Assertiveness: A More Effective Way To Resolve Aggression

Today I would like to discuss a concept which is a significant cause of conflict in personal and work life: the quality of being socially dominant and its counterpart, passive aggressiveness. From my own observation, these two yin-yang approaches result in two camps of thoughts which are constantly at war with each other.

The benefits of being assertive

Assertiveness has been a well-known concept that contributes to good communication skills. Being assertive means to be able to speak up and project your point of view so as to protect your self-interest and create win-win situations through clear communication. It is a more healthy way of channeling aggression than said, bottling up inside just to explode later.

Potential benefits of being assertive:

  • Protect your personal benefits 
  • Communicate and find win-win situation in teamwork
  • Make individuals more stress-resistant and hence, improve productivity
  • Speak up and protect your boundary, thus improve mental healths
  • Be happier in general and reap associated health benefits
  • Feel more confident and competent, and therefore improve self-esteem

The definition of assertiveness: a skill or mindset?

The definition of assertiveness can range from a very positive meaning to domineering or openly aggressive. 16personalities.com, a very popular psychometric site, defines assertive individuals as “self-assured, even-tempered, and resistant to stress”.

So the keywords here are low on stress and aggression, or simply, low on neuroticism on the Big Five scale. For the discussion of this article, we will stick closely to the definition of Assertiveness as “the quality of being self-assured and confident without being aggressive“.

The implication is that loud and aggressive people can still be considered as not assertive if the underlying motivation is frequent excessive stress and aggression. Assertiveness in this sense closely resembles the laid-back type B in the popular Type A/ B personality model.

A loud and domineering person might not be considered assertive due to underlying aggression

How is assertiveness a mindset? I have observed two distinct patterns among people. On one hand, assertive individuals find it easier to set boundary. Their typical emotional reactions are either neutral or anger towards things or other people. It’s not that they cannot take blame or feel guilt, but they just do not dwell on it and instead quickly fix the issues either through correcting their own or other’s behaviors.

On the other hand are apparently meeker individuals who shy away from displaying outward anger or judgement and tend to internalize feelings of shame or guilt. That doesn’t mean they do not have aggression. These individuals may appear easy-going on the surface, but can harbor  victim mentality and passive-aggressive behaviors.

Yin and Yang: Is assertiveness all good and passive-aggressiveness bad?

Like most of other mindsets, being openly or passive-aggressive tends to be reinforced and biased by our egos. Passive-aggressive people tend to have a martyr complex, thinking that other people are immoral or ignorant, but keep such thoughts to themselves. They view assertive people as insensitive, domineering and even shallow.

Openly aggressive people on the other hand, view the majority as too inefficient, soft, overthinking or even lazy. While passive people often furnish their thought system with idealism, morality and sensitivity, assertive people reinforce their egos with the ideas of logic, efficiency, survival and bottom lines.

Such self-reinforcement results in a continuous battle between the overly assertive and the passive, like yin and yang, in our social interactions. The effect of a domineering personality is easy to see but passive aggression can be equally nasty. Especially when having a superior position, passive aggressive people can intentionally or unintentionally channel their aggression through guilt tripping, sarcasm or petty politics to cause pain to others.

Victim mentality is often a behavior associated with passive-aggressiveness

From an objective standpoint, both of these perspectives are valid. When something goes wrong, you can look outside and find faults in the system or others. You can also look into yourselves and find reasons for shame or guilt, or to do better next time. The key is balance so that you don’t over-blame yourself at the expense of leadership or don’t blame yourself enough to learn and improve.

How does assertiveness correlate with personality types?


Overall, introverted feeling types such as ISFP, INFP, ISFJ and INFJ tend to be the least assertive while extraverted thinkers such as  ESTJ and ENTJ are often assertive to the point of being brash. Genders also play a role where females would likely downplay their assertiveness which is traditionally considered a masculine quality.

How to practice assertiveness

Introvert and sensitive individuals often have the most to gain by practicing assertiveness
  • Avoid the martyr complex: people can’t read your mind even if they try to. We often have very skewed and over-simplistic views of other people’s minds so we shouldn’t expect others to understand us with the same depth and details as we understand ourselves. Communication is key!
  • Read books to improve soft skills and communication. There are many well-known books out there such as the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, How to Win Friends and Influence People… Having the foundation on communications and people’s skills will allow you to transition from being closed up to assertive without coming off as brash or confrontational.
  • Read books on psychology to understand different personality types: learning about MBTI, Enneagram, Big Five can all help us to recognize the distinct personalities and their corresponding point of views, which are all valid.
  • Understand and tame your aggression: Ultimately, it’s a matter of channeling our aggression effectively or best of all, not having one in the first place. Meditation, talking to our support network, contemplating to see a wider perspective and challenging our own biases would help to alleviate our inner tension.

