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Communication Styles - Passive - Aggressive - Assertive

Updated on March 15, 2013

Behaviors determine direction...

" All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

-Article 1 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Humans have basic rights, though not everyone has the opportunity to enjoy those freedoms. Yet many people do not extend these basic rights to themselves, and still others refuse to extend them to anyone beyond themselves.

It is both a global problem, and an individual problem. It affects relationships, families, and whole communities. It passes from one generation to the next. When one person is unable to deal with life in an assertive manner, it affects every life that person touches.

When you win, I lose

When I win, you lose

Either way nobody really wins

The easy way to understand passive or aggressive versus assertive relationship styles is:

Someone whose rights are consistently violated is passive.

Someone who consistently violates the rights of others is aggressive.

To be assertive is to maintain the rights of both parties whenever possible.

* Don't express needs, opinions, or feelings.

* Apologize for things that aren't their fault

* Do not respect their own rights

* Feel they don't have a right to ask for things they want

* Avoid conflict, even at their own discomfort

Let's say you buy a piece of property that does not have a fence. Your neighbor slowly begins taking over control of the land closer and closer to your house. First they plant flowers, then they plant trees, and soon they are chaining their dog up on your property.

Instead of saying anything you just watch them take it over, until one day you wake up to find they have placed a fence right up against your house. You go out to look at it, and they call the police on you for trespassing.

This is passive behavior. At first it doesn't seem like a big deal, so you don't want to make a fuss. People take and take, and you keep giving. By the time you have had enough, it is often too late. You have allowed others to control your life, so your life feels out of control.

Even more, you take responsibility for the actions of others. You convince yourself that it was probably your fault to begin with, and the cycle continues.

Just like property needs boundaries, so do people. You need to be aware of where your rights begin and another person's end. You need to be aware of your feelings on an issue, and not push them aside.

So often, a passive person doesn't really feel they have the right to speak up as another person violates more and more of their rights. They value the other person over themselves, and in effect become a doormat.

* Don't respect needs, opinions, or feelings other than their own.

* Do not apologize for things, even when they are at fault

* Do not respect the rights of others

* Feel others do not have a right to ask for things they want

* Avoid discomfort, even at the risk of conflict

Now imagine you are the neighbor. That property next door was vacant for years, and you were the only one who took care of it. You are entitled to compensation for your work. Besides, they weren't really using it anyhow.

Aggressive people have an inflated sense of entitlement. They may feel that the world owes them, and so they take what they want. They control the lives of others in order to feel in control of their own life.

Aggressive people don't take responsibility for their own actions, let alone the actions of others. It was their fault to begin with, so let them deal with the consequences.

Once again people need boundaries, and none of us have the right to violate the boundaries of another. You need to be aware of where your rights end and another's begin.

While being the aggressor might not seem like such a bad thing, it once again places the control of your life in the hands of another. You cannot control that which you do not take responsibility for.

While you may maintain an illusion of control over your life, you are really just as helpless as the passive person; your life is at the mercy of another. When they finally get sick of it and stand up to you, your life spins out of control.

While it may feel better to be the one wiping your feet at the door than being the doormat, neither of you are really in control.

* Tries to deal with needs, opinions, and feelings by NOT dealing with them.

* May apologize, but secretly resents it. Often uses sarcasm

* Respects the rights of others but resents it, often secretly sabotaging progress

* Often functions as a victim in learned helplessness

* Avoids conflict in an indirect way (muttering under their breath, dirty looks, slamming doors, etc.)

With passive-aggressive behavior, everything is controlled in a very indirect manner. There are no boundaries either way. It is like inviting the neighbor to take over your land and then resenting the neighbor for using it.

While the passive-aggressive person doesn't show their sense of entitlement outwardly, on the inside they are upset that other people don't recognize their rights. They control by subtle manipulation, but once again their lives lack any real control.

Also known as "martyr complex."

While a passive-aggressive person has little trouble taking responsibility for something, they truly feel that someone else should be responsible. They deal with the consequences, but they do it in such a way that others have to pay for it.

For the passive-aggressive person there are two sets of boundaries and neither is accurate. Constantly fluctuating, there is no way for anyone else to know exactly where their boundaries are because they don't even know themselves.

There isn't even an illusion of control with passive-aggression, their lives are chaotic and disorganized.

While they may be a doormat, they can't seem to stop complaining about it.

* Respects needs, opinions, and feelings, both their own and other people's.

* When they are at fault they apologize, but allow others to take responsibility for their own actions as well

* Respect their own rights and the rights of others

* Feel comfortable asking for things they need or want

* Deal with conflict in healthy ways

As you have noticed in all of the previous behaviors mentioned, control is a key factor. An underlying attempt to control their life in one way or another. The only person an assertive person feels the need to control is themselves.

They are free from taking responsibility for the actions of others, but mature enough to take responsibility for themselves. When presented with conflict they come from a position of respect, and try to seek out a win/win situation for all involved.

