Aggressive Communication: How to Deal With Relationship Aggression

Angry woman yelling into phone

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An aggressive communication style is characterized by high emotion, low empathy, and a focus on "winning" the argument at any cost. It's a style of communication that is favored by narcissists and bullies, but it can show up in conversations anywhere. You might hear aggressive communication from parents, friends, co-workers, romantic partners—or you might even use it yourself.

When a person uses aggressive communication, the rights of others are not even allowed to surface. When this happens, others feel victimized and relationships suffer. In that way, relationship aggression is bad for the aggressors as well as the recipients of the aggression.

Aggressiveness is a mode of communication and behavior where one expresses their feelings, needs, and rights without regard or respect for the needs, rights, and feelings of others.

Examples of an aggressive communication style include saying things like:

  • "This is all your fault."
  • "It's my way or the highway."
  • "Do what I say."
  • "I don't care what you have to say."
  • "You never do anything right."
  • "I don't agree with you so I don't have to listen to your opinion."
  • "Everyone has to agree with me."
  • "I'm right and you're wrong."
  • "You owe me."
  • "I'm entitled to this."
  • "I'll get my way no matter what."

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Negative Impact

The toll that relationship conflict takes in terms of stress can affect us in many ways. It can affect our stress levels, health, and happiness. Aggression and conflict can also damage relationships in a wide variety of ways. Aggressive communication can lead to:

  • Aggressive responses from others
  • Barriers to communication
  • Distrust
  • Fear of sharing
  • Feelings of disrespect
  • Greater stress
  • Lack of connection
  • More conflict
  • Negative interactions
  • Poor goal achievement
  • Secrecy

Assertive Communication

A powerful tool to use in the face of aggressive communication is assertiveness. Assertiveness is sometimes mistaken for forceful communication, but it is important to distinguish between assertiveness and aggressiveness.

Assertiveness involves expressing one's own needs and rights while respecting the needs and rights of others and maintaining the dignity of both parties.

Assertiveness results in healthier relationships and increased life satisfaction. While communication styles aren't the only way that aggressiveness can surface in relationships, those who endeavor to change their aggressive communication patterns to assertive ones tend to be open to other improvements as well.

Aggressive Communication
  • Tries to dominate others

  • Relies on criticism and blame

  • Low tolerance for frustration

  • Loud, overbearing, demanding

  • Frequent interruptions

Assertive Communication
  • Tries to form connection with others

  • Relies on respect and clarity

  • Good self-control

  • Calm, clear, relaxed

  • Listens without interruption

Your Communication Style

If you want to work on your communication, it is helpful first to understand how you tend to communicate with others. What do you know about your habitual communication style? Are you prone to aggressiveness, assertiveness, or passivity? Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • Am I upset if others don't agree with me?
  • Do I check in with people to see if they're comfortable, or do I force my own agenda?
  • Do I know how to disagree without being disagreeable?
  • Do I know how to get my needs met without violating the needs of others?
  • Do I know how to stand up for myself?
  • Do I put people down?
  • Do I seek out other people's opinions, or just share my own?
  • Do I talk over people or interrupt frequently?

The above questions can help you get started thinking of whether you are comfortable standing up for yourself, too comfortable walking all over others, or have perhaps found a comfortable middle ground. Research suggests that learning about your style and finding ways to replace aggressive responses with more assertive ones can improve your communication style.

How to Be More Assertive

Some things you can do to be more assertive in your communication:

  • Ask for what you need rather than expecting others to guess.
  • Calmly express your feelings.
  • Explain your feelings and needs.
  • Let other people know that you recognize their needs.
  • Listen well to what other people have to say.
  • Listening to and respecting others' needs.
  • Look for win-win solutions rather than win-lose ones.
  • Try to understand others' needs
  • Voice your needs

Assertiveness may feel aggressive at first to those who are used to a passive style of communication. Conversely, it can feel passive to those who are accustomed to an aggressive style of communication.

If you weren't raised in a family where assertiveness and respect for others was the norm, it can feel particularly difficult. It may require some practice to find the balance between steamrolling over other's needs and allowing them to trample yours, but it's well worth the effort. Once you find that balance, it's easy to continue being assertive in all of your interactions, which can prevent conflict and resentment in the future.

A Word From Verywell

Aggressive communication can damage your relationships in all areas of your life, including school, family, and work. Even if this is your dominant way of communicating, there are things that you can do to replace aggressive behaviors with more productive and assertive ones.

If you're not sure what your communication style is, you might want to consider whether you might be guilty of some common conflict resolution mistakes such as criticizing and shutting others down. You can also learn more about healthy communication techniques you can use with the many people in your life, including listening carefully and trying to see things from other people's perspectives.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Niess J, Diefenbach S. Communication styles of interactive tools for self-improvementPsych Well-Being. 2016;6:3. doi:10.1186/s13612-016-0040-8

  2. Maloney ME, Moore P. From aggressive to assertiveInt J Womens Dermatol. 2019;6(1):46-49. doi:10.1016/j.ijwd.2019.09.006

By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.