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Assertiveness Is Not a Dirty Word


For some frontline professionals in an effort to be friendly or nice, they give up their assertiveness. Assertiveness is a way of thinking and behaving that allows a person to stand up for his or her rights while respecting the rights of others, in a nurturing and non-emotional way. You may have encountered a customer or co-worker who is non-assertive in either a passive way or an aggressive way. They simply don’t have an effective way to get their needs met.

Here’s an example: John approaches Mary’s desk and asks: “Would you finish these reports for me? I hate doing them and you’re so good at it.”

Mary’s desk is already laden with her own reports to finish, but she feels she can’t say no. Even if it means she’ll be hours late leaving tonight, she agrees, but in her head, she’s reluctant. She feels victimized and unhappy about the situation and allows the resentment to silently build.

Understanding and asserting your right to draw boundaries around what you will, and will not, allow is a critical skill when dealing with others (both internal partners and external customers).

In a situation with a customer, you may not be allowing your own time to be stolen when unable to assert yourself, as in Mary’s situation, but you may be allowing a customer to drain the company’s resources or allowing profit loss. Do you struggle to define the thin line between making sure a customer is taken care of and being bullied?

Learning how to assert yourself in a way that is nurturing and relationship building is a skill that frontline people must develop. When dealing with difficult people, follow these vital steps:

  1. Listen intently
  2. Prove you listened
  3. Remain calm
  4. Validate the customer
  5. Ask questions
  6. Apologize when you come up short
  7. Be politely powerful with people in error
  8. Deliver a solution
  9. Be politely assertive with unreasonable customers
  10. Thank the customer and check back

Pay special attention to 7 and 9 when thinking about assertion. How would you be politely powerful when your customer is in error? How would you be politely assertive with unreasonable customers? Try thinking about scenarios you’ve had in the past where being assertive would have deescalated a tough situation or would have saved the company time, resources and a lot of grief.

Prepare yourself for next time. Role-play how you would handle the situation if (more likely when) it comes up again. Customer service professionals owe it not only to their company, but also to themselves, to practice their assertiveness in a polite and productive way. Protect your time and yourself… so many great customer service reps burn out.