There are many ways to communicate with other people. It’s important to teach your students the three main ways that people use to communicate: aggression, deference and assertion. While assertive people can communicate or send messages openly and clearly, people with aggressive or deferring communication styles cannot. Aggression (anger) and deference (fear) are negative communication styles, in that they work against us.

We have two basic natural ways of acting when faced with stressful situations: Fight or flight. Flight or passivity is when we run away from difficult situations, whereas fight or aggression is when we take on the situation with anger and force. These basic ways of behaving have developed over thousands of years. They are not helpful in most modern school, work and life settings. Assertion is a new, better way of acting. Rather than fighting or taking flight, assertive people discuss openly and calmly what they want. Assertion is the best way to act in difficult, stressful situations.

Let’s take a closer look at the three communications styles to teach your students:


At first, people with aggressive communication styles may come off as strong, intimidating or powerful. They charge around like a bull in a china shop, not caring about who or what is in their way. However, aggression is often a sign of weakness. Fear that this weakness will be discovered causes people to use aggression to cover it up. They might get in your face, talk loudly, use wild gestures and stand over you. While it appears as if they are dominating the situation, realistically they are out of control and afraid of being discovered for whom they really are.

Aggressive people express feelings in a way that punishes or threatens others. Aggressive people like to have things their way, however, they don’t always get what they want just because they demand it. Think about it. Do you feel a strong desire to help someone who is demanding, or even a bully, towards you? Probably not. We generally want to help people we like, and it’s hard to like someone who yells at us or makes us feel badly.


The line between someone who is polite and someone with a deferring communication style is thin. The difference is that deferring people are too passive. This means they do not stand up for themselves. Instead, they allow others to walk all over them, push them around and take advantage of them.

Deferring people have low self-esteem, meaning they have poor feelings about themselves. They feel unimportant and that no one really cares about their feelings and needs. They do not want to confront anyone for fear of failure, so instead, they just hope they will get what they want. Of course, without expressing what they want, deferring people rarely get what they want, as it is difficult for others to guess what it is they want.


Assertion is the happy medium between aggression and deference. Someone who communicates assertively is polite but firm, expressive but calm, direct and honest. The ability to express yourself will go a long way to help you get what you want. Instead of just letting things happen or forcing things to happen, you will make things happen in a way that is agreeable to everyone.

It’s important to teach your students the three communication styles and let them know that they are in control of the one that they choose. When we do not express ourselves clearly, we usually end up getting angry at ourselves. We tend to store negative or bad feelings until we feel like we’re going to burst. This anger often leads to aggressive behavior. By learning the middle ground—assertion—we can make the most of stressful situations.

Thanks for tuning into our series on teaching interpersonal assertion to your students. If you want to learn more about developing or teaching soft skills, sign up for a free soft skills webinar here.