Are You Aggressive, Submissive, or ASSERTIVE?

Thanks to a more globalized business environment nowadays, more and more Filipinos are getting introduced to the concept of communication assertiveness, which is one of the many communication training programs we conduct to different companies and industries.  From our experience as trainers, we notice that assertiveness is a still a relatively new term to many Pinoys, if not a totally alien term.  Therefore, just like introducing new topics, it is always first necessary to make a survey first of who know the definition of the concept or its Filipino translation, and which personalities best exemplify assertiveness. 

Definitions vary.  Assertiveness is defined by many as being straightforward, or even as aggressive and tactless.  Many would refer to assertiveness as being “prangka” in Filipino.  Meanwhile, the list of personalities perceived to be assertive reveal a colorful mix of people — Britney Spears, George W. Bush, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, etc. 

But what is assertiveness, really?

There is no direct translation yet for assertiveness in Filipino – and definitely, asertibo does not count.  The closest description of an assertive person would be someone who is “may dating”. Positive as this sounds, this could work the other way around.  Interestingly, communication scholars would say that if a certain concept does not have a translation in another language or culture, then the concept does not exist in the said culture.  Take the case of “snow”, which does not have a direct Filipino translation, since we don’t have snow.  The closest translation would be “niyebe”, which is actually derived from the Spanish word.

It therefore comes as no surprise that assertiveness is not very much part of the Filipino culture yet.  And we owe this to our very embedded values of politeness and respect for other people.  This of course is generally good.  But it is not necessarily so in the field of business, especially if one already becomes submissive to each and every demand of colleagues and clients.

Simply put, assertiveness is standing up for one’s rights and welfare, but considering those of others as well.  It is being able to say no when necessary.  It is being able to make healthy compromises for the good of everyone.  Assertiveness is honesty.  It is professionalism.

Assertiveness is much different from aggressiveness, where one person would not consider others, and would use words and actions that trample on the welfare of others.  There are many reasons why one person is aggressive.  One could be a feeling of superiority.  Another could be just plain insensitivity.  An aggressive person may be feared, but generally not respected in any organization.

On the other hand, the submissive person is someone who is unable to say no.  Submissiveness is when one’s “no” becomes “no problem”.  The submissive fellow is constantly unsure of himself, from body language, words, and voice.  The submissive person is some who is easily taken for granted.  Many times, he even gains the ire of many colleagues, after overpromising in the delivery of many tasks, some of which may not be even part of his job to begin with. 

Unfortunately, the submissive individual is a doormat, and does not gain the respect of people either. 

How many times have we heard some of our very own friends say “yes” to a party invitation but don’t come.  And, do we find people who constantly begin their sentences with a shaking “I think” credible?

But aside from submissiveness and aggressiveness, there is one more evil, said to be even unique in Filipino organizations.  This is the submissive-aggressive behavior, where one accepts everything from Person A, but complains about it to the whole world, except Person A.  This is especially very much reflected in organizations where people thrive on rumors, gossip, and back biting. More often than not, many communication breakdowns occur because there is no more room for trust.  And people are generally distracted from the work that needs to be done.

There is a large need to communicate assertively in this day and age, as we now have more opportunities to work and interact with foreigners, who have come from cultures, in which assertiveness is the norm.   But more than just considering foreigners, injecting assertiveness in people has proven to be quite helpful in terms of promoting team work and increasing productivity, especially in places where conflicts abound.  The practice of assertiveness in behavior and communication promotes a better working relationship with clients and counterparts.  With assertiveness, people are able to focus more on what could be done to accomplish the work, rather than unproductively blaming people for delays.

The different communication behaviors can be summed in mathematical terms.  To be submissive is I < YOU (I lesser than you).  To be aggressive is I > YOU (I greater than you).  Submissive-aggressiveness is I > YOU (I greater than you, and I won’t tell you). 

Being assertive is I = YOU.

So which one are you and your organization?  And where do the people you work with fall under?


12 Replies to “Are You Aggressive, Submissive, or ASSERTIVE?”

  1. Hi Ralph! Congratulations to you on the latest published work you have. That is awesome! Maris and I are two of your biggest fans! Keep up the GREAT WORK!

    BTW, I just thought you ought to know that your essay about assertiveness is very, very helpful in understanding our employees (85% Filipinos) lack of assertiveness. About 85% of our scientists at work are Filipinos and my director and VP are having a difficult time understanding the lack of assertiveness.

    I tried to tell them in my own words that it is partly cultural and then I saw your article. Perfect timing! Yey! I showed them what you wrote and they find it very helpful. Thank you and I am so proud of you!

    Hello to all and take care!

  2. Thanks, Tita Marla and Tita Maris! Hope you’re both doing well!

    I’m glad that you liked the article on assertiveness. The passive behavior really is generally a cultural ‘quirk’ among Pinoys. 🙂 Your director and VP might be interested then in our programs. Hehe, para makapunta uli ako diyan to visit you. Hehehe.

  3. dear Ralph,

    took the communication assertiveness course you facilitated last Dec. 2008 and would like to say that this article summarizes the definition well.
    congratulations for a job well done and for this fine article!

    warm regards,

  4. Hi, Gina!

    Thanks so much for visiting my site, and for attending our Communication Assertiveness program. I enjoyed working with all of you.

    God bless! Looking forward to having you in our future sessions!

  5. Hi Ralph,

    Nice topic.. It’s good to be understand by people particularly for young people.. their live in transition period which is need assertiveness to do not do risk behavior…


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