  1. Not to use the terms aggressive and assertive interchangeably – they are not the same thing
  2. Recognise that assertiveness is a good thing – and something that can be learnt
  3. Assertiveness delivered with empathy is a superpower
  4. There’s a formula and tools to successfully assertive and speak up

Hope this is helpful,



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If you have something on your mind, a challenge you’re wrestling with or just want an alternative point of view, I’d be very happy to lend an ear and maybe help you start to unpick the issues.