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Pushy vs. Assertive Communication. How do you tell the Difference?
Lately in my coaching practice the topic of assertiveness has been popular. Being assertive without being ‘pushy’ or aggressive is a skill worth developing if you want to rise to the executive ranks. There’s also a fine line between the two which I find causes people to back off for fear of being seen as ‘pushy.’
When you think of “pushy,” two unfortunate stereotypes likely come to mind: the salesman who obnoxiously pressures you to buy, and the aggressive woman who elbows out all other concerns until she gets what she wants.
Although those are stereotypes, “pushy” does exist. We feel it when someone tramples our boundaries, disrespecting our “no.” However, “pushy” is often used as an invective. Assertive women are sometimes called “pushy” just for standing up for themselves. And sometimes people are afraid of being perceived as pushy so they don’t assert themselves when appropriate. So, where is the line between pushy and persistent or assertive?
Persistent people don’t let opposition or discouragement stop them. They keep going no matter what. Assertive people are confident and self-assured as they pursue what they want. They know their needs are equally as important as other people’s needs. Conversely, passive people think their needs are less important than others’ needs, while aggressive people think their needs are more important.
To Be Confidently Assertive Instead of Pushy:
Give yourself full permission. Ask for 100% of what you want 100% of the time. Remember, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. The other person can always say no. What’s the cost of not going after your desired result?
Be aware of and take responsibility for your impact. For example, if you stomp on a person’s boundaries, acknowledge it, take responsibility and, if necessary, make amends or clean up the situation.
Don’t make assumptions—check it out. If you think someone is annoyed or resistant, find out if it’s true. Talking with them openly will bring clarity and connection.
If someone says no, respect it. If you think the person didn’t understand you, ask a clarifying question. If you still hear “no,” back off. Continuing to persist after they say “no” is the very definition of “pushy.”
Assert yourself from a place of service. If you are truly coming from a place of service, you won’t be perceived as pushy. How will this person be served by your persistence?
Be aware of any control issues. Sometimes “pushy” can emerge from a need to control. If you feel this in yourself, take a breath and center yourself before speaking or acting.
Don’t take it personally. It’s not your business what others think of you. People may consider you pushy when they are unable to set boundaries and say no. Do you feel in complete integrity?
Trust yourself to go for what you really want as you also respect the boundaries of others. Those who confidently go after what they desire, succeed in doing, having and being what they want.
One of the best resources I’ve found for helping clients find their assertive voice is The Assertiveness Workbook by Randy J Paterson, Ph.D. This workbook helps individuals understand the difference between assertive and aggressive and uses effective exercises to help find your assertive voice.