The 4 Types Of INFP

The INFP MBTI type is stereotyped as misunderstood, meek and emotional introvert who is obsessed with morality  while having a natural gift for written languages. However, in truth, INFP is a very diverse range of people with varied strengths and interests. Let’s explore 4 main subtypes of INFP which you can better identify yourself with:

The “Marketer”

INFP type often correlates with Enneagram type 4 – the Individualist. Type 4 Enneagram shares many characteristics with the poster child INFP: individualistic, creative, emotional with desire to be unique. Enneagram type 4 can develop wing 3 or wing 5. Enneagram Type 3 is nicknamed the Performer, or someone who is achievement and status-oriented. Meanwhile, type 5 is labeled the Investigator, or someone who is logical and always want to understand things deeper.

Depiction of INFP Marketer in Team

The Marketer is INFP with Enneagram 4 Wing 3. It combines type 4’s knack for creative expression and a somewhat conventional career-focused mindset. They are career-driven and often have lofty goals, taking pride in conveying with passion the values of the brands and products which they believe in.

The Marketer type often has a better time to blend into teamwork and corporate environment compared to INFP 4 Wing 5. They enjoy using their creative ability to produce marketing materials that can touch the audience while enjoy career stability and progression.

The “Bohemian”

Bohemian is defined as a socially unconventional person, often in the arts. This is a pretty apt term to describe Enneagram 4 with wing 5 (4w5) because the 5 wing adds an additional layer of introversion and bizarreness into their perspectives. Enneagram 4 and 5 are both introverted in attitude, resulting in a really introspective and original character.

Unlike 4w3 who is often more comfortable with teamwork and corporate settings, 4w5 Bohemian is truly a lone wolf. The emotionality of type 4 combined with the rationality of 5 itself seems like an oxymoron. Imagine an INFP who has learnt to temper his feelings with logic and objectivity. This type wants their work to be not only unique but also original and insightful. They will more likely do a mundane day job while using their creative talent to produce few but high-quality work compared to the Marketer INFP.

Vincent Van Gogh Enneagram 4w5
Van Gogh is most likely a 4w5 (not necessarily INFP)

Read more: https://enneagrampaths.com/2019/01/13/enneagram-4w3-vs-4w5/

The Turbulent INFP

I use the terminology Turbulent and Assertive from 16personalities.com to describe another pronounced dichotomy among INFP. In fact, the majority of INFP seems to be Turbulent, which is expected among feeling-dominant types. Turbulent is equivalent to Neurotic in Big 5, describing someone who is more prone to worrying, perfectionism and seeking social approval.

The turbulent INFP fits more with the usual expectation of INFP type who is prone to overthinking and perfectionism, the chief cause of their notorious procrastination. Turbulent INFPs are pretty socially-conscious despite being an introvert. They would often worry about meeting conventional social expectations such as career, income, status…

Yet, turbulent individuals are said to be more creative. Having both creativity and perfectionism, they are very capable of producing art masterpieces.

The Assertive INFP

I’m not sure if Assertive INFP are born or grown because neuroticism can change. Many INFPs including myself appeared more turbulent when younger and through repeated self-conditioning, are able to attain better inner-peace to become more assertive.

Regardless, assertive individuals are more self-assured and confident in their abilities, at the risk of being complacent and arrogant. While turbulent INFP are perfectionistic in their work and relentless in self-improvement, assertive ones seem contented and nonchalant. 

At their best, assertive INFP are calm and comfortable in asserting themselves. According to surveys by 16personalities.com, they are more resistant to stress and seem more happy with life. They can also possess more perseverance to pursue their visions as they are less dependent on other people’s approval or conventional expectations.

Conclusion

I understand that if you are an INFP type, you may not like to be pigeon-holed into labels or being categorized as more typical or mainstream. However, the writing above is in no way exhaustive and also limited by my own repertoire of personality psychology. I would say, at the risk of sounding cliche, we are all unique… 

There can be many other personality dimensions yet to be discovered. The personality labels, whether being mainstream or not, only serve to help us better understand our strengths and weaknesses through well-known concepts. You are always encouraged to explore other unique aspects of your individuality so as to grow to the fullest of your potential.

Overall, there are pros and cons for being in each of the INFP subtypes listed above. One type can always learn from the opposite type to become a more balanced and mature individual.