The Difference Between Passive, Aggressive and Assertive Behavior

Do you know the difference between passive, aggressive, and assertive behavior?

Many of the questions and comments I receive from women are around understanding the difference between passive, aggressive, and assertive behavior. Often when women try to be assertive, they can be accused of being aggressive, when the same behavior in a man would be looked upon as strong and decisive. It’s also possible that we keep our feelings bottled up inside (passive) for too long and then when we express them, we accidentally end up being aggressive!

Read on to understand the difference between passive, aggressive and assertive behaviors.


Someone who is passive tends to avoid conflict and will agree with others despite how he or she feels. They may isolate themselves from groups and, when in a group, may appear withdrawn. They may avoid eye contact and speak softly without much inflection. They are often afraid to speak up and will overuse apologies, even for things that are not their fault.

There may be many reasons for this behavior. It could be that they are angry and afraid to express it, or maybe they are simply having a difficult day!


A person who is behaving aggressively may dominate a group, or use humiliation or attacks to gain control. They often criticize others and can be intimidating with both body language and voice. They may speak loudly, interrupting or talking over others. They may insult other’s opinions and glare rather than making appropriate eye contact. Aggressive behavior often also includes blaming others for mistakes.


A person who is behaving assertively will be both respectful and clear when disagreeing with others. They are honest, fair, and direct and will match their body language to the expression of their message. Assertive people make good eye contact and allow open participation in groups. Instead of talking over, assertive people will use a conversational tone while still expressing their opinion. While they are good at setting boundaries, people exhibiting assertiveness will also respect those around them.

Get your Passive vs Aggressive vs Assertive Chart

To help you understand the difference between these three behaviors I’ve created a free chart to print and hang in your office or to carry with you for the next time you’re accused, or confused. Download your chart here!

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