Are you assertive or aggressive?

Jul 18, 2010 | Accountants

I was recently asked my views on the benefits of being assertive rather than aggressive in getting a tax job and in your tax career.  Here’s what I said as is published in Taxation 2 magazine:

While we are used to seeing aggressive characters getting their way on the screen and maybe even in the office it’s not a good way to act during an interview. And it’s unlikely to be a successful tactic when negotiating a  pay rise or dealing with clients – even the most difficult ones.

I have long remembered the rationale for being assertive. It means you recognise that although the other person may have rights, so do you. When you act aggressively you deny the other person their rights.  And when you act submissively or non-assertively, you deny your own rights. If this is your default position then you would probably benefit from some assertiveness training. It’s hard to respect non-assertive interviewees or professional advisers.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Many of us have worked for an aggressive boss who we think revels in his ability to bully us. This may force us into a non-assertive stance. it will rarely enable us to get the best outcome.

I would add that many people confuse being assertive and being aggressive.  To reiterate the distinction above:

When you are assertive you recognise that you are entitled to information, clarification or a reply but that your entitlement is no greater (or less) than the other person’s entitlement to respect, politeness and honesty.

You are being submissive, passive or non-assertive if you remain silent when you ought to ask for help or explain your needs. This behaviour communicates a sense of inferiority. Typically it involves you thinking or acting as if others’ rights and needs are more important than your own. When you do this, other people may not be able to help you because you act as if there’s no problem. This approach will rarely serve you well in interviews, in the office or with clients. Much better that you should feel comfortable, and know that you have the right to ask for assistance or clarification when needed.

Many people confuse assertive behaviour with aggressive behaviour.  The latter typically comes across as bullying or disrespectful, implying that “my needs, wants, and rights come first.” When someone is acting in an aggressive manner, he or she doesn’t ask for assistance, but demands it.

Assertiveness is a skill. It’s not natural for everyone and can take practice to strike the right balance so that you do not come across as aggressive.  Being naturally assertive is a skill worth developing.

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