Developing Assertiveness

Thank You

First of all, thanks for the comments received on the post on “Assertiveness in Project Management” One of the comments was “how to be assertive?”  As a reaction to that comment, I decided to write the following post on how to develop assertiveness.

As stated in the lastpost,postuuppoo  post, one of the problems with being assertive, is that we do not like confrontations. This is a problem we all have. In this post, I will explain how I solved that problem for myself.

Not What But How

We all know that HOW you say something determines if WHAT you say will be accepted or not. It is not WHAT you say, but HOW you say it. When you say something in a non-threatening way it is more readily accepted that when you use harsh words. Knowing this, I then started to develop my assertiveness by using a non-threatening way of stating my points. Instead of making direct statements, I started stating my points in the form of QUESTIONS. Not just questions, but CONSCIENCE-PROVOKING-QUESTIONS. Here are some examples of what I have done to develop my assertiveness.

Ask for Data

As a project manager you submitted a project proposal with a schedule of eight months. Upper management comes back to you with the request to reduce the schedule to five months. Based on historical data you know that five months is too short. You have to be assertive here and defend your schedule. Instead of saying: “We have never completed such a project in five months!!” you can say “How long did it take us to complete similar projects in the past?”

Address the Conscience

In this example you have developed a good relationship with a vendor for certain products and services. Another “vendor”, who has no experience with the related products and services, approaches you for you to switch to them as vendor of the products and services. Switching to the new “vendor” will hurt your project, client or company. You know you have to stop this. You can tell the prospecting “vendor”: “What you are trying to do is wrong. You know you do not have any experience with that product. You will only create problems”. Such an approach will lead to a defensive reaction.

Alternatively you can convey the same message by saying “switching to you as vendor will benefit you, but will result in problems for me and my client. Do you think what you are trying to do is right?” Like that you address his conscience in a non-combative manner. When you are speaking the truth, you will always have the other person’s conscience on your side.

Personal Discovery

Another way of getting your point across is using personal discovery. A few years ago someone asked me to review their business plan for a business start up. The business plan was well organized but included a $50,000 company car. I knew that this was not realistic. I could have told the person to “look for a second hand car to start with”. By doing this however, I would rob the person of the satisfaction found in personal discovery. Instead I told the person to have a bank review his business plan. After reviewing the business plan with a bank the person told me that a $50,000 car will unnecessarily raise the cost of his services. Based on the review with the bank he decided to include a cheaper car in his business plan.

Using personal discovery gives the person the opportunity to listen to their most favorite tutor: themselves. 

Developing assetiveness is not an option, it is a must 

2 thoughts on “Developing Assertiveness”

  1. Hi Sergio,
    Thank you for your comment. As you stated, there is nothing wrong with a vendor pushing their product/services. I completely agree with you. However, as you described so well, you must be assertive and explain why you cannot accept their services whenever that is the case.

  2. Thanks for your post Victor.  I must agree that the way in which we address issues and how we communicate our intentions affect the results.  I also agree that rathern than a knee-jerk negative comment, we must take the time to think about the issues or conflicts at hand, keep an open mind, and search for the best solution by asking questions and delivering assertive answers or resolutions to the issues.
    You give an example by "Addressing the Conscience" in which a vendor approaches the project manager for an opportunity to provide their products and services in lieu of another established vendor.  This is not uncommon occurence in my industry where I deal with numerous contractors and equipment/material suppliers.  Quite honestly I don't think there's anything wrong with a vendor approaching you and requesting you give them an opportunity.  The way I usually handle it is by being direct with the vendors and telling them exactly why we could or could not consider switching or giving them an opportunity.  This may be due to a number of factors such as experience, references, cost, specialization, etc…all of which add risk to my project.  Vendors are usually very understanding when I address the factors of why I'm using a speicific vendor or why I cannot consider switching during specific stages of a project or for particular scope of supply of some projects.

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