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Assessing Assertion and Aggression – An Airport Tale
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 11/15/2010

Airport Assertive behaviors and aggressive gestures are like the truth. It is all in the eyes of the beholder. Like so many things in life, this, like the truth, is relative. It is never absolute.

An airport is a wonderful place to people watch. So much can be learned by how we move. We rush from place to place in groups as though we are herd animals. But there are variations. Some of us are in a hurry and throw civility out of the window. This can be done in an aggressive manner, like a rampaging bull might rage against the direction of the rest of the herd. Fortunately, most of us do not walk in an as though hostility were our motivation.

While in an airport recently, I was thinking about this concept. I found myself at the end of a line for a plane that I was to board within a half hour. However, I placed a bit of distance from the main group of the line. It took me a few minutes to notice that I was between two automated sidewalks. In other words, for people to pass between the sidewalks, they had to walk around me. I only noticed this as groups of arriving flight passengers moved around me like a stream rushing around a stone impediment.

Still, with the notion of assertion versus aggression in mind, I stood steadfast and with folded arms. I decided to see how people would react to my less-than-considerate positioning. Would I be an immovable block or would some direct me to move to another position? For twenty minutes, no one told me to move. There was only one near brush, and one dirty look. But people walked around me. I chalked this up more to their urgent missions rather than to any formidably projected from me.

Then I was nearly floored (in a figurative sense) by a simple, considerate gesture. One passing employee issued a polite and sincere “excuse me.” It was then that I decided to move out of the major traffic lane. It took the ordinary art of politeness to shake me from my experiment and to get out of the way. I had to ask myself, “Was I assertively standing my ground or was I engaging in stubborn passive aggression?”

In corrections, a firm yet fair assertion always seems to win the day over aggression. Assertion is a demonstration of polite strength. It indicates that someone is in control. There is not fear of losing control when one is assertive. It is a calm manner of persuasion. The roots of assertion are in professionalism and good experiences. Assertion declares that someone is in command but is not wielding a sword.

Aggression can be looked at like a hidden state of panic. Loud, chest-thumping displays often tell the receptor that this is a loud show and usually an unnecessary show of power. It is rooted in fear or arrogance. The aggressive party is not in full control, but swings the sword of hostility as a crutch of potency.

Aggression welcomes counter-aggression. And in a potentially supercharged environment such as corrections, this makes for a volatile situation. Fuses are always ready to ignite in this environment. It is always wise to remember that if it seems that you are not in control, then someone can easily snatch command.

Of course, we cannot easily force perceptions of others into our notion of what we think should be. This cannot happen any easier than we can read minds or alter destiny. Still, we mitigate potential danger by addressing posture, actions and reactions.

I will concede that quick, decisive, powerful action is needed from time to time. In fact, some will not answer to any other course of action. But, it is best to try assertion first. It is like a calm mass movement rather than a stampede. That choice may be the deciding factor between a safe day and disaster.

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