Recognising behaviour patterns (yours, as well as other people’s!) is a helpful start to improving relationships in all areas of your life. Let’s start by taking a look at the extremes. Have you ever noticed that
Overly Passive people tend to sit back and wait for others to make decisions. They tend to complain that others override their wishes and opinions, but rarely take any action to change this. They may be shy, and avoid eye contact, and tend to physically make themselves small, arms in, lowering their heads and trying to stay out of the way of others. Blame is often taken on by the passive person, even when inappropriate. Passive people go out of their way to avoid conflict. They can end up feeling like victims, even martyrs, being put upon and exhausted.
Useful, apparently passive, behaviour includes letting unimportant things go. You need to know what matters and what doesn’t of course!
Overly Aggressive people often overstep the mark of courtesy, demand, take, insist, ignore rights, are often rude and can appear unfeeling. The main associated emotions are anger, or fear triggering defensiveness. Body language can include almost constant eye contact, clenched fists, large movements, and a tendency to stand over others, or uncomfortably close. There is frequent, often belittling use, of the word “you”, and blame is generally attached to others. Aggressive people are concerned mainly with getting their own way, and will often start a situation involving conflict. Often, apparent aggression can be a lack of awareness of the impact of words or behaviour on other people.
When could aggression be appropriate? Consider what state is needed to powerfully defend someone weaker who needs help against a bully, as long as the behaviour is relevant and limited to that situation.
A healthier option is not just a middle ground, but comes from a very different starting point!
Actively Assertive people seek to achieve what they want and believe is their right, while as far as possible respecting the rights and wishes of others. They know what they want, have healthy boundaries, and enjoy creating collaborations so everyone can achieve more together than they could individually. Physically, assertive people are often recognised by regular, appropriate eye contact, well-balanced body position, relaxed arms with open movements, and head up. A question on the lines of “When this happens I feel/think/expect xyz; is that how you understand the situation?” is likely to open up a discussion on a tricky topic, and the conversation will relate to facts, and feelings and possibilities, with blame being less important than problem solving and negotiating to achieve an outcome which is best for all parties.
Assertive behaviour is a powerful, effective method of relating to other people, which also increases your self esteem. Used well, it works to help shy, passive people feel more comfortable and confident, and aggressive people less defensive and more relaxed.
Being aware of your rights and responsibilities is important in maintaining a clear position. Only if you know what you want and believe, can you take a considered stand and avoid being pulled off course by others. This doesn’t mean being stubborn for no good reason! By remaining open minded to consider other options, there might be a better outcome for all concerned.
Generally assertive behaviour is most likely to get the result you want, while leaving your self esteem intact. Build small changes in gradually. Try starting with more open body language, slower breathing and calmer speech.
What assumptions do you make about how other people think and feel? Unless your mind reading is really amazing, or you actually ask them, how do you know that apparently hostile body language/voice tone etc is directed at you instead of something else that happened during the day? If you believe something is your right, are you prepared to respect that right for other people, and uphold it where possible?
Stay with what you can control – your intentions, your language, your thoughts.
This article is just a beginning, and useful behaviour, naturally, varies from situation to situation.
For more information on communication skills training, contact Jen Tiller, founder of Healerzone