In all interactions with others there are four ways of behaving people choose from:

Aggressive......Passive.....Passive-Aggressive..... Assertive

You choose a way of behaving every time you act (although the choice is often unconscious) and your choice is likely to change depending on the situation and the people involved. Rarely, if ever, does anybody choose one type of behaviour all the time, although people will tend to a preferred approach.

Recognising the different behaviours is an important first step in reacting appropriately to them.


This is where one person claims their right to be heard and have their needs met, but is unwilling to exercise their responsibilities to hear and listen to the other person or meet their needs — i.e. where one person considers their rights to be more important than the other’s. This can be exhibited in one of two ways:

1. By overbearing the other person

Interrupting, shouting, dominating, finger wagging, walking or turning away when you are speaking are all examples of "overbearing" communication. It leaves the other person feeling intimidated. Examples of overbearing comments are:

"What would you know about it?" "Don’t give me that bullshit!"
"Are you ever going to finish that?" "I don’t have time to listen to this"

2. By manipulating the other person

Lecturing, nagging, offering unsolicited advice, praising to manipulate, are all manipulating communication methods. This communication style is less openly aggressive than the overbearing approach but conveys the same basic message — "I am more important than you, I know better". The other person feels belittled. Some manipulating comments are:

“If I were you, I would” “I’m sure you can find time to”
“You’re so good at this... I know you won’t mind”


This is where one person does not claim their right to be heard, or have their needs met, and acts as if the needs of the other person is more important than their own. When people are acting passively they demonstrate a lack of participation and interaction with others. They tend to give way to others in conversation and often avoid refusing requests, are either apologetic about stating what they need or how they feel, or avoid mentioning the subject at all. They may say things like:

“I’m really sorry to bother you” “No, no, that’s fine” “Whatever you say”


This is where one person does not push to have their needs met but also ignores the needs of the other person. It is less easily spotted than the other two non-assertive behaviour types. It may look like passive behaviour, in that the person does not seem to state their needs. But, instead of doing what they agreed to, the person will simply ignore it. They "get their own back" by failing to deliver. Characteristic comments for this type of communication include:

“Was that today?” “I forgot, sorry”
“I meant to get round to it, but I’ve been so busy”


Assertive behaviour is shown when you accept both your rights and responsibilities to make the relationship work. Assertive people tend to tell others what they need and why, but are prepared to discuss how they can meet those needs without ignoring the needs of the other person. Typical assertive comments might be:

"I can't help you move your stuff this morning, but I can come round at 12 if that would help"
"I don't like Mary to have calls after 10pm, but I'll have her call you in the morning"