As cuts continue to be made in both the public and private sector, customer-facing staff will come under increasing pressure to deliver services in times of heightened emotions.

In order to avoid confrontation, and to better manage relationships (business or personal), below are some insights into when or not to be assertive, aggressive or submissive.

Assertiveness derives from behaviour that is based on a point of view that your needs are as important as those of others. The converse belief is that your wants are either less (submissive) or more (aggressive) important than those of other people.  Believing that your needs are less important often leads to individuals being more passive, whereas believing needs are more important generally leads to individuals becoming more aggressive.


This is all about trying not to invade an individual’s “personal space” and not abusing themat either a physical or emotional level.  However, assertiveness generally portrays both an open and honest point of view while at the same time such behavior can help to demonstrate that you empathise with the other person’s point of view. The other person should be given anopportunity to express their point of view and what outcomes they would like.  By being upfront and open, discussion will be more productive and agreements more readily reached.


Failing to stand your corner or communicate clearly can result in people disregarding you. This behaviour physically manifests itself when thoughts, feelings and beliefs are expressed in an apologetic, cautious or submissivemanner. Silence often manifests itself.


Aggressive behaviour is founded on the self-belief that an individual’s perspective is more important than someone else.  A person exhibiting aggressive behaviour often attacks others with an accusatory or patronising tone of voice, often displaying contempt or hostility.

It also manifests itself when thoughts and beliefs are communicated in inappropriate ways, even though such views are correct.


In the workplace, particularly in a customer-facing environment, a fine balance has to be achieved. While it’s important to be assertive, you must avoid coming across as either passive or aggressive.

Passive behaviour often ends with a customer service operative being bullied and potentially promising something which cannot be delivered just to get the customer off their back.

Aggressive behaviour will often lead to customers feeling as if they have been bullied and this will have an adverse effect on customer goodwill and loyalty.

Ensure that you’re focusedon your preferred outcome, but always keep empathising with the other person’s needs and desires.  This is most definitely a skill that needs to be acquiredand develops with experience.  Once mastered, your people interactions will become more fulfilling and outcomes more successful.