When does ASSERTIVENESS become ABRASIVENESS?

United States
March 14, 2007 11:45am CST
When I was maybe 8-9 years old, a relative taught me to "stand tall, look 'em in the eye, and tell 'em what you know!" Although it varies somewhat from culture to culture, many of us have been taught that we need to learn how to be "assertive" in the world, in order to get what we want. Those who are "passive" are often viewed as "weak" and as "doormats." I certainly agree that "standing up for yourself" is a good thing, and mostly keeps us from getting manipulated into doing things we really don't want to. However, sometimes it can be difficult to find the point at which "being assertive" turns into an abrasive and annoying trait. I am sure most of you have met people who come across as "larger than life," and it feels like EVERYthing revolves around "their opinion," and what THEY want, while they barely have 10 seconds to give to perceptions that differ from their own. Some will even put down those who don't agree, calling them "idiots" or "stupid." Clearly, that's an extreme, and we end up feeling like such an "over-assertive" person is actually more "abrasive" than anything else. But where do you draw the line between being "assertive" (a positive) and being "abrasive" (a negative)? Some people hold beliefs so strong they can see no other way, and become almost hysterical in defending their viewpoint. Yet, they say they are just "asserting themselves." Is that OK? Is the habit of automatically "taking charge" of every situation "assertive" or "abrasive?" Or is it a case of "it depends?" Is it situational? Consider, for example, a military drill sargeant, who's PAID to be not only assertive, but also somewhat abrasive. What do you think? When does "assertive" become "abrasive?"
4 people like this
7 responses
@bluewings (3857)
16 Mar 07
I think when assertiveness becomes abrasiveness ,we stop learning as we start believing that there's nothing beside what we have already learnt.We stop being receptive and bottle up our minds.It's a sad state as our friends would start distancing themselves from us unless it's a very close friend who might warn us of our attitude. When I meet someone like this and I am convinced he or she is head strong (not just about something in particular) and can't be reasoned with ,I'd just smile and move away.The people I have met who believe they are just being assertive are gray.There are areas where they could be flexible. Yes, the line is not clearly defined when assertiveness changes into abrasiveness and as you rightly said,it varies with cultures.When you have a valid point and you don't stick to it ,you are considered docile.Discerning one from the other is only possible with exposure to ideas and by monitoring if we are a reactionary or open minded.Abrasiveness might be a reaction while assertiveness will reason and welcome the other perspective to debate it and also to test it's own position.Although,there are situations where abrasiveness is a necessity like the one you pointed out or during parenting a naughty kid. I still feel that a person can be assertive without being abrasive,but the listener might misunderstand his position if he doesn't take the discussion to it's climax.
2 people like this
• United States
17 Mar 07
There's a quote I read somewhere that goes "Don't confuse me with the facts when my mind is already made up." In a way, I find it quite illustrative of people who are something other than just "assertive." There is-- as you point out-- NO room for flexibility. And there is also no room for alternative views to be tested.
2 people like this
@bluewings (3857)
29 Mar 07
lol Nice quote.Perhaps the people who believe it also believe that ignorance is bliss for all aspects in life.Thanks for the BR,Denmarkguy!
1 person likes this
@dmillman (2273)
• United States
17 Mar 07
Yep, there is defintely a fine line with a lot of gray. It seems to depend on the situation. I would think that if the person is just trying to get their side, point, etc. so that you understand it, that's one thing. But if the person knows and the other person keeps pushing it - that's where the problems begin. It's all in the reason why the person is doing it, I guess. THat person could just be a bad listener and just like to hear him/herself talk. I think that most of the time that those that are that aggressive and act as though they're in charge, are really hiding their "true self". Such as, they really don't know, and don't want anyone else to realize that they don't know. JMHO
1 person likes this
• United States
17 Mar 07
I think you're right-- some people are very "attached" to a sense of intellectual superiority, regardless of whether or not it is merited. Maybe I am overly sensitive to facing such folks... but I am always reminded of "being lectured" by my dad, every time I did something that didn't fit his point of view. His approach to life was that one could always be forceful, if one couldn't be 100% right.
@moonmagick (1458)
• United States
15 Mar 07
It is a very fine line I think. I tend to think of assertive as being confident and willing to stand up for your beliefs and opinions without being overbearing about it, and while having an open mind. I think it becomes more abrasive when the individual in question doesn't listen to other thoughts and ideas, and pretty much attempts to shove their opinion down everyone elses throats. I think the more abrasive people are the ones who are never wrong, and they are fairly certain they know more than anyone else, while an assertive person is more open to the realm of possibility that perhaps they aren't the only one who might know something about the given topic.
1 person likes this
• United States
15 Mar 07
Yes, you certainly hit the target with the idea that the more "abrasive" types can be know-it-alls who really don't care what anyone else thinks.
1 person likes this
@urbangirl (1461)
• Australia
15 Mar 07
I find that being assertive just for the sake of it is energy draining. Sometimes it's good to just hang back and observe. It is a fine line indeed. I stick up for myself and what I thinbk is right when I have to, otherwise I tend to be easygoing.
