Often in group interactions, it’s hard to tell if some is just aggressively going after a deal, asserting a strong point of view or really just an asshole. Being able to distinguish between these three different behaviors is an invaluable skill that’s not as hard to master as you might think.
Aggression is when someone is showing determination and an energetic pursuit of a certain end. You most commonly hear the positive aspects of aggression when it relates to sports. Aggressive behavior in the work place can be misidentified as being mean spirited or combative. Being aggressive is something that most companies want their employees to be. Whether it’s the marketing departments bold new product roadmap or engineerings aggressive development schedules, being aggressive can be a positive trait as long as it’s for the right reasons. Some of the ways to identify the right type of aggression include:
Common purpose, common good: Always consider the good of the group when aggressively going after a project
Response to competitors: Aggressively going after a competitor will show that you are interested in preserving the group
Resources back up aggressive schedules: When management wants an aggressive schedule and then backs it up with resources, it shows that they are committed and not just being unrealistic.
Rewards are consistent: The more aggressive the request, the more aggressive the reward should be. When rewards don’t match an aggressive deadline, it just shows that you are unreasonable
Rallies the troops: Aggressive goals can rally the troops when things have stalled out. A common purpose and an aggressive goal can wake up a team to perform better. This can backfire if used too much since then it just becomes unrealistic expectations.
Being aggressive is good as long as you don’t cross the line into being an asshole. Remember when aggression is positive and for the common good, it’s the good kind but when it’s for a single minded, selfish reason, it will have the opposite effect.
Knowing When to be Assertive
Assertiveness is aggressions calmer brother. To be assertive means that you affirm your convictions without threats or aggression and with a confidence that requires no proof. You believe in what you are saying and it will be hard for someone to change your mind. In certain situations, the assertive approach will win out over the aggressive approach simply because of the calm and confidence that it exudes You can be assertive and aggressive at the same time but that’s a fine line to walk. Aggression mixed with assertiveness can quickly be viewed as desperation when the assertiveness is wavering. Consider some of the ways assertiveness can be used and why it’s not necessarily being an asshole:
The group is wandering: If your groups is wandering, being assertive can snap them back to being focused on what’s important
Retorting an attack: If your point of view or strategy is being attacked, a good dose of assertiveness can reduce or eliminate the attackers desired result
Making a decision on little data: Most decisions have to be made on little data — it’s just the reality of most situations. If you are assertive in your decision making, then situations of ambiguity can be quickly dealt with.
Rally the troops: As with aggression, being assertive on a direction will focus your people on what’s important and get them to perform once again
Defusing a volatile situation: There are times when the situation you are in is starting to get out of hand or downright nasty. In these circumstances, being assertive can calm people down if it’s done right. Usually, you assert some universal truth that everyone can agree too.
Finding common ground: The details of a problem or project can sometimes muddle the fundamental truths that guide a group. Asserting those truths will allow everyone to start from a known place — which makes it much easier to obtain agreement.
It’s hard for assertiveness to come across as an asshole but it can happen if you are assertive on every little thing. No one likes the person that is always right or never changes their mind. You do have to walk that fine line between voicing your convictions and not coming across as a total know it all, inflexible person. As with any behavior, strive for balance and use it wisely.
Avoiding Asshole Behavior
There is a fine line between aggressive and assertive behavior and coming across as an asshole. Now, for our discussion here, we will define an asshole as someone who is stubborn in their convictions, treats other with distain and disrespect and is generally unpleasant to be around. At times, these asshole traits are confused with being assertive and aggressive. To combat this, it’s important that you consider the guidance presented below:
Be respectful, even when you disagree: Respect for others and their opinions, even when you disagree, shows that even if you are assertive and/or aggressive, at least you can see others point of view.
Always look after the common good: Strive to keep the common good in mind when you are interacting with others. Most people will respect that and take your aggression or assertiveness as being for the good of everyone.
Ask opinions from others: Listening to what others have to say shows that even though you may be aggressively going after an objective, their opinions matter.
Read the crowd: Sometimes, an aggressive stance or an assertive tone, will turn a crowd quickly away from where you want to go. Turning the crowd away from your direction will make it much harder to be assertive or aggressive later on.
Strive for common ground: Akin to the common good, common ground is what everyone agrees is true. When you come from a place of agreement, then it’s much easier to be aggressive or assertive.
Take your ego out of it: Ego is the single biggest reason aggressive or assertive people turn into assholes. Keep your ego in check and watch yourself when it gets in the way.
Have empathy: Understanding where others come from and the struggles they have will make it much easier to be assertive or aggressive. When you understand the plight of others, you are in a much better position to grasp the situation and meter your behavior.
What happens if you don’t follow these guidelines? Well, chances are, you will come across as an asshole. Now, that might not happen all the time but if it happens enough, you can get a reputation as someone who is difficult to get along with, does not have the groups best interest in mind and is unpleasant to be around.
Understanding is Essential
If you take away one idea from this post, let it be that empathy towards the plight of others will always reduce you coming across as an asshole. If you really understand where others are coming from and the conditions they face, you can then craft your approach in a way that being assertive or aggressive will have the desired, positive results.
Wow. Way to tell it like it is. While it’s not PG, I like the clear distinctions in the definitions.
Jarie Bolander says
I know it’s not the most PG post (nor PC) but no other word captures characteristics of someone who is just not easy to get along with than asshole.
Thanks for reading
Good post with alot of pertinent information. It has been my experience that most people don’t know or don’t think they are an asshole. Any advice on how to slyly let them know they are an asshole, especially if that person is your manager.
Jarie Bolander says
That’s a bit tricky because assholes are not really ones to self reflect.
If you have a good relationship with your boss, then you can quietly bring up simple issues and hope they get the message.
The other thing is to have a regular one-on-one with them. Sometimes, assholes only behave badly when in public. Getting them alone can then put them in a safe place.
Once you build a rapport, then you can ease into telling them why their behavior affects other people. The key would be to bring it from the perspective of others and not you.
Another technique is to point out asshole behavior in others. Sometimes all it takes if for someone to realize that they are acting bad to change their ways.
Do be cautious because if they truly are an asshole, they really will not care and that could be career limiting.
Good luck and thanks for reading