Using These Tools


“Do not wait: the time will never be ‘just right’. Start where you stand, and work whatever tools you you may have at your command and better tools will be found as you go along.” Napoleon Hill

Chapter 4 Using The Tools

Using these tools for Self-Awareness Building

The framework presented in this chapter, the passive – assertive – aggressive continuum, is a great tool for developing your self-awareness. It helps us understand the typical way we engage with the world around us, how we express our needs, get our needs met, and build relationships.

Utilize this table to reflect upon where you typically fall on this continuum.

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

Things to consider in this reflection:

  • where do you think you fall on this continuum most regularly
  • where do you want to fall on this continuum most regularly
  • are there times or relationships where you are more passive, more aggressive, or more assertive.  If so, what about those times or relationships lead to that
  • are there times you would like to be more assertive
  • what and where can you be more assertive in your daily life
  • what are boundaries in my life that are most important

These points of reflection can help you identify strategies for developing and living a more assertive life. In order to be more assertive in your life and draw the appropriate boundaries in your relationships, you first and foremost need to understand what is truly important to you.  In chapter 7 we will look at a framework to consider how to define what is core to who you are, and what is flexible, so for now just start this reflection process.

Using these tools for Other Awareness Building

The passive – assertive – aggressive continuum also allows us to understand where other people might fall on this continuum. You can ask yourself these questions to start understanding others:

  • what behaviors do I see when I am in conflict with this person
  • does this person shut down, lash out, or express themselves when in a stressful situation or conflict
  • do I know what this persons needs or idea are
  • does this person understand what my needs or ideas are
  • how does this other person responds to you.  If you are more passive or aggressive, how does that impact the other person

Gaining insight into yourself and the other person on this continuum help you better prepare for building strong relationships with the people around you.

Using these tools for Relationship Building

Strong relationships are built on solid boundaries, shared values, mutual understanding, and where each person understands and works to help meet the need of the other.  An underlying principle of being assertive and setting boundaries is respect.  Respecting yourself, respecting others, and respecting your relationship.  The passive – assertive – aggressive continuum is an important framework in building strong relationships.  In order for relationships to be productive and meaningful, we need to understand how we relate to one another.  For example:

If one person is passive and the other is aggressive, the passive persons needs my not be met (in the worst version of this, their needs my be ignored) and the aggressive person my always get their needs met.  Resentment can build in the passive person, they may feel like they don’t matter or that the other person doesn’t care about them.  Frustration can build in the aggressive person, they aren’t sure what the other person wants or needs and feels like they are always guessing and failing.  Resentment and frustration erode relationships.

This very common example happens in many relationships.   When one persons needs get met, and the others doesn’t, when one person understands what the other wants and needs, but it isn’t reciprocated, we do not have a meaningful, productive, or sustainable relationship.

Putting this framework to use, with active listening, i-statements, effective questions, framing, and reframing gives us the greatest chance to build strong and lasting relationships, build on mutual respect and understanding.


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Making Conflict Suck Less: The Basics Copyright © 2020 by Ashley Orme Nichols is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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