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Assertive vs. Aggressive Communication in the Workplace

Assertive vs. Aggressive Communication in the Workplace

The assertive communication style is typically seen as the communication style to strive for. It can help you establish relationships, build trust, minimize conflict, manage expectations, and protect your boundaries when done effectively.

Unfortunately, assertiveness can get misinterpreted as aggressive communication - especially for women in business. According to research, women receive “negative personality criticism,” such as being called bossy or told to “watch their tone” in around 75% of performance reviews. They also receive 2.5 times the amount of feedback men do about aggressive communication styles, with phrases such as “your speaking style is off-putting” and are described as being “abrasive” far more often than men.

This begs the question, what exactly are the differences between aggressive and assertive communication, and how do you limit the chances of being misinterpreted? In the following article, we’ll dive into these two communication styles and provide you with a few practical action items to help you become an effective communicator.


Is the way you communicate helping or hindering your effectiveness as a leader?  Find out in this guide.


Aggressive Communication Definition

According to UCLA’s Counseling and Psychological Services department, aggressive communication can be defined as “expressing one's own feelings, needs, and desires while ignoring others’ rights or boundaries. It can involve blaming others, intimidating, criticizing, threatening, or attacking.”

Aggressive Communication Examples

  • “This is what we’re doing. If you don’t like it, tough.”
  • “You need to get over it.”
  • “I’m not asking; I’m telling.”

In our global survey on workplace communication, it was found that an aggressive communication style was the least likely used by professionals, with only 4.6% naturally gravitating towards this style.


Assertive Communication Definition

Assertive communication, on the other hand, is defined as “being politely direct, honest and communicating our thoughts and feelings as they are. There is respect for others’ needs and rights while we also assert our own.”

This communication style is often considered the one to strive for and has been found to lead to reduced anxiety, higher self-esteem and confidence, a greater sense of agency, and better relationships. Luckily, 75.3% of professionals surveyed use this style of communication at work.

Assertive Communication Examples

  • “I am unable to meet at that time. Can you provide me with a few alternative times?”
  • “That’s a good idea. Let’s build on it. What if we did this as well?”
  • “I feel uncomfortable with that. It would make me feel better if we did…”


The Difference Between Aggressive and Assertive Communication

To make the difference between aggressive and assertive communication much clearer, the following chart outlines some typical behaviors that are characteristic of each communication style.

Aggressive vs Assertive Communication Styles

6 Ways to Communicate More Assertively at Work

Now that we have identified the key differences between the aggressive and assertive communication styles, here are a few practical tips that can be applied to help make your communication more assertive, and ultimately, effective.

  1. Use “I statements” to avoid putting someone on the defensive.

  2. Cite facts rather than hearsay or personal preference whenever possible.

  3. If you cannot keep your emotions in check, step back from the situation. By taking the time to gather yourself and craft a message, you will then be able to speak more clearly and effectively.

  4. Avoid exaggerating your statements with words like “always” and “never”
    When you say “no” to something or someone, be definitive, and if you have to say yes, communicate clear boundaries and clarify expectations upfront.

  5. Instead of placing blame, address the issue and then recommend collaborating on a solution.

  6. If someone does or says something you disagree with, promptly address it in private with them, rather than letting it fester.

Conclusion: Develop Your Communication Skills with Niagara Institute

Communicating assertively in the workplace is ideal to ensure those around you feel included, heard, and respected while also ensuring your needs are met, and boundaries are protected. If you are eager to develop the communication skills that are necessary to adopt an assertive communication style, then you might consider taking a program such as Speaking as a Leader, which will give you the competence and confidence to speak with clarity, conviction, and influence.

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