Most people have a sense that yelling is aggressive, saying nothing is passive and having your say is assertive.

While this is basically true I want to add some information to be more specific on what can include being aggressive, passive and assertive. In this way the three forms of communication are clearly defined to deepen your understanding of what your behaviour reflects more of and consider if you need to upgrade your skills in one area or another.


Let’s look at aggressive first and what it includes.

Aggression includes any form of intimidation used to control another. Consider the behaviour of ‘the silent treatment’ or the use of sarcasm or giving someone ‘the look’. These behaviours may be less defined, may vary for the receiver from slightly confusing to fearfully threatening, and are used for the purpose to control the other person. I would include here what some may have known as ‘passive aggressive’ behaviours because the intention is still to manipulate the other person and to overpower them to get what you want and for your purposes.

Even if the person uses aggression unintentionally it still has the same effect and is not ok. Does this reflect you and your behaviour?


Next let’s look at passive.

Passive on the other hand, gives up control. It isn’t just about being quiet which a common misconception but it is more about not expressing your opinion, holding it in and in some cases not even having one. In this way most ‘all decisions’ or the power of a person who is passive gets handed over to the other person. Truly passive people do not share their feelings or acknowledge they have them and remain mute on topics. Does this reflect you and your behaviour?


Then there is assertive which is what we would possibly all hope to be.

Assertiveness could be translated into: respect you and me at the same time in our communication. This leads to communication which is two-way. That is: being truly assertive will include sharing your opinion even when you know the other person will disagree and being willing to share it anyway in a calm, grounded manner. This is also combined with being able to ‘hold your energy’, relax and listen intently while the other person shares their contrary view. Not a simple task but achievable with practice and self-awareness.

For most of us, the concept of sharing our opinion while respecting the opinions of those around us can be quite tricky. Could this reflect you and your behaviour or would you like it to?


I once did a brave thing and asked my, then 19-year-old daughter “how do you see me?”

And just to give you a ‘heads up’, if you are going to do this you are going to need to be prepared to hear what you may not want to hear. She thought for a while and then with some clarity was able to tell me something that went like this: “Mum, you are like a sponge. You just soak up all the stress and when it gets too much it flows out of you and all over us.”

With that I thanked her and then thought, oh shit, I think I need to some things differently.

Over the next few months, I began to take a good look at myself and my behaviour. I am pleased to report that when I asked her again some months later if the metaphor for me had changed she was able to report back to me: “Yes actually. Now you are a sponge and if there is any stress you soak it up and it is self-contained”. Phew, I had begun to address my behaviour.


Now your turn!

Below are a few questions to get you thinking about your own behaviour and consider if perhaps you could use some up-skilling in a few areas. When someone around you raises a difficult topic what is your response?

  • Do you roll your eyes and walk away? (passive-aggressive)
  • Do you express your opinion quickly and with ‘venom’? (aggressive)
  • Do you glare at the person or drop a sarcastic remark that belittles them or their opinion? (aggressive)
  • Do you dismiss, ignore or just not listen? (a combination of passive & passive- aggressive)
  • Do you agree to keep the peace? (passive)


All these are examples of one-way communication and in honesty it is hard to get the balance right all the time.

Most people have a combination of communication styles but it is worth considering is the bulk of your communication two-way, is your behaviour affecting you and those you love around you?

If you are affecting those around you and those you love in a negative way, then you can choose to change your behaviour.