What Assertive Personality Types Aren’t

Darrell’s avatar

“When someone tells me ‘no,’ it doesn’t mean I can’t do it, it simply means I can’t do it with them.”

Karen E. Quinones Miller

All About Confident Personality Types

Assertive or Turbulent Identities don’t define a personality type as the eight core traits (Introverted vs. Extraverted, Intuitive vs. Observant, Thinking vs. Feeling, and Judging vs. Prospecting) do. However, they have a strong effect on personality all the same. They are umbrella traits that influence how one’s personality expresses itself. The Assertive trait seasons the personality type it’s connected to with more confidence and less stress. Before proceeding, you may want to review the section of our theory on the Assertive and Turbulent traits.

We’re looking at some myths and overgeneralizations that sometimes accompany the idea of Assertiveness. We are striking a blow against ways of thinking about it that are either too hot or too cold. Instead, we’re searching for the Goldilocks zone (just right). That’s probably closer to reality for most people who have the Assertive personality trait.

There isn’t just one singular way to be Assertive in the sense that we use the word, or perhaps in any other use of it. And that’s what we’re here to talk about.

Assertiveness Is One Thing, Arrogance Is Another

People often paint the Assertive trait as one of arrogance. And for good reason – they can sometimes overlap. When life goes out of balance, arrogance is perhaps one of the easiest slopes for people with this trait to slide down.

For example, consider an Assertive personality who is dealing with a painful injury to their self-esteem or facing a profound disappointment. They may try to bury a feeling of weakness by leaning too heavily on their old reliable strength: confidence. They may hope to build themselves up this way. When exaggerated and used as a defense, their confidence might easily drift into arrogance.

But that isn’t a baseline that we at 16Personalities use when people test as Assertive. Arrogance, if present, is an extreme expression. It’s based on misguided (and possibly unconscious) coping skills.

Most genuinely self-assured people won’t need to artificially bolster their sense of self. Feeling secure in one’s own abilities means there is no need to show off or put others down, the classic actions of an arrogant person. To that point, our research shows that average, everyday Assertive people are less likely to say they fear appearing average than Turbulent personalities. Relatively speaking, there seems to be little desire for the average Assertive individual to puff themselves up.

Arrogance is an extreme that might be expressed for many different reasons by anyone, whether they’re Assertive or not.

Assertiveness, by our definition, is basically a relaxed attitude. Individuals with this personality trait pay little attention to regret and have little need to endlessly think about the negative. They have a sense of confidence. Nothing in our definition necessarily suggests arrogance (or the lack of arrogance). Other factors may come into play that cause Assertive people to adopt brashness or to take on an arrogant viewpoint. But these qualities are, in their essence, different creatures.

They Don’t Always Want It Their Way

Assertiveness training – big in psychology during the late 20th century – taught people how to get what they needed from others in a nonmanipulative way while avoiding conflict. From there, popular use of the word “assertive” seemed to drift into being about people getting what they want out of life with a somewhat selfish focus. (Around the same time, the label for that generation became the “Me Generation.”) “Assertive” then becomes “aggressive.” And that history can sometimes muddle any talk of Assertiveness. It can feel like the discussion is about being aggressive.

But the way we use it has more to do with an individual’s fundamental confidence. And while confidence may help people get what they want from life, that goes beyond what our definition offers.

Assertive people may be more likely to feel a sense of certainty when going after the things they desire. But that doesn’t mean they all become bent out of shape when they don’t get it. In fact, according to our research, Assertive personalities are much less likely than Turbulent personalities to say they regard compromise as a defeat.

People with the Assertive trait, as we define it, may or may not have a sense of entitlement. If they have a sense of entitlement, the Assertive trait alone would probably not account for it. Other factors are likely in play. These might include other personality traits that are “overheated” or instigating life circumstances.

Few people always get their way. Assertive individuals are only as likely as anyone else to insist on it. This may be for no other reason than that most people want to avoid constant disappointment and want to get along with others. (Our research suggests that a higher percentage of Assertive individuals say they value rationality. And it seems irrational to deny the reality that life doesn’t always hand things over on a silver platter.)

Having the Assertive Personality Trait Doesn’t Indicate a Lack of Ambition

We often talk about Turbulent personality types as fueling their ambition with their insecurities. They work to become better people, motivated by what they view as a lack within themselves, whether it’s real or perceived. They tend to see their imperfections, the imperfections we all share, as significant problems. The cure, they tend to assume, is found in driving themselves toward perfection – which is ultimately unattainable. But trying, or at least setting the goal, can create a drive toward success all the same.

Unfortunately, people sometimes turn that around. They do a binary opposite sort of thing with it when discussing the Assertive personality trait. Success comes to Turbulent individuals when they try to make up for a weaker sense of confidence. If that’s the case, then surely those who have a stronger sense of confidence must have little or no ambition or success. These stress-free, happy-go-lucky Assertive individuals must blithely breeze through life unconcerned, and, therefore, with no drive. But it’s a false dichotomy and not an either/or choice.

The problem with that approach is the assumption that motivation and ambition come from only one place. In this case, that would always be compensating for a perceived lack. Our research negates that idea by suggesting that Assertive individuals see themselves as more self-motivated than Turbulent individuals. Notice that isn’t “more motivated,” but “more self-motivated.”

