How to assert appropriately

Andrew Neitlich

Thanks for the comments to the last post, about being accessible. It seems in many responses that some readers could use a refresher (or first-time) course on appropriate assertion.

Assertion is what you do when someone oversteps legitimate boundaries — like calling you too much, being too chatty, or not being available or responsive.

Rule #1 about assertion: If you don’t say anything, no one will know that you have a problem. Lots of smart people let things boil up inside, never say anything, and are really just helpless victims. You have to — as we tell our 4-year old — use words.

Rule #2 about assertion: If you assert too hard, you end up coming across as coercive and you hurt the relationship. Be careful not to make threats, get personal, insult the other person, have an angry tone of voice, etc.

Rule #3: There are ways to assert and be appropriate and keep the relationship in tact. This goes against the upbringing and cultural style of a variety of people, who tend to violate rule #1 all the time. Look at your own values and what keeps you from asserting.

Here are some “scripts” to use when asserting:

– I have a request….Could you….?

– I really appreciate your enthusiasm [SOMETHING POSITIVE]. But I need some time to finish the work for you [YOUR REQUEST]. If we can wrap up this call in the next few minutes, I can have your deliverable to you by tonight [OFFERING SOMETHING THEY WANT].

– I appreciate your call, but if it is not an emergency, can I request that we discuss this in two hours? I’m most productive during this time, and promise I’ll get right back to you at 4 pm.

– I’m grateful for your business, and am excited about our project. However, I notice that you have consistently paid late. What can I do to support you in paying more promptly [POLITE REQUEST, PUTTING BALL IN YOUR COURT]?

– [TOUGHER STANCE, WITH A PENALTY]: I’m grateful for your business, and am still excited about our project. However, I notice that you have consistently paid late. In fact, your latest invoice is 65 days overdue. Unfortunately, I have to prioritize my time on clients who are up to date with their payments. I won’t be able to devote any more time to your project until you send me full payment due.

I hope the above is useful.