The Passive – Assertive – Aggressive Continuum


“People who fight fire with fire usually end up with ashes.” Abigail Van Buren

The Passive – Assertive – Aggressive Continuum

People tend to relate to communication based on one of three styles.

Passive communicators tend to put the rights of others before his or her own. Passive communicators tend to be apologetic or sound tentative when they speak. They do not speak up if they feel like they are being wronged.

Assertive communicators respect their rights and the rights of others when communicating. This person tends to be direct but not insulting or offensive. The assertive communicator stands up for his or her own rights but makes sure the rights of others aren’t affected.

Aggressive communicators, on the other hand, will come across as standing up for his or her rights while possibly violating the rights of others. This person tends to communicate in a way that tells others they don’t matter or their feelings don’t matter.

Passive Assertive Aggressive
Definition Communication style in which you put the rights of others before your own, minimizing your own self-worth Communication style in which you stand up for your rights while maintaining respect for the rights of others Communication style in which you stand up for your rights but you violate the rights of others
Implications to others My feelings are not important

I don’t matter

I think I’m inferior

We are both important

We both matter

I think we are equal

Your feelings are not important

You don’t matter

I think I’m superior

Verbal styles Apologetic

Overly soft or tentative voice

I statements

Firm voice

You statements

Loud voice

Nonverbal styles Looking down or away

Stooped posture, excessive head nodding

Looking direct

Relaxed posture, smooth and relaxed movements

Staring, narrow eyes

Tense, clenched fists, rigid posture, pointing fingers

Potential consequences Lowered self-esteem

Anger at self

False feelings of inferiority

Disrespect from others

Pitied by others

High self-esteem


Respect from others

Respect of others

Anger from others

Lowered self-esteem

Disrespect from others

Feared by others

Most of us tend to have a consistent way we relate to communication, and therefore conflict.  The majority of people are either mostly passive (avoidant and accommodating) or mostly aggressive (competitive) with much fewer people regularly being assertive (collaborative). That being said, regardless of where you typically land on the passive – assertive – aggressive continuum, most of us have work to do when it comes to being more assertive in our lives.

Material in this chapter has been adapted from “Human Relations” is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0


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