In order to be assertive you have to have a solid set of boundaries yourself and and communicate them clearly. You must also respect the boundaries of others.

You must be honest with yourself and others, be aware of your strengths and weaknesses, and accept both. There is no need to manipulate or conceal because you are in control of your life.

A lot of the things we do in life come down to simple power and control. We can waste our time trying to control others, or we can accept responsibility for our own actions and finally set ourselves free!


Codependents tend towards passive or even aggressive ways to get their needs met rather than healthy and assertive means. Instead of saying "I want," they either say "It would be nice." or "Give me now dammit."

One interesting thing I noticed is that I spent so long in passive mode, but as I began to change at first I became very aggressive. (Just ask my dear hubby.) Another person I have been working closely with says the same thing.

It's as if I was afraid to have my new found freedoms taken away, so I held on to them even more tightly. It wasn't pretty, but it did pass. So if you notice an extreme fluctuation in your own behaviors, don't worry. This seems normal, and natural but certainly isn't somewhere you want to stay for long.

If you would like to know more about codependency please visit Codependency - The People Addiction

The Boundaries Series

If it really was as simple as a property dispute, a little research or a call to a surveyor would take care of it, but personal boundaries are a little more difficult to determine. How exactly do you know where your boundaries belong?

The "Boundaries" series can help you with that. They have many different books for your particular situation. Aside from the basic "Boundaries," they also have books for marriage, parenting, and many other specific situations.

I loved these books and the accompanying workbooks. I hope you do too!

Assert Yourself!

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    • profile image

      clara grand 

      4 years ago

      good lens

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Nice article on communication style and Be assertive in your life.

    • MatijaB LM profile image

      MatijaB LM 

      6 years ago

      Very good lens.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Very great arricles about explaining different communication styles!! awesome job

    • TedBong profile image


      6 years ago

      Very good point about the control issue, and how assertiveness is really about mastering ourselves. Great lens!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      @anonymous: hehe

    • profile image


      6 years ago


    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Very interesting lens, but you have many

    • TimothyArends profile image

      Timothy Arends 

      6 years ago from Chicago area

      Very good description of the various communication styles and how they differ from one another.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      @ayngel boshemia: A Thnk u very much 4 that u hav just mad my day xx

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      @ayngel boshemia: Thnk u r u anyway any news.xx

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I luv every1 xx

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      @anonymous: i love u

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      i feel very crappy today

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I am always keen to learn more about communication.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I studied the Boundaries course years ago and still find it helpful. Just learning the concept of "boundary" was a huge benefit. It has helped me get along with other people.

    • JackNimble profile image


      7 years ago

      I am working to stay consistently assertive, but have spent time in all of these behaviors. Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thanks for the great lens! I have definitely learned to be assertive in my life.. :)

    • Kandy O profile image

      Kandy O 

      7 years ago

      Being a manager, it is really important to keep in check my own personality with what my work personality should be. Early on it was difficult, but now it a lot easier. Great lens!

    • photofk3 profile image


      7 years ago

      Nice lens, explaining these personality aspects well. Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Some people need to be medicated. It is not necessarily a personality trait but rather a chemical imbalance in their brains. I am one of these people.

    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 

      8 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      Having just come from a team practice for Search & Rescue, involving all sorts of personalities, I was thinking about my teammates and our interactions with one another as I read this lens, connecting each person with one of the communication styles. Definitely more assertive and aggressive people than the others.

    • Fcuk Hub profile image

      Fcuk Hub 

      8 years ago

      Assertive behaviour is the best! It is written in very infantile style, I know. But why I'm apologising to? Perhaps I'm a pasive person?!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Its important to have good bounties. We all need to learn that at some point in our lives. Its just good old wisdom and common sense. Reminds of the saying, "Strong fences make good neighbors."

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I like the lens!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      This is really true...I needed this personally....I am determined to work on this.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Well said. Will have to check out the Boundaries series.

    • Zut Moon profile image

      Zut Moon 

      9 years ago

      That now makes 3 lenses of yours that I am famailar with. Admittedly, I did not digest every single word and did what my wife accusses me of ... speed reading. That's because I find 24 hours in a day is not enough.

      Here, I am finding someone who has their head on extremely straight. I wish my ex-wife were like you (and by now you must now to what I refer). It seems to me that some people can not be reached other than through their own sufferring year in and year out until they choose a different way to view or react to things.

      I'm not sure how I stumbled on you. I think you had left a comment on one of my zannier type lenses - not sure. But whatever way, I am glad to know you.

    • Laniann profile image


      9 years ago

      Yes, you did a nice job of explaining the different patterns people can fall into and what they can do to change. 5*s

    • mariaamoroso profile image


      9 years ago from Sweden

      I need to study english more. You have done a really nice work on this lens!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Sounds very familiar.


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