Can you tell the Difference: Passive, Aggressive or Assertive?

What is The Difference Between Passive, Aggressive and Assertive Styles?

It’s often been a source of amusement to me that we see people attending Personal Effectiveness programmes who have more of a bias towards submissive or passive behaviour when handling conflict.

Less common are those people who veer towards the more aggressive end of the spectrum even though they could also do with learning more about being assertive.

My belief is that aggressive people think they are being assertive (not plain bossy!) whereas passive people tend to know they are not being assertive.

Try this quick and easy check list test to assess whether your style is passive, aggressive or assertive.

Passive Style

We reveal a passive style when we:

  • Sit back in groups
  • Avoid making a stand; sit on the fence when we don’t really want to
  • Allow others to make decisions for us
  • Keep our voices low and avoid eye contact in order to prevent drawing attention to ourselves
  • Verbally agree with others despite our real feelings
  • Allow ourselves to be disadvantaged, rather than inconvenience anyone else
  • Put off things to avoid making a decision or solving a problem
  • Consider ourselves weaker and less capable that others
  • Make excuses to escape responsibility
  • Complain that things are not going our way but refuse to do anything constructive about it

Aggressive Style

When we behave aggressively, we:

  • Interrupt others when they are speaking
  • Try to impose our position on others
  • Speak in a tone and manner which draws attention to ourselves
  • Put others down verbally
  • Find fault with others in a destructive and negative manner
  • Accuse or blame others, rather than accepting responsibility ourselves
  • Try to inconvenience or harm others rather than ourselves
  • Bypass the issue, distort the facts, or bend the truth to get our solutions accepted quickly
  • Consider ourselves stronger or more capable than others
  • Take on positions of power and authority in order to manipulate others and control situations in a negative way

Assertive Style

We are assertive when we:

Allow others to complete what they are saying before we speak

  • State our viewpoint calmly and clearly
  • Make our own decisions based on what we feel is right
  • Try to acknowledge the feelings of others before stating our own
  • Talk things through with others before problems escalate

How did you do? You’ll find that you can tick some in all three areas but have more of a default position during times of conflict and/or stress.

And If you’re thinking “I should be more assertive” or you want explore your own style (or maybe that of colleagues or friends and why they behave like they do), you’ll find lots about this subject in my ebook From Fierce Lion to Pussycat. Click here to get it.

We also have some excellent tried and tested training and development courses which can help you or your organisation with communication skills, understanding behaviour and handling conflict. Please give me a call 01785 252112 on if you’d like to find out more.


5 years ago : Nov 16, 2015

By Julia Menaul


Julia is an effective, professional coach who afforded me sufficient time to process information and formulate ideas. She is approachable and effortlessly easy to communicate with.. Robin Bush, CEO Autism Together

Coaching and Training Accreditations

Spark Coaching Accreditations - Accredited Master Coach, Association of Coaching Supervisors & EMCC Member