Somehow the start of this new year has showcased the importance of assertiveness to me many times already! So, I thought I would share one of these experiences with you to explain what assertiveness really means and how it can take your communication to a whole new level.

Here goes…

The Situation

Last week my colleague received a call from a client whom I had spoken to earlier. The client called to confirm a Managerial Skills Training they wanted to conduct for their managers.

The conversation started off fine with the client sharing details of the session like the date, number of participants, etc. Trouble started brewing when she asked my colleague which topics we would be covering in the 1 day managerial skills training.

My colleague shared that we would need to understand the needs and challenges of the audience to be able to create the 1 Day outline. The client, however, insisted that we share what we will be covering. What ensued was a struggle on the part of my colleague to explain the importance of sharing the needs of the participants to create a relevant session, which the client was not ready to listen to.

What Happened Next?

My other colleague, who had been listening to the conversation, ‘tried to’ jump to the rescue. He took the phone to explain the situation to the client. However, the client’s insistence got the better of him. And instead of resolving the issue, he landed up adding more fuel to the fire.

Since the client was unable to share the needs of her people, he asked to speak to the key stakeholder. However, she said he was busy and did not have the scope to get into such things. My colleague got irritated hearing this, resulting in a heated argument between the two. And the client banged the phone down!

So, what did this incident teach us about assertiveness? And why do you think both my colleagues failed to have a fruitful conversation with the client?

Passiveness and Aggressiveness

The incident teaches us about what assertiveness is not! It showcases two positions – the passive and aggressive – which many of us tend to operate from. And this is the core reason why so many of our conversations are not effective.

 The Passive

Who was passive in this case? My first colleague. She was struggling to share her point of view. And the client was over-powering her. So, she was operating from what we call, an ‘I am not OK, you are OK’ position.

Life Positions (Assertiveness Training)

This is a position where we treat others above us. We feel they are better than us. This makes us feel inferior to them and weakens our communication. We operate out of fear, and either refrain from expressing our needs and viewpoints or do it in a very feeble manner.

Now the question is, why may she have been operating from this position during this situation? One reason is personality. Some personality types tend to lean towards passiveness more than others.  They tend to suffer from the ‘I am not good enough’ syndrome which keeps running like a tape in the background in their mind, affecting their overall confidence and communication. Just imagine how difficult it would be to function when the voice in your head keeps telling you that you will fail or you are not worthy enough!

It may also occur due to how we see the other person in comparison with ourselves. We have always been told that the ‘customer is king’. Our boss is superior to us. The elders in our family know more than we do. This can make us feel inferior to them, making our communication with them fearful and weak.

The Aggressive

And who was aggressive in this case? The client as well as my second colleague. And what happens when two people operating from the aggressive position come together? You get heated arguments, with each trying to prove their superiority over the other!

In an aggressive position, we operate from an ‘I am OK, you are not OK’ position. We behave as if we are one up on the other person, may show irritation or lose our temper, try to push our ideas, not give the other a good listening ear, interrupt the other, get defensive. You get it. Basically, we try to win at the expense of the other.

And when might this happen with us? Again, it could be a personality trait for some. For others, it could be a result of being rubbed the wrong way by this or another person earlier.

So, my colleague, is normally quite calm. He has the knack of explaining things in an easy going and composed manner. In fact, most people comment on how wonderful it is connecting with him. So, the aggressiveness is not really a result of his personality. I later came to know, that he had, in fact, had a heated argument with a family member in the morning. And had probably not had the time to recover from that. That was the reason for getting easily triggered in this conversation with the client

In fact, I was quite surprised when I heard about this entire incident. I had a very fruitful conversation with the same client a week back. So, I am guessing something else had probably triggered her off too!


This brings us to our ideal position – assertiveness. So, what is assertiveness? Its an ‘I am Ok, you are Ok’ position. Its one where you are calm and composed. You are ready to listen to the opposite person and understand their point of view. It’s also one where you are not afraid to share your viewpoint. In this position, you treat yourself and the other with respect.

And what happens if the assertive person disagrees with the other?

They do, but with respect. They don’t get into quarrels. And neither do they try to prove themselves right. In fact, they stay calm and neutral at all points of time. And actually, work towards a win-win for both parties. They are confident and strong, yet accepting and respectful.

And you know the best part? The right words just flow from them even without having to think! Well, if you see, both my colleagues were not wrong in what they were saying. It is a fact, that we cannot tell a client what topics we should cover in a session, especially one where we are shrinking a 4 day session into a one day! The topics need to come from the client – the participants and other key stakeholders like their bosses, team members and the HR. They need to share their needs and challenges so that we can create a session that is relevant to them and addresses their needs. That’s when sessions are really effective!

However, where did they both go wrong in their communication with the client? One was passive and unable to confidently share why she was saying what she was saying. And the other simply got aggressive, showed irritation and a lack of patience, while being stuck to his viewpoint.

And how might have an assertive person have managed the situation differently?

Firstly, by being calm throughout the conversation. They would have shared their point of view and listened to that of the client. When they realised that the client was unable to furnish the required details, they would have tried to help them. How? By perhaps sharing the various training topics that typically come under Managerial Skills Training and asking the client to choose. Probing on the audience and their role to help identify potential pain areas. Post understanding the age of the managers and their average team size, they could have suggested training topics based on their own experience.

In short, an assertive person would go all out to help the other person. And what about their own stand? They would still explain to the client that while they were trying to help them come up with probable topics, this was not the ideal way. And firmly tell them, that they would still need to speak to some of the participants prior to the session and make changes based on the same.

Thus, they may still disagree with the opposite person but would help them rather than leaving it at a deadlock! And in turn, their assertive energy would open up communication channels with the client in a way that they would be compelled to reciprocate. Trust me, it happens. I have seen it many times.  After all, humans are energy beings. We react to the energy we receive from each other and behave accordingly. So, you give out a confident and strong yet helpful vibe and that is what you shall receive!

Becoming Assertive

Which brings me to the most important question. How does one become assertive?

As many of you may have guessed, it’s simply a game of emotion management. You learn how to clear past stored emotions and process new one’s moment by moment, and there you go. You will automatically come to the assertive position. A place from where you can easily manage any conversation with anyone that comes your way, without being fearful or aggressive. Now that’s what I call a superpower!



"Assertiveness – Change your Energy, Change your Life" - By admin - - No Comments