Manage Difficult People Using Assertiveness

Do you understand the difference between Submissive, Aggressive and Assertive behaviour?

I’m not sure a lot of people do, because I hear comments such as – “He’s very assertive!” or “How do you manage people who are too assertive?” What these people are really commenting on, is others, who are aggressive and not assertive. So what’s the difference?


Assertive behaviour is positive; it will help you communicate clearly and confidently your needs, wants and feelings to other people without abusing in any way their human rights.

It will produce better results when managing a difficult person, and it can be learned. Let’s look a bit closer at each type of behaviour.


I’m sure you’re familiar with the ‘fight or flight’ responses. These are inbuilt programmes to help you survive and deal with different situations; we all use them as appropriate. Submissive behaviour is the flight response. It’s natural behaviour and depending on your upbringing, you may develop it throughout your life. People, who are submissive, tend to:

Avoid stating their needs and feelings
Communicate their needs and feelings in an apologetic way
Give others rights that they don’t take for themselves
Submissive behaviour sounds like this:

“I’m really sorry; I just don’t have the time to go through those reports with you just now. I’ve got to get all these accounts finished before lunch time. My boss is a real pain, asking me to do this today. I’d really like to help you; I’ll look at it later if that’s okay?”


Aggressive behaviour is the fight response. Again, this is an inbuilt programme that can be developed throughout your life. If we learn that we can achieve things by using aggressive behaviour, we continue to develop it. Naturally, this is to the detriment of our relationships with other people. People who are aggressive tend to:

Encourage others to do things by flattery or manipulation
Ignore the needs and feelings of others, either intentionally or by default
Take rights for themselves that they don’t to give to others
Aggressive behaviour sounds like this:

“Do you think I’ve nothing better to do than check those reports?”


This is logical, thinking behaviour; it is not driven by your emotions. And although it may be natural for a few people, it tends to be learned behaviour. It’s about:

Being clear and direct in what you say

Stating your needs and feelings in an straightforward way

Standing up for your rights without violating the rights of others

Assertive behaviour sounds like this – “I’m unable to help you with those reports this morning. I am doing accounts at the moment, and I’ll be pleased to help you this afternoon. What time suits you?”

None of this is good or bad; it’s just the way we are. But if you want to be better at managing difficult people, you need to ensure that:

a) You don’t use Submissive or Aggressive behaviour.

b) You recognise Submissive or Aggressive behaviour in others

c) You learn and use Assertive techniques with difficult people

Assertiveness is a very positive response in any interaction. It makes it clear to the other person what you’re unhappy about, and allows you to calmly state your case without violating their rights. And of course, that will make life much less stressful for you!

There are more assertiveness techniques, to make your life easier, in my book – How to Manage Difficult People.

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