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VOL. 127 | NO. 157 | Monday, August 13, 2012

Chris Crouch

Be Careful What You Ask For

By Chris Crouch

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The other day I saw an advertisement for a major company recruiting highly aggressive employees. I feel certain they didn’t really mean that. The choice of words in the ad brings up an important issue regarding the distinction between being assertive and being aggressive. Unfortunately, many people do not seem to understand the distinction. It’s probably not a good idea to hire a group of highly aggressive people. This is one of those cases where you need to be careful what you ask for, because you might just get it.

In the name of full disclosure, until I started seriously studying human behavior, I didn’t understand or recognize the difference in assertiveness and aggressiveness. I thought they were somewhat interchangeable terms.

Perhaps the most significant distinction has to do with the underlying intent of the behavior. Assertive people stand up for their rights in a firm, respectful and often polite manner. They, in effect, fully intend to respect other people’s rights and boundaries in their attempts to get what they want. In most situations, it is a very good thing to be assertive. On the other hand, aggressive people do not respect other people’s rights and boundaries. They frequently cross the line and behave with the intention to harm others in their attempts to get what they want. The underlying factor with assertiveness is respect. The underlying factor with aggressiveness is hostility.

Assertive people are usually reasonable to deal with and will produce win-win results for your company. One of the characteristics of assertive people is that they ask for what they want. You might not like what they ask for, but you should probably pay attention to it if you want to keep them. For example, suppose an assertive member of your sales force walks into your office and asks for a raise. Whether you agree to the raise or not should be considered on its own merits. However, you should never fault them for being assertive in asking for what they want. If you like the fact that they comfortably ask for the order when selling your products, why would you be surprised when they do the same when pursuing their own desires?

I bring this topic up now because the pressure on managers to improve, or in some cases just maintain, the bottom line in this sustained weak economy can easily cause some of them to cross the line between being assertive and being aggressive. If there’s any doubt in your mind about how your key managers are currently operating, it is a good time to make sure you coach your employees and help them clearly understand the difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness.

As a leader, it’s always a good idea to pay close attention to stories you might hear about so-called “tough” managers. Take the time to find out if they are a tough/assertive or tough/aggressive managers. The distinction can make a difference in productivity, employee morale, turnover and profits. Encourage assertiveness; eliminate aggressiveness.

Chris Crouch is CEO of DME Training and Consulting and author of several books on improving productivity. Contact him through www.dmetraining.com.

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