Why the Difference
Between Assertiveness and
Rudeness Matters

Woman Receiving Rude Message

These days fears tend to run high, and emotions are unpredictable.  Due to the uncertain times of COVID-19 people are edgy as they are adjusting to realities that include isolation and hardship.

I’m guessing that no one sets out to be rude, but the feeling of release when you are “blowing someone off” or criticizing can mask itself as the feeling of telling the truth and getting it off your chest.  In other words, we can be fooled into rudeness by thinking we are asserting ourselves. 

Your language and tone are primary indicators of whether you are being assertive or rude.  


Recognizing Rudeness

If a message you send or action you take is experienced viscerally and personally, you are perceived as rude. 

Descriptors of rudeness:

  • Lack of interest or care about another’s situation.
  • Lack of respect for another.
  • Demanding, blaming, accusing.
  • Presenting inappropriate information to or about someone else.

Rudeness can be retaliatory.  If someone says to you, “That’s rude!” you might lash back, “No, you’re the one who’s rude!”  It’s a label no one wants, yet sometimes we are quick to give it.

Recognizing Assertiveness

If a message you speak or action you take is experienced by another person as strong, clear, direct, and as a statement of what you need, want, or stand for, you are perceived as assertive.  Assertiveness is taught and encouraged as desirable. 

Descriptors of assertiveness:

  • Expressing clearly and directly your needs, wants, or message of importance.
  • A sense or posture of standing tall assuredly.
  • Impetus is to contribute and promote understanding.

An assertive person is sensitive to the fact that others have thoughts and feelings that might be just the opposite of her own.  These possibilities are taken into account during interactions, respectfully. 


Perceptions of Aggressiveness and Rudeness

The on-the-ground problem is that sometimes assertiveness can be perceived as aggressive or rude.  What is that fine line between bad-mannered and well-mannered? 

Figure it out: Do a self-check

  • Is my heart in the right place?  Am I being self-serving or am I being mindful of others?
  • Am I paying attention to my surroundings? 
    --Have I cut into a line? 
    --Broken the social distancing rule?
    --Interrupted or not paid attention to someone?
  • Am I using “I” rather than “you” statements?
  • What is my intention?  Does my language and tone align with it?

Probably we all experience ourselves not feeling as we would have hoped to feel at certain times.  Etiquette helps us catch our breath and gives us time to find the right words and to get in alignment with ourselves. 

The unwritten rules of propriety sustain our communities and improve our relationships with one another.  Etiquette helps us re-gain balance in order to get our thoughts together and be willing to have a civil conversation.

What can you do upon discovering you’ve been rude or perceived as such?

  • Apologize as soon as possible.  (The longer you wait, the less effective you’ll be in getting on keel with the other person.)
  • Avoid making excuses or explaining your apology away.

Uttering the declaration, “How rude!” signals that someone has broken a recognized social code.  When emotions are running high, especially in these times, we are all vulnerable to a heightened perception of broken social codes.   

While assertiveness is a necessary communication skill, it can sometimes be viewed as aggressive.  Aggressiveness is always rude.  It's never a win-win. 


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