Working Assertive, Not Aggressive

I have a personal interest in this topic. Early in my career, I was working for a large retail company in their corporate headquarters. During one of my annual reviews, it was brought to my attention that others perceived my behavior as “aggressive”.  WOW.  That was an eye-opener. I thought I was being assertive, not aggressive.  If I wanted my career to continue to grow, I knew I would need to make some changes.  But where to start?

I became an observer of other employees. I watched how they behaved, how they responded to problems and how they interacted with higher level executives.  I noticed the difference in aggressive versus assertive behavior was two-fold. Both verbal and physical language was involved.  By observing these two aspects, it became clear to me who would be advancing in their careers and who would not.

I began to change my words, tone and delivery of my messages.  I made changes in my body language and I learned to listen to what the other person was saying.  It was amazing what happened when I began to understand where the other person was coming from through my own positive behavior.

But I must admit my transformation from aggressive to assertive was gradual. It was a lot of trial and error and quite a bit of frustration. By sharing what I learned, I hope it will make the transition much easier for others.

Let’s start with the spoken word.  “Words are the most powerful drug used by mankind.” -Rudyard Kipling, 1865-1936, English Writer.  This is a wonderful quote because the words you use are powerful.  They can have a positive or a negative impact on the person with whom you are communicating.  Watch the words you speak. You can choose less offensive words and still get your point across. For example: Being aggressive, you might say “I can’t believe you missed another dead line.  You’re putting the entire project at risk.” An assertive response could be “John, I see you missed your due date again.  I know you understand the importance of completing the project on time.  Is there some way the team can help you meet these dates?”

Along with the word, is the delivery of your message. It comes from the tone of voice that you use.  Is your tone positive, angry, condescending, sarcastic, kind, understanding, excited, empathic, or happy? The tone reinforces the words you use.  Think of the last conversation you had that was uncomfortable for you. What words and tone did the other person use and how did you react?

You can be angry or frustrated and still use positive words and tone to get your message across.  The delivery will be more impactful and more effective if it does not put the other person in a defensive mode that closes them off to what you are saying.  Others will like working with you because you can get your point across and be firm in your convictions without attacking or putting down the other person. That’s being assertive.

Body language is the second part of aggressive versus assertive behavior. Your words may say one thing, but people believe what your body is communicating. What is aggressive body language? It’s in your facial expressions: crunched forehead, tight mouth, squinty eyes; your arms – folded, exaggerated movements, clenched fists or pointing a finger; your posture – stiff, leaning forward and in their face, or turned away as if you’re indifferent.  Be relaxed within yourself so that your body language remains natural and calm.

If you’ve now decided you need to work on your aggressiveness, remember it takes 21 days to start a new behavior. You must practice the new behavior for 21 days for it to begin to take hold and 100 days for it to become automatic. Then your new words, tone, and body language will be natural to you. 

Are the changes worth it? Take it from me, they are. Today’s work environment is highly competitive both within a company as well as those seeking employment.  Learning and understanding what assertive behavior is can really help you build relationships and your career.  Be assertive and be a step ahead of your competition! 

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On March 27th, 2012, posted in: Articles, Etiquette, Work Place Conduct by

9 Tips On How To Survive And Thrive

At Company Holiday Functions



Don’t be the one everyone talks about at the water cooler the day after for saying what you really think about your co-workers or for dancing the Macarena on your boss’s table.


Follow these nine etiquette rules to ensure yourself an enjoyable time and continued employment.


  1. Attend – absences are noticed.  Be on time and stay an appropriate amount of time.  80 percent of success is showing up”- Woody Allen, American screenwriter, director, actor
  2. Dress properly – it is a business get-together, so nothing too low, too short, too casual or too extreme.  If you’re unsure of the proper dress for the event, call the event organizer.
  3. Inform your spouse or significant other – on suitable dress and appropriate and inappropriate topics of conversation.  Their behavior reflects on you. 
  4. Introduce your spouse or significant other to co-workers and management.  If you’re single, be sure to check with the event organizers to see if it is appropriate to bring a friend.
  5. Behavior does matters – don’t gossip and don’t make personal revelations.  Try to interact with people you normally would not interact with at work. This is a social event – be social.
  6. Body language – it’s important not to let others know if you’re “bored to tears”.  Don’t frown, glare, or stand off by yourself.  It’s rude and bad business manners to let others see that you’re bored or not interested.
  7. Stay sober– at social business parties it’s easy to lose control, don’t drink too much.  Eat a little before you go and keep your intake to one or two drinks.  You are responsible for your behavior and there will be consequences for inappropriate conduct.
  8. Dining Manners – regardless if the event is a breakfast, lunch, reception or dinner proper table manners still apply.

     9.  Send a Thank You note – to the party’s organizer.  A handwritten note on a thank you card or holiday card is the correct thing to do.  It should be a simple sentence of thanks and a positive statement about the organizer and/or the event.

 Remember; when you act well you do well.

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On November 16th, 2011, posted in: Articles, Etiquette, Meetings & Special Events, Work Place Conduct by

Are you a class act?

You have probably heard the term “he (or she) is a class act”.  If you took a moment right now I bet you can think of a person you would call a class act.  I think of Jacqueline Kennedy, Hilary Clinton, Will Smith, Bill Gates, Derek Jeter and few individuals I have had the pleasure to work for.  So what makes up a “class act”? 

My definition of a class act is someone whose behavior others admire and try to be like.  Author Jack Canfield in his book The Success Principles writes to become a class act one must “Strive to become the kind of person who acts with class, who becomes known as a class act, and who attracts other people with class to his or her sphere of influence.”  That sounds great but how do you do that!

It requires a change in attitude, perspective and behavior.  Think about how you present yourself in the business world and compare it to how someone who you think of as a “class act” presents themselves. 

A few of the distinctive behaviors they exhibit are someone who takes responsibility for their actions.  They are honest about the results of their decisions and actions weather it’s a success or failure.

They show respect and appreciation towards others.  In short they don’t gossip or say mean and petty remarks about others.

In difficult situations they remain calm and in control.  They don’t lose their temper or act out towards others rather they help others to assist in the problem solving process.  I believe this is called “grace under pressure”.

They have the ability to make others feel included and respected for their individual contributions especially during difficult times.  They make others feel good about themselves and appreciated.

Just by being who they – a great role model- they help others to make changes in their behavior, to raise their standard of performance simply because they want to emulate their role model.

They are the leaders who help increase the confidence, capabilities, esteem and performance of others by living by their own high standards they have set for themselves.

How do you compare with the characteristics above?  Where can you make changes in your attitude, perspective and behavior to move you towards becoming a class act?

Why even consider this?  Because being a class act will help you succeed in business and in life.  People like to do business with people they respect, trust, like and what to be around.  That seems like reasons enough for me.  When we act well we do well.

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On August 23rd, 2011, posted in: Articles, Work Place Conduct by