Walking the Line: Assertion vs. Aggression

by Kerry Hart, LLMFT

There is a fine line between being assertive and aggressive when communicating, which once crossed can influence many aspects of your life. What’s the difference? Being assertive is expressing yourself in a clear and concise way while still being respectful to those around you. Communicating aggressively is being dominate to forward your own agenda. The core distinction between these two modes of communication centers around emotional intelligence; being able to read those around you before stating your feelings will make all the difference in how your point of view is received.


In management, being able to lead clearly and confidently is the key to running a successful organization. An assertive manager will be friendly, make eye contact, remain conscious of the mood of their team and will be able to control their reactions during stressful times. Aggressive managers, on the other hand, will micromanage and lead with fear while making their team feel untrustworthy and undervalued.


Family members have a way of making us feel like children all over again no matter what age we are. If you are facing a family member who has an aggressive communication style, keep cool, take a deep breath and take a break. Reacting aggressively will only result in calamity. Mirror back the individual’s feelings, reflecting exactly what you just heard them say. Should you disagree, do so assertively, but only after restating the point they just made. This will help the aggressor feel validated and heard, and less likely to respond in an even more volatile tone.

“…being able to read those around you before stating your feelings will make all the difference in how your point of view is received.” 


The way you communicate with your children teaches them how to set limits and cultivate healthy relationships with others. This is perhaps the most important time to distinguish between assertion and aggression as you are setting an example for young minds. Being aggressive with your children will intimidate them, which will result in them learning how to bully others. Showing respect while disciplining your children will get them to focus on improving behavior rather than accumulating guilt about their actions. Instead, be assertive with your children to dissuade tantrums and bad behaviors while teaching positive lifelong habits.


The College of New Jersey completed a study on how aggressive people relate to others and the findings were not favorable; their results demonstrate that confrontational people tend to tune out others and have tunnel vision when it comes to getting their way. Needless to say, these behaviors are not conducive to being in a successful relationship. Being aware of your partner’s feelings and emotions are key pieces to making your partner feel loved and appreciated. Should a lover’s quarrel come to light, state your feelings assertively, while allowing your partner to do the same. Any sign of aggression will halt positive progress and may create distance between you two.

This can be a slow process. Should you need to change your approach, remember to be patient with yourself. Take your time and allow yourself to develop the skills you need to communicate assertively. If you feel yourself getting heated, take a time out and reassess. The positive benefits of being assertive far outweigh any results that may come from being aggressive with those around you.

Kerry Hart, LMFT

Kerry Hart, LLMFT is a couple and family therapist in private practice. She is located in both East Lansing and Grand Rapids. www.kerryhartcounseling.com



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