The Assertive Bully (Part 3 of 4 on bullying)

Prior to setting up my business I worked for a large multi-national for 17 years. The business encouraged employees to attend assertive communication training to more easily recognize passive, assertive and aggressive communication.

The message was clear that being passive or aggressive in a situation where assertiveness is needed would lead to poor communication and that would be bad for business. It made sense to improve communication skills through training.

I went on to study assertiveness as part of my stress advisor training and found that communication styles are more dependent on mood than many people appreciate. It is well documented that in depression people tend to be passive. When anxious or over-active more aggression is likely to be seen. The thinking at the time was that assertive behaviour was always best and steadier moods would allow assertive communication.

When employed in bipolar recovery training our package included help with developing assertive communication. The general message given was:

assertive is good

It is good to be assertive

As a general message this is okay. It is simple and memorable.

There are dangers in this simple message.

1) Passive is not always bad. Humans use passive communication in a similar way to many other animals. When we are threatened or do not have the energy to argue a passive response will often get us through a difficult situation.

2) Aggressive communication is rarely good but sometimes a short sharp response to inappropriate behaviour can be very effective. I found from an early age that when done in the right way bullies always avoided the kids they knew could deliver a short sharp aggressive response. Bullies go for easy targets.

3) A small number of people interpret ‘assertive = good’ as ‘the more assertive the better’. The danger here is that there is a thin line between extremely assertive and powerfully aggressive. When people who strongly believe in and practice assertiveness skills cross this line bullying is probably inevitable.

It is this third point I explain/discuss here: Less Assertive Can Work

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