Assertive vs. Aggressive: Why It Matters

This is in response to Atul’s An Aggressive Assertion, in which he delves into the possible differences between the two. As always, his post is beautifully written, but goes off in such a tangent to my frame of reference, that I decided to write here in response.

My interpretation of what Atul is trying to say is that there isn’t really much of a difference between the two, that it is a fine gradient, and the differences are at best, only pedantic. He also explains that his opinion comes from not having experienced assertiveness, as distinct from aggressiveness.

Assertive means self-assured, firm, and confident. Aggression is intimidation, either physical or psychological.

Assertiveness has important psychological, artistic, and philosophical implications.

Psychologically, Assertiveness is a behavioral skill. If you act assertively, you are less likely to be dominated by others in communication and relationships. You are able to say “No”. You do not let others abuse or manipulate you. You are able to ask your boss for a raise if you think you deserve it.

Assertive behavior respects the boundaries of other people. Aggressive behavior does not.

Assertiveness is an important skill in negotiations of all kinds, where aggression can lead to undesirable results.

The entire Romantic Movement in art was because of the assertiveness of the artists who rebelled against the social and political norms that preceded them. Beethoven was being assertive when he spearheaded romantic music through his symphonies. These artists were asserting their individuality, not being aggressive.

Rosa Parks was being assertive when she refused to give up her seat for a white passenger. Gandhi’s non-violent disobedience against the British is the most famous example of assertiveness. Neither Parks, nor Gandhi, were aggressive. India’s refusal to sign the CTBT is assertive, not aggressive.

Fundamentally, from a philosophical perspective, Assertiveness comes from respecting your own and others’ individuality. Aggression stems from not respecting the individuality of anyone else except yourself.

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  • I agree and I think the difference is pretty obvious.

    I’m a little surprised to learn that some people are unclear about the distinction between aggression and assertion.

    I’d have thought that anyone who is fluent enough in the language to be a fairly prolific blogger would also be conversant enough with the underlying semantics to not have to look up a dictionary for the formal definition.

  • Hemant,

    Agreed. Which is why I’m afraid if I missed what Atul was trying to convey.

    But liked writing this up, if simply to clarify my understanding. 🙂

    Thanks for dropping by!

  • Prathima

    Hi Mahendra,

    I could’t find a comment box where I wanted, so leaving my comment in the first comment box I could find in your blog.

    My route to your blog was through one of Melvin Durai’s link of KrishAshok’s posts.

    The first thing I saw in your blog were your pencil sketches. They are simply brilliant. Though not blessed with any sketching talent, thankfully God has given me the ability to understand (to some extent!) and appreciate (a lot!) this talent in others. The best of the lot was of your mother’s. It looks divine to me. The concept in this sketch is so novel (for me at least!)

    Please don’t stop sketching. And finally thanks for sharing them. Hope to see more such masterpieces.

  • Hi Prathima,

    Thank you for taking the time to give me your feedback.

    It has been a very long time since I stopped sketching, but who knows, may be I will do it again sometime. Responses from you and many others have been very inspiring indeed.

    Thank you, again. Very much appreciate your comment.