Jacky Sherman

The Consultant's Consultant

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Managing Mistakes By Being Assertive

A guest post by Jo Pogson ...



I was listening to Jo Pogson give a short presentation on assertiveness the other day over breakfast. It really struck a chord with me and got me thinking about the part being assertive plays in referral relationships ...

If a referral goes wrong, don't shout the other person down, but being assertive really helps!

If a referral goes wrong, don't shout the other person down, but being assertive really helps!

copyright: bowie15 / 123rf stock photo

So this week I'm (mostly) handing over my blog to Jo. First, she gives an excellent explanation of assertiveness in term of our rights and responsibilities in a relationship. Followed by a superb tip in how to be assertive when the worst happens and the person you have referred makes a mistake with your client.

I know my rights! You have the right to remain Silent! Yes, we do. We have lots of rights, legal, moral, ethical. Assertive rights are the ones that give us the right to:

  • be treated with respect

  • express opinions and feelings

  • set goals and objectives

  • refuse a request or say 'no'

  • ask for what you want

  • make mistakes

  • be the judge of your own behaviour independent of the goodwill of others

  • change your mind

  • decide whether or not to assert yourself

  • state your limits and expectations

  • make a statement not based on logic or rationality

  • make your own decisions

  • be independent of the company of others and enjoy 'me' time

  • get involved in the problems or affairs of another or not

  • be ignorant and not understand

  • be successful

  • say 'I don't know'

  • ask for clarification when you don't understand

Dame Rennie Fritchie defines assertiveness as "Standing up for your rights without violating the rights of others".

Then these rights suddenly take a new importance. They are the heart of assertiveness. And how good are we at asserting these rights, taking them for ourselves and using them? How good are we at not asserting them? And when we think on to the rights of others, how good are we at allowing, even encouraging, others to assert their rights? Are we perhaps good at violating the rights of others after all?

And if we are to really embrace these rights, does that mean we have the right to just make all the mistakes we want, without a care in the world? What if those mistakes hurt someone else? What if, by making a mistake, we disrespect someone else? Now it's getting complicated. Either we have the right or we don't. Which is it?

Like most things in life if we're going to take our assertive rights, we also sign up to do it in a responsible way. So thinking about the right to make mistakes, the way to assert that right with responsibility is to only make 'honest' mistakes, not deliberate ones; to own up to our mistakes; to fix mistakes that have been made; to appreciate others will also make mistakes (not violate their right to make mistakes); to learn from mistakes and help others do the same.

So to summarise: Rights are an integral part of being assertive. It can be easy to deprive ourselves and others of those rights. True assertiveness is being responsible with our rights.

Now a question that troubles a lot of business people I meet is a fear that once you've referred someone, they then make a mistake and compromise your relationship with your client and them. So I asked Jo for her thoughts on how to manage that situation.

Her response is in the context of honouring all your rights and the rights of the other two people involved.

The best course of action when managing the situation might depend on the specifics of who and what, but as a generic suggestion.

Rennie Fritchie's definition goes on to say "assertiveness is open, honest and direct communication". So my starting point would probably be to apply the 'making a mistake' responsibilities in an open, honest and direct way by owning up, apologising and asking how you can help to fix it.

Being honest means be honest about what is relevant. If it's not relevant, don't say it (even if it is honest). I think this works for all three people involved. It's worth remembering that we all engage in a referral relationship at some time from each of the three positions.

Some suggestions from each position if client/suppler relationship cannot be repaired,

  • As the person who referred - "I'm not sure this relationship is going to deliver what we had both hoped. I'd like to reconsider and, with your permission, recommend someone else."

  • As the referred person - "I'm not sure that what I can offer is going to deliver what we both had in mind. I'd like to suggest our introducer finds you someone else."

  • As the client - "I don't think that you (or your recommendation) are able to deliver what I had hoped for. I want to reconsider and seek an alternative."

I would recommend finding the words that feel right for you so that what you say is both personal and sincere and then try them out with someone outside of the situation. That way you can rehearse the words in a safe way, with safe people before you have to use it in earnest.

Whatever happens long term in that particular suite of relationships, being assertive in this manner does mean that you can, at the very least, feel comfortable when you bump into each other again, as inevitably happens, when you are engaged in the same business community.

"So thank you, Jo for some useful insights!"

Jo offers help in workshops and on a one-to-one basis for companies and individuals who lack the confidence to be assertive. You can call her on 01327 842032 or click here to visit her website and find out more about how she can help you.

Until next time ...


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