Last week I met a woman who might have thought that she was being assertive, but to me, it was bordering on aggressive. This is not uncommon. I have worked with people like this, dealt with people like this, and at times, been this person. What is sad about this situation is that we see it more often than not in women, and more noticeable with those who have either had corporate careers or are in high powered jobs.
Do we truly believe that by being aggressive we get what we want?
Do we think that this trait gets us ahead in life?
Is it because in a world of standards and expectations there is no space for human error?
Is it because we believe that gentleness is in fact a weakness that won’t get us what we want?
Is it because we truly believe that to get what we want we have to take it, sometimes by force?
Or is it that at the core of it, there is this animalistic thing inside us that feels bigger than the other person when we exert our power in such a way?
It’s true we live in a fast world where we want our questions answered right there and then. In my professional life I have been expected to have the names of 200 delegates in my head when they ask for it. I have met anger and impatience when I have had to stop and think before answering them. I have been asked to write five pieces of copy by the end of the day, dropping everything else. Often times these requests were made in a way that was more like a demand with an implied ‘or else’.
I admit that I was more aggressive when I was younger. I too thought that I was being assertive. First it got tiring. And then I realised that it wasn’t worth it. I realised that when I was that way to the person who does my manicures and pedicures, or the waitress, or my hairdresser, or the guy at Myers, I was only doing it to drive home the fact that they were there to serve me, that that in fact made me the person who was higher in the food chain of life and that I didn’t have all day to wait for them to be human and shit. I realised that what I was doing was in fact, a form of bullying. Sure there was no physical violence but I was exerting my power over someone else in an unkind way, and who knows what that person would have been through before I came in?
It is not always easy to change patterns but I’m trying to put the mirror up to myself. I suppose I’m a lot more laid back now. My aggression only comes up as a defence mechanism, more so towards men (if I’m attracted, it’s to keep them out, but other times it’s a lack of trust). However, on the rare day when I’m emotionally wrecked and facing aggression from someone, I do retreat into myself (which is something I have to work on, I know).
At the end of the day, it is about putting the mirror up and asking the questions:
Are you really just assertive, or are you being aggressive?
Is being gentle really a weakness?
Do you use aggression to exert your power as a director/manager/client?
Does this behaviour get you that promotion/discount/hot dog, and faster than being nice would?
How quick are you to ensure that people get into trouble if your needs are not met?
Are you, in fact, a bully?