1 person likes this
• United States
15 Mar 07
I am by nature fairly easygoing. As part of a former job I had to take some assertiveness training classes-- bit even though I got pretty good at asserting myself, it never felt "natural" for me, as I am also more of an "observer" type. And you're right, it's draining to be assertive "just for the sake of it."
• Singapore
14 Mar 07
I think it is a very wobbly line that separates the 2. It is a pretty grey area in between so if you feel you are being "too assertive", you probably are being abrasive. There's nothing wrong with standing up for your rights, giving your opinions and taking charge. But if you do not bother about the opinions and feelings of others, then that's being overbearing and would then be "wrong". ;-)
1 person likes this
• United States
14 Mar 07
I agree that it's a fuzzy border. The thing, though, is that many "overly assertive" people are not even aware (nor do they consider the POSSIBILITY) that they are throwing their weight around. As you allude to, they often aren't even aware that others wouldn't be "happy" to follow their way. It's almost a "mystery" to them that someone would disagree with their worldwiew.
• United States
4 May 07
This is a very SUBJECTIVE issue. What constitutes "abrasive" 2 some, will be just fine 2 others. This means that it's really in the eyes of the "judger"! It's once been said that if u have a problem with someone ELSE's behavior, the "problem" is YOURS, because others may be alright with it! So, we all have our own perceptions of what's what! I believe that our natural temperaments influence this greatly! The environment we were raised in will also have a strong effect on our behavior, but our God-given temperament will be the final "decider" as 2 how we express ourselves in the world. Some people's NATURAL way of being is what many would consider "abrasive"! Maybe they're always loud, blunt, and passionate! Maybe they always speak, WITHOUT thinking 1st, or AT ALL! In relation 2 my new age studies of numerology and astrology (4 example), lifepath 1's are known 4 being "abrasive", aggressive, and selfish. 8's are also extremely "bossy", and they don't really consider how their words and actions are affecting others. Aries, the ram, is also known 4 bossiness, aggressiveness, blunt speech, impatience, and yes, "abrasiveness". Then, u have people like me, a Libra, known 4 being laid back and easygoing. As a lifepath 2, the qualities of being passive and receptive are also reinforced. Yet, ANY temperament can ASSERT themselves! 1 DOESN'T have 2 be LOUD and FORCEFUL 2 get their point across. As the old saying goes, "REAL bad boys move in SILENCE"! 1 can be FIRM, yet express that firmness, and SERIOUSNESS, in a calm, cool manner. But, as I said, some people are just more "fiery" by nature, and 1 can LABEL it "abrasive", and I would agree! I consider 1 who DOESN'T take others feelings into account, an "abrasive" person. But, if that's 1's nature, I can't fault them 4 that! That person, no matter what "training" they get, will NEVER become mild mannered, just as I will NEVER become "fiery" like that, no matter WHAT! U CAN'T change your basic nature! U can ATTEMPT 2, but u will constantly struggle, so it's really a FUTILE endeavor! I think that we ALL need 2 just ACCEPT that some of us ARE "abrasive", some of us are "passive", and there's many variations in between. We need 2 RESPECT the differences, and realize that 1 ISN'T better OR worse than the other, 4 ALL styles of "being" are NECESSARY, depending on the situation. Sometimes, u NEED a forceful personality 2 accomplish something. Other times, 1 needs 2 be quiet and LISTEN, and let things come 2 them! Being passive ISN'T "weak"! It's simply a natural state of being, just like being aggressive! It's un4-tunate that we live in a society that DOESN'T value the quality of being passive, and there-4, encourages everyone 2 be "assertive". I think it's even MORE dangerous 4 a naturally passive person, because, in an attempt 2 NOT be a "doormat" (AND 2 meet societal PRESSURE), THAT person can OVERDO any "training" they get, and REALLY become "abrasive", 2 the point of just being OBNOXIOUS! But, 4 those who are NATURALLY this way, I say, let's APPRECIATE them, because they ARE needed, as we ALL are! When it comes 2 drill sergeants, no other temperament is better suited 2 that THAN an "abrasive" personality! That's what THAT job requires! And, really, ONLY an "abrasive" personality will be ATTRACTED 2 that position anyway! AND, ONLY an "abrasive" personality would be HIRED 4 that type of job! So, 2 sum this all up, I don't think that someone "becomes" abrasive. They either ARE, or they're NOT, period! We can ALL be "assertive", but 4 those of us who AREN'T naturally "fiery", we can express that assertiveness, that firmness, according 2 OUR natural temperament, and NOT succumb 2 the pressure 2 be something we're NOT! And, 2 those who ARE naturally abrasive, so be it!
@natalie1981 (2000)
• Singapore
1 May 07
Well, for me, being assertive is a good thing though I really have to practice that. When you stand up for your thoughts and ideas that is being assertive, however when you want others to agree with your thoughts and ideas to the point that it feels like your shoving your thoughts and opinions down their throats, that's being abrasive. I hate those kind of people. Once you got your opinion across and the other person understood, then that's it, let it go, but if that person doesn't want to change his opinion/beliefs, then don't make him.