Special Interest Group: Women in Information Management (WIIM)

  • 1.  Assertive vs. Aggressive

    Posted 08-03-2020 16:25

    I saw a social media post in which a woman gave some advice to another woman about being assertive, an ongoing challenge that many of us have. Although she encouraged the woman to be confident, she also suggested that the woman should end her conversations with things like "sorry for bringing this up" to avoid being perceived as aggressive and minimize the chance that colleagues will view her as a threat.  What are your thoughts?   How have you balanced the need to be assertive against the perception of being aggressive?

    Jessica Marlette, CIP
    Information Governance Counsel
    White & Case LLP

  • 2.  RE: Assertive vs. Aggressive

    Posted 08-04-2020 08:11
    ​I struggle with being assertive without coming across as being overly emotional.  I understand the woman's suggestion to close with "sorry for bringing this up" and can see myself instinctively doing something like that....but I don't agree that it is the right thing to do.  We shouldn't have to be sorry for stating our views!

    I recently took art in a webinar that described 'aggressive' as with emotion and 'assertive' as without emotion.  This distinction between the two terms really resonated with me. I am staring to practice asserting myself by remaining calm and stating my views, my needs, my plan or whatever without being sorry about it.

    Cynthia Boulia
    ES Records Manager
    BAE Systems

  • 3.  RE: Assertive vs. Aggressive

    Posted 08-04-2020 11:33
    I wouldn't say "sorry for bringing this up." First of all, hopefully that's a lie. Secondly, whether you want to talk about it or not, it's probably your job to do so, so don't apologize.

    If you are worried about how your communication is being received, acknowledge the human in the other person, and what you know about their role and realities. So for instance, when I had a meeting with a group of admin assistants wanting to create a cloud-based handbook, I had to explain why their initial proposal wouldn't be the best use of our system and how to build it out more effectively. This is a group that is used to being talked down to but are actually pretty vital to the running of our company, so I acknowledged that they are busy professionals critical to our company and said I wanted to build them something that would be more efficient and designed around their particular needs because their job is hard enough as it is. Another example might be when you are talking to someone who is (perhaps chronically) swamped and not inclined to make changes because someone in records (of all places!) says the system they are building doesn't meet requirements, say something like "I know this isn't what you wanted to hear" and offer to make it easier for them to comply in some way, by giving them the sections from the relevant policy document or ISO number, offering to take on some smaller task to get it off their plate and push your request forward, send them a short summary or notes on steps that need to be taken, etc. Or just ask what you can do to help make what needs to happen happen. Then offer to be available for quick questions and check ins. Instead of being less assertive, show that you are assertive but also empathetic, a team player. This is what I have seen my favourite People in Charge do; they don't back down or apologize for doing their job, but they offer to make it easier for you to do what they need you to do.

  • 4.  RE: Assertive vs. Aggressive

    Posted 08-11-2020 18:09
    I try to keep the words "Sorry" and "Just" out of my business discussions.   There are many ways to diffuse the perception of an aggressive or assertive stance.  But apologizing or diminishing your position isn't the approach to take , in my view.  You could just as easily end a potentially difficult conversation with "I felt that it was important to bring this to your attention because....."  and usually the ending should have a benefit to the organization or person who is listening.  If you can align assertiveness with benefits - then you tie positivity to what had been perceived only as aggressiveness.  :)   Knock them over with kindness and sweetness - no one ever knows how to combat that combination tied into the assertiveness and posivitivy..... quite a powerful outcome.  :)

    Ann Gorr
    Co-Chair WIIM Leadership Council / AIIM
    Legal Technology Consultant/IG Strategist/IGP
    Ann Gorr, LLC

  • 5.  RE: Assertive vs. Aggressive

    Ask Me Anything Expert
    Posted 09-10-2020 10:22
    We do not need to apologize for bringing up matters that require attention nor do we have to coat them with sugar as we speak.  We are professionals and as such we can speak directly and intelligently to an issue.  If we apologize and slather our words with sugar, then we further enforce gender stereotypes and reinforce the assertive versus aggressive notion.  I have found being direct and equitable provides for efficiency in speech and reduces misunderstandings in the intent of the message.

    Lorelei Chernyshov, CIP, IGP
    Merrick Bank
    Assistant Vice President, Information Governance

  • 6.  RE: Assertive vs. Aggressive

    Posted 09-11-2020 05:31

    I agree with Lorelei.  You don't need to sugar coat it.  However, I will often say "do you really want to know".  People that know me including my bosses over the years understand if you ask I will tell you and I will not hold back or sugar coat things.  When I address a situation, if it is sensitive, I will try to (as I am sure we all do) select my words carefully.


    Mary Margaret Allegro,

    Executive Administrator - IT Department

    American Society of Civil Engineers

    1801 Alexander Bell Drive

    Reston, VA  20191



  • 7.  RE: Assertive vs. Aggressive

    Posted 09-12-2020 10:52
    I agree. I don't apologize for bringing something up that needs to be taken care of. I do it with the motto of being kind, gracious and loving. You can be firm and kind, gracious and loving in how the subject is handled. I find if I keep that in mind when speaking regarding a sensitive matter or for anything that needs attention I get better response.


    Meg Duncan, CRM, CIP

  • 8.  RE: Assertive vs. Aggressive

    Posted 09-14-2020 03:56
    Apologizing ('Sorry for bringing this up') implies that the person is wrong to say something. If you feel it's the right thing to do then there is no need to apologize. However, I believe it's fine to acknowledge that a discussion may have been uncomfortable for both parties and to empathize with the other person. People generally appreciate other people being straightforward and honest. So I would find it OK to say something like, "I know this hasn't been an easy discussion but I've found it really helpful to talk about these issues. How about you?" I don't think it's a sign of weakness or lack of assertiveness to check that the other person is feeling OK and that there are no unresolved issues.

    Lynda Kershaw
    Marketing Manager
    Macro 4