building blocks spelling out assertive vs aggressive

Aggressive or Assertive? Let the Body Decide

The Body = Data

OK, this one gets a little “woo woo”. But guess what. For as much I like logic and for things to make sense, communication is about human interaction, and that can be less logical.

So, for anyone out there who likes data, numbers or to live in your brain (as I heard form a workshop participant last week), this post is for you.

How you come across during face-to-face interactions – on video or in person – matters.

So, when Sue was told she comes across as aggressive when presenting to the board, it was recommended that she reach out to me for support. So we worked together on her presence.

Presence is something we feel but have hard time explaining. So, let me do my best.

Presence is how you show up and come across to others. It’s your ability to capture attention, connect and engage whether you’re talking to 1 person or a group of people, on video or in Zoom. 

It’s mind, body, soul, voice and heart.

Presence is how we make people feel

OK, back to Sue.

“How do you want to come across?” I asked her.

“I’m trying to be assertive,” Sue told me.

There is most certainly a difference between assertive and defensive. One is tense and one is grounded and strong.

So I said, “This may sound woo woo, but the next time you present, notice what’s happening in your body.”

Tension or Relaxation?

Wondering the difference between tension and grounding? Consider the following, some of which I shared with Sue:

  • Are your feet grounded or is there swaying in your body?
  • Is your stomach soft or pulled in tight?
  • How deeply are you breathing? (Or are you holding your breath?)
  • What are your shoulders doing? Are they up by your ears or relaxed?
  • How about your arms? Are the crossed or gently by your side?
  • And your face? Are your brows furrowed? Is there tension in the jaw or softness?

I continued to explain that she’d know she’s being assertive (vs aggressive) if her feet were grounded, her breathing is steady and her face relaxed. But if she noticed tightness and tension (think racing heart, clenched jaw, etc) then perhaps she’s coming across as more aggressive or defensive.

Sue looked at me through the Zoom screen and said a little hesitantly, “OK, I’ll try that.”

During our next meeting, Sue shared her a-ha’s. Noticing her body worked, she could feel the difference and was able to adjust her reaction to a more assertive vs aggressive response.

You Are in Control

Here’s the thing. It’s easy for others to make judgments about what they see and experience.

The good news? You get to control the narrative. Whether you’re talking to a client, a group or even in your personal life, what story does your presence tell? And is it TRUE to who you are (vs. what other people expect? Expectation weigh a ton.)

The Bottom Line: The Body IS Data

We live in a data driven world where numbers matter. As a result, we lead with our head instead of our heart.

While numbers DO matter, they aren’t what connect us. The heart connects us and the heart lives in the body.

So what the heck does all of this mean? In Sue’s case that meant getting out of her head about being an expert and getting into her body.

The next time anxiety, pressure or unexpected feedback weigh you down, #shedtheformality and check in with how your body feels. Those sensations will tell a story you can’t get from data, numbers or your brain.

Your Turn to Talk to Me

Do you love thinking, data or living in your brain?

How would you describe your presence?

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About the blog

Humor, stories, and insights, delivered 2x per month, to perform without the pressure.

Topics include mental health, work, human connection, creativity and more.


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