What Is Your Relationship Style?

There are three postures that many of us use in relating to our coworkers, team members, friends, family and so on: being non-assertive, aggressive or assertive.

1. Being Non-Assertive

This means not communicating your honest beliefs, feelings, needs and opinions to others. It means subordinating your needs to theirs.

Fear is a major contributing factor to much non-assertive behavior–fear of being in conflict, of losing face, of getting disapproval or disagreement, of being rejected or ignored, of losing your job or a promotion, of hurting others. A sure sign of non-assertive behavior is later wishing that you had said or done something and continuing to stew over the situation however minor it might be.

non assertive feelings anxiety relationshipsWhen non-assertive people do express an idea or need, they often do so in such a self-effacing way that other people disregard or ignore them. Because their feelings remain unexpressed and their needs unmet, they are often frustrated, angry and resentful.

What is your best clue that you’re behaving in a non-assertive way? Your feelings of continuing dissatisfaction, discomfort, anxiety, resentment or anger after an interaction with someone or after you have disregarded or squelched an inner feeling or need.

Here’s an example:

At work, you attend a work meeting in which a controversial issue comes up. It’s something you have very strong feelings about, but you don’t say anything. After the meeting, you feel very frustrated.

2. Being Aggressive


This means getting your needs met, but doing so at the expense of others. Aggressive people openly express their feelings, opinions and needs, but they do so in ways that disregard, ignore or trample on the needs of others. They are so focused on getting their own needs met no matter what, they often hurt their relationships with the people with whom they live and work.

Not all aggressive behavior is blatant and visible; some people are passively aggressive, getting their needs met by manipulating others, sabotaging them or through stubborn, silent resistance.

How do you know when you’re behaving in an aggressive way? Feeling guilty is one good sign. The best indicators are the reactions you get from other people—they may avoid you, act resentful or angry toward you, isolate you or retaliate.

Here’s an example:

You say to your co-workers: (Interrupting) “You’ve got to be kidding! What a ridiculous idea!”

3. Being Assertive—Effective Self-Disclosure


Assertive behavior means knowing what you need and want and working in a self-directed way to get your needs met while showing consideration and respect for others. When you are assertive, you communicate honestly and directly; you express your feelings, needs, ideas and stand up for yourself and do so in ways that do not violate the rights and needs of others. When you are assertive, you are congruent, authentic, open and direct.

People who behave in assertive ways believe that they have the right to get their needs met—when they don’t interfere with those of others. When they do have conflicts with others, they’re willing to solve those conflicts to the satisfaction of both.

How do you know when you’re being assertive? You experience feelings of satisfaction, self-confidence and reduced anxiety. Others generally respond positively to you; some of your relationships are strengthened.

Here’s an example:

You say to your co-workers: “I realize I have some real concerns here which I’d like to talk about.”

With this third option, we offer another method of dealing with issues, on a totally different continuum. Truly effective communication takes place when we can be open and honest about how we really feel and by doing so, we set the stage for solutions that really work.

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