It’s reasonable to think that their internal can-do attitude can drive Assertive personalities as much as striving to become “better” drives Turbulent individuals. Motivation can come from many places. Anecdotally, we know many Assertive people clearly have ambition – perhaps even in abundance sometimes. It’s just fueled by another source.

Which Brings Us to Stress

Stress is not only inevitable in life – it’s often seen as essential to progress and motivation. If there are no problems, there is no reason to solve or improve anything. There go ambitions. Sometimes, Assertive people are erroneously characterized as stress-free. But the difference has nothing to do with the amount of stress.

It’s true that Assertive individuals don’t let stress impact them, whether consciously or unconsciously, in the same way Turbulent personality types do. That doesn’t mean it has no place or influence in their lives. They just tend to handle it relatively better. Stress is only difficult if people become stuck in it or it starts to color too many aspects of their lives.

It’s no mistake that those courses are called “Stress Management” courses and not “Stress Elimination” courses. Stress is a given in life and even carries with it benefits. For people whose personality traits include Assertiveness, they are more likely to feel they can handle stressors.

It’s not that Assertive personalities have less stress, notice it less, or shrug it off. They just have a different relationship with it.

Confident individuals are more likely to see stress as something to navigate rather than something to fix. Neither approach is superior to the other. Turbulent personalities clearly benefit from the constant desire to “fix” the things that stress them, and their lives are better for it. (Although in reality, some Turbulent people may just avoid the difficulty of stressors altogether.) The difference is that if stress were waves, Assertive people would be surfers – and how cool is that?

Not in a Vacuum

Finally, and well worth repeating, Assertiveness is not a one-size-fits-all trait. (No trait in the personality type universe is.) While there are certain markers in the behaviors and attitudes that people with the Assertive Identity share, it isn’t always expressed the same way by everyone. As mentioned above, other traits and life situations are always influencing the way a person behaves. No single trait ever rules the personality alone. That allows us to be individuals even within a trait group.

For example, a Thinking/Assertive personality is likely confident in ways that are different from a Feeling/Assertive person. One may use their sense of confidence to push for a high level of effectiveness in a calculating way. The other may pause their calculations a little longer to consider the impact their actions might have on others. Quiet confidence expressed by someone Introverted and Assertive (belonging to the Confident Individualism Strategy) is much different than an Assertive Extravert’s (People Mastery Strategy) more outgoing expression of the trait. And so on, down the list of traits.

Then there’s the reality that people fall at different places on the continuum between 100% Assertive and 100% Turbulent. Some Assertive individuals are more Assertive than other Assertive individuals. (And, of course, vice versa.) This is likely to impact the intensity of one’s Assertive expression as well. This and other fascinating insights about the Identity personality traits can be further explored using our Trait Scholar tool. The insights are well worth the few minutes it takes.

It’s always important to keep one’s other personality traits and what is going on in one’s life in mind before resorting to a caricature of Assertiveness that may not be accurate. In fact, it’s a pretty good rule of thumb when dealing with personality types in general.

Advice for Assertive People from an Assertive Person

The trick to keeping balance and avoiding the dreaded “arrogant” label is to always, always, always ask questions. A sense of certainty, sometimes the product of confidence, can create tunnel vision and may not always leave much room for other people’s perspectives. This is especially true for Confident Individualist personalities, who are more likely to keep to themselves.

Arrogance implies a sense that one thinks they are superior to others. The dictionary uses phrases like “an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance.” Arrogance is an attitude. When talking about Assertiveness, it may be helpful to separate action from intent and attitude. Confident dedication to a vision or action can look a lot like arrogance when it’s potentially something more benign.

If you live a balanced Assertive life, you know that moving in a direction that’s a bit headstrong often has nothing to do with what other people think. But there may also be no thought or measure of superiority or inferiority – just a sense of certainty. Confidence in your ideas and actions are separate from how you think about the people in your life.

However, other people, not knowing your intent or your feelings, can easily take this personally. Such unintentional disregard can make others feel like you lack respect for them, even when the opposite might be true.

Your certainty having nothing to do with other people may often be the problem. Disregard, no matter how unintentional or benign, is still disregard. The simplest way to show respect is to genuinely check in with others. What are their ideas, opinions, and general feelings or attitudes about things?

No matter how sure you feel about things, you might want to show respect by asking – and then honestly listening for – alternatives. Ask questions like: “What do you think?” “Does this work for you?” “Is this too much (or too little)?” “Would that be going too far?” Assertive people who are aware of the power of their own certainty on their behaviors learn to ask such questions often.

Be confident in your ability to include and respect others. It’s not about denying your convictions and belief in yourself. It’s about expanding them to fold in other ideas in a synergistic way. It’s a way to show people you care about the things they have to offer.

You know you can handle it. But then, look who we’re talking to. Enjoy being an Assertive personality, but watch out for the potholes, and carry on. Our research shows that you’re generally happier and more satisfied for it.

What are your experiences with either being Assertive or relating to those who are Assertive? Your comments are welcome below.

Further Reading

I’m the Humblest Person I Know: Personality Type and Humility

Cooperation or Capitulation?: How Personality Types View Compromise

The Turbulent Personality: Don’t Worry, Be Happy?

What Extraverted Personality Types Aren’t