The Triton


Don’t fear being assertive just don’t be aggressive


I recently have had discussions about how bridge crew can respectfully point out when a captain or chiefofficer may have made a mistake in their actions. Bold, I know, but it made me realize there is a general misunderstanding about assertiveness.

Assertiveness is often confused with speaking up or speaking out, but really it’s about clearly expressing your wants and feelings in a respectful and mature way. It is a way of behaving and is nothing more than being direct, honest and respectful when interacting with others.

Being assertive is one of four ways people might behave in response to a problem:

1. Aggressive, often seen as demanding, coercing and controlling.

2. Passive, often seen as dependent

3. Passive Aggressive, often seen as manipulative

4. Assertive, often seen as direct

Let’s look at each behavior in more detail:

Aggressive behavior is often based on the belief that your opinions are more important than other people’s. It’s characterized by blaming other people, showing contempt, being hostile, attacking or patronizing.

Being aggressive can sometimes be confused with being assertive because the speaker relays their viewpoint to others in a direct way, but aggressive behavior often includes an inherent threat of some kind.

The cost of being aggressive is obvious: conflict and a loss of respect and friendship. Therefore, the result of this behavior is quite often the opposite of the intended result. It creates a win-lose situation where the aggressor tries to win at the expense of the other person or people.

Nonetheless, people still behave aggressively, perhaps because doing so has worked in the past.

Passive behaviour is based on the belief that your own needs and wants will be seen by others to be less important than their own. Typical examples of this behavior are conflict avoidance, needing to be gratuitously considerate of others, being overly polite, maintaining others’ approval and avoiding aggression at all costs.

Passive behavior may appear harmless but inherently denies your rights and the opportunity for a win-win situation. The root cause of passiveness is a lack of desire to take responsibility, and it actually encourages others to behave aggressively.

Passive behavior results in a lose-win situation where the passive person loses at the expense of other people winning.

Passive-Aggressive behavior involves indirect resistance. Passive aggressive people avoid confrontation, but still want to get their way. Rather than saying clearly how they feel about a subject, they might pout to make their attitude known but avoid putting words to the feeling.

Passive-aggressive people will verbally agree to do something, but their actions will be the opposite of what they agree to do.

As with both aggressive and passive behavior, passive aggressive choices may feel successful in the short term, but they generally damage your reputation. Passive aggressiveness may work quite nicely for children, but has no place in professional adult communication.

Assertive behavior is simply communicating what you want in a clear way. It respects your rights and feelings as well as the rights and feelings of others. Assertiveness is an honest and appropriate expression of your feelings, opinions and needs. It aims to achieve a win-win situation for everyone.

There are no rules about how to be assertive, but here are some good examples of how you can improve your language to improve your assertiveness:

* Use “I” statements, such as “I think,” “I prefer,” “I feel.” These statements deliver a clean, clear statement of your side of things.

* Offer suggestions rather than instructions so that the other person can make up their own mind. For example: “Would it be practical to…?”  “What do you feel about doing it this way?”

* Ask questions to find out the thoughts, opinions and wishes of others. For example: “I have some ideas for how to go about this, but I want to hear yours as well. What do you think?”

* Open a discussion to find solutions, with questions such as: “How can we resolve this?” “Why don’t we give everyone a chance to offer an idea?”

* Speak confidently without filler words and hesitant phrases such as “um,” “you know,” and “well.”

* Use a steady tone of voice, speaking clearly and slower than you think. You might be nervous or anxious, but don’t let it show in your voice.

* Keep a relaxed, upright posture.

All of us have exhibited a combination of these behaviors at one time or another. To be more effective, use assertive behavior to create a win-win situation for everyone.


Paul Ferdais is founder and owner of The Marine Leadership Group based in Ft. Lauderdale and Vancouver delivering leadership training workshops and coaching ( He has a master’s degree in leadership and spent seven years working as a deckhand, mate and first officer on yachts. Comments are welcome at

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