Passive, Assertive, Aggressive: Three Ways to Deal with Disappointment

Raise your voice, not your wordsThere are three ways to deal with disappointment.

Passive:  We notice an event or relationship that bothers us or feels disappointing, but we choose not to speak up. We are valuing the rights of others over our own.  That works in certain situations, yet it can become a pattern or a way of responding that is not helpful to us.

Assertive:  We choose to engage in a conversation and explain our perspective. We think about the rights of others and about our rights. This is a mindful, balanced approach that can become a strong civility practice.

Aggressive:  We speak up in a way that values our rights above others.

In an article titled, What is Assertiveness? Dr. Mark Ettensohn writes:

When thinking about assertiveness, it is helpful to remember the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Like Goldilocks in the story, being assertive is a matter of finding the happy medium between two extremes. In this case, assertiveness lies somewhere between being passive and being aggressive.

One way to consider your own approach for dealing with disappointment is to think about the last time you experienced poor customer service. Which of the three situations is most like your experience?

  • I got frustrated and ended up telling others but didn’t say anything to the business or the people who could actually meet my needs.
  • I asked for a supervisor to explain what happened and my preferred resolution.
  • I got upset and started speaking to the customer service person and blaming them.

If your most recent experience was the first or the third response, take time to reflect. Is this your normal pattern?

When we build the skill of assertiveness over a more passive or aggressive approach at work we start to build a culture of mindfulness and civility.

Dr. Ettensohn writes:

Learning to be assertive can be difficult, especially if you’ve fallen into the habit of engaging in cycles of passivity and aggression. Often, people attempting to make changes in their behavior will encounter feelings of discomfort when they try new things. They may also notice that others resist their attempts to change established relationship dynamics. This is perfectly normal and is usually a sign of growth.

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Better Conversations: The Key to Civility

better conversationsBetter conversations are the key to civility. Imagine seeing a Facebook post of someone you work with that surprises you. You are not sure you like the fact that they support an issue that you see in an entirely different way. Then you see a few more posts that stand in opposition to your beliefs about an issue. Finally you have had enough so you unfriend them. When you see them at work, it feels awkward and you avoid conversations.

Many of us have never been that skilled in having a conversation but now, thanks to social media, we are able to steer clear of conversations with people we don’t agree. The negative aspect to this approach is that we are cutting off potential agreement, commitments or common ground.  There could be something about that person which you can relate and feel a connection. As a reminder check out the connection found by Donna Red Wing and Bob Vander Plaats, two voices on opposite sides of marriage legislation.

Consider the 10 points made in this TED Talk by Celeste Headlee. She is an interviewer by training and shares her tips on what she does to find out interesting things about other people. She invites us to apply the same practices to everyday conversation. Watch the TED Talk and decide if you could apply just one of these tips in real life in face to face conversations.


What do you think?  Do you think becoming skilled at conversation in the ways suggested by Ms. Headlee will lead to a respectful and more open workplace?

Gather 510 px squareThe Wallace Centers of Iowa provides tips and tools for leading with civility in the workplace.

Women in Leadership: Erin Kiernan

Those in the Des Moines community, who watch the news, know our next Women in Leadership speaker Erin Kiernan from her work as an anchor of the 5, 6 and 10 o’clock newscasts at WHO-TV and as writer and producer of many investigative and “13 Cares” reports.  
This month Erin became a news story when she posted a picture on social media. If you missed it, here is a bit about that story:

The timing is perfect to consider the concept of integrating civility practices into our lives and our work. Like our three other speakers, we asked Erin (EK) about the eight civility practices.
WCI: We strive to distill a manageable number of civility practices so people can reflect on how these practices lead to strong results. When you look at the list, are there any that stand out?
  1. Notice details that others are not seeing?
  2. Listen well and ask questions as needed for clarification?
  3. Recognize the effort of others and give skilled positive feedback?
  4. Speak up and address concerns directly?
  5. Utilize systems and practices in order to be more productive?
  6. Skillfully give and receive constructive feedback?
  7. Convey a sense of possibility?
  8. Accept responsibility for the actions I can take when things do not go as planned?
EK: Looking at this list, I’ve employed all of these over the course of my career!
Here are some specifics…
Listening is a huge part of what I do. Many people assume the most important part of my job is talking, but it’s not.  It is critical that I gain as much information and insight as possible about what we put on the news. That requires asking the right questions and allowing all voices to be heard.ErinK
I try to lead by example. My goal is to do my job to the very best of my ability, every single day. I strive to do more than is expected of, or required of me. A guidance counselor once told me “perfectionism is a slow death” and I know that I may have a tendency to be a bit too consumed with doing everything “just right” but I believe setting a high standard for myself helps elevate those around me.  At least I hope so!
When I’m not successful at #5 I always say, “I’m sorry”.  I think this is a trait that is disappearing in our society!  I take responsibility when my work or behavior is not up to par and I also try to be part of the solution when problems arise.
WCI: While you didn’t mention the practice of speaking up, your recent experience with negative comments online demonstrate that there are times when speaking up is the most civil action to take. Thank you for being a voice that leads by example. We look forward to hearing more from you at lunch this week.  
Gather 510 px squareThe Wallace Centers of Iowa shares tips, tools, and programs for leading with civility in business and the workplace.