In high school, I remember a cheer we used to shout at basketball games. It went something like,
Be, Be Aggressive!”
When your team is down by ten points, being aggressive may not be such a bad thing. In consultant/client relationships, however, being aggressive is a quick path to a failed solution.
In Flawless Consulting, we talk about this idea of being aggressive, as well as what it means to be the opposite, or non-assertive. Neither is a recipe for success. As Flawless consultants, we strive to be assertive, respecting the rights of others as well as our own. Rights such as the ability to voice an opinion, be listened to, disagree, to say no, be treated with respect, express feelings, or be quiet are generally things we want for ourselves—and certainly rights we should not deny our clients.
Unfortunately, when faced with aggression or non-assertive behaviors, these rights are seldom honored and our ability to help clients solve problems so they stay solved quickly diminishes. When aggressive, it’s all about me. When passive, it’s all about you. Either way, there is a clear loser. When assertive, we both “win.”
Even so, being one or the other can have its benefits. Consider: what are the negative and positive qualities of aggressive and non-assertive behavior?
Assertiveness is the best of both worlds. We all have the ability to control our behavior and act in all three ways. When we get under stress, we tend to move away from assertiveness. So, being aware of the negatives of both aggressive and non-assertive behavior may help all of us move more to the middle, especially when dealing with those who aren’t.
Below are some tips to help you “move to the middle” in being more assertive with your clients.
Understand your communication style. There are many types of personality assessments that can help you identify your style of communication-based on specific personality traits. Learn what yours are and how your style naturally interacts with others. Pay attention to your client and take notice of how they communicate. Adjust your behaviors accordingly. If your client is quiet and methodical in their thought processes, bombarding them with a lot of information and asking for immediate answers won’t be successful. Instead, think of how you can honor their rights in the conversation by giving quiet spaces for thinking and asking if they need more time to consider the options before moving on.
Reign in your emotions. When dealing with a client who is aggressive or non-assertive, it’s easy to meet their negative behaviors with our own. It’s called collusion. The Arbinger Institute explains it as, “I’ll mistreat you so you can blame your bad behavior on me, if you’ll mistreat me so I can blame my bad behavior on you.” Temper what may be an initial negative response, and instead, reign in your own emotions to stay assertive. You’ll discover it’s a lot harder to exhibit negative behaviors when one of the participants is no longer willing to engage in the blame. Ultimately, assertive people control their own behavior.
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. In Flawless Consulting, we encourage conversations about wants as part of contracting with a client. Asking for what we want helps eliminate confusion and conflicts. Ask your client early on what they want from you and the consulting agreement. At the same time, ask for what you want too. And don’t just ask for those technical wants such as access to information. Ask for wants that show how you will work together. Use “I” statements explaining, “I want to meet with you weekly to make joint decisions on next steps.” We can set expectations early on how we will work with our clients, if we make these wants known as part of our contracting meeting.
Is it really possible to be assertive with clients? The simple answer is yes. It’s not only possible but, ultimately, much more productive and comfortable than the alternative. It does take practice, and you may not always be 100% assertive all the time—but the more you honor the rights of yourself and others, the easier it is to B-E-A-S-S-E-R-T-I-V-E, Be, Be Assertive!