33 Ways to NOT be assertive

We’ve all heard somebody say, “I was too assertive.” Well, unfortunately for that somebody, there’s no such thing as too assertive.  Assertiveness is a well-balanced act of communication – tilt too far in one direction and you’re behaving passively, too far in the other direction and you’re aggressive. But ‘aggressive’ is such an ugly word. We all know we’re not meant to be aggressive (at work, in business, with customers, towards colleagues) so we (they?) try to soften it by calling it, ‘too assertive’. But that’s just a disingenuous excuse covering up aggressive words and behaviour.

So what actually is ‘assertiveness’?

Before we get on with what it is not, let’s look at one of the original definitions of assertiveness from Behaviour Therapy Techniques by J. Wolpe & A. Lazarus (Pergamon Press, 1966):

“…all socially acceptable expressions of personal rights and feelings. A polite refusal to accede to an unreasonable request; a genuine expression of praise, endearment, appreciation, or respect; an exclamation of joy, irritation, adulation, or disgust – may all be considered examples of assertive behaviour.”

So, standing up for yourself, your personal rights and how you feel. Sounds good, but less so if it’s at the expense of someone else…

What assertiveness isn’t

In no particular order, you (or anybody else) are not being assertive when you…

  1. Ignore (or violate) the rights or feelings of others.
  2. Express your thoughts, feelings and beliefs and wants in unsuitable and inappropriate ways.
  3. Act as if your opinions are more important than those of other people.
  4. Flatly refuse a reasonable request.
  5. Say that something isn’t good enough and demand better.
  6. Get angry.
  7. Give the other driver a piece of your mind for his/her rudeness.
  8. Bluntly tell someone that the issue is none of his/her business.
  9. Complain that, “It’s the third time this week,” and give a non-negotiable ‘no’.
  10. Deliberately talk more loudly than the other person.
  11. Sulk.
  12. Explode (emotionally or verbally).
  13. Express your opinions dogmatically as if they were facts.
  14. Overuse ‘I’.
  15. Talk mainly about yourself – boating.
  16. Demand your own way, refusing to compromise or negotiate.
  17. Express requests as instructions or threats.
  18. Do not give the other person an opportunity to have their say.
  19. Give advice in a weighted way that discourages the other person from making up their own mind.
  20. Overuse ‘should’-type language (you should, you ought, you must…)
  21. Talk down to others (patronising).
  22. Keep asking ‘why’ questions, making it an interrogation not a discussion.
  23. Use threatening questions (or just threats).
  24. Make intimidating remarks.
  25. Playing mind games, manipulating or competing in subtle ways.
  26. Monopolise the conversation.
  27. Interrupt.
  28. Divert to your own purposes, derailing the other person’s train of thought.
  29. Always disagree.
  30. Show obvious disinterest.
  31. Use put-downs, sarcasm, insults, or ridicule.
  32. Criticise excessively, finding fault with everything.
  33. Blame others without making suggestions for the future.

Ultimately, being ‘too assertive’ means being focused on ‘winning’ and not caring whether the other person wins or loses from the situation.

So why exactly is all of the above a bad thing? Granted, there may be rare circumstances in which some of the above behaviour might be appropriate. But for the most part, these kinds of aggression demonstrate a lack of respect for others which, in turn, leads to a lack of respect for you. You might get what you want, even feel like a winner, powerful, but you’ll be resented, unlikely to get what you want in the long term, and at risk of retaliation from the people you’ve upset.

Unless you’re a professional wrestler, there’s no such thing as ‘too assertive’.


If you’re interested in knowing more about assertiveness and how to make your point with confidence take a look at our assertiveness training module on our sister brand’s website (Maximum Performance) or give us a call on 01582 463464 – we’re here to help!

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