Assertiveness ….. How To Have A Difficult Conversation


WHEN YOU FEEL THAT you have been disrespected, made to feel inadequate, or just uncomfortable, do you have that difficult conversation with the person who made you feel that way?

Most of you probably avoid that exchange as it is hard to do and often you are attacked for trying to right the wrong.

On the other hand, if you do not tell the person how they made you feel, how will they know that they have offended you? In addition, “we get the behavior we tolerate” so the message you are sending is that the behavior is “okay”, which means it will be repeated. So, unless that person is a mind reader, they may have no idea that you are feeling badly so the situation will likely happen again….and who is walking around with the stomach ache? Certainly not the person who did the offending! Again, some people have a little bully in them and do these things just to see what you will do. In that case, if you lie down and play doormat, they will certainly continue to wipe their feet on you!

Yes, having that confrontational conversation is not easy, in fact, it is indeed, very hard to do. However, not doing it not only allows that person to “get away” with inappropriate behavior, but it also does not alleviate your unhappiness and over time can cause you stress and more grief. Prolonged stress is not only harmful to you physiologically, but it also impacts negatively upon your immune system which can cause you to get sick more often and miss work or other activities that you enjoy.

Again, likely pointing out this issue will not be well received, as you are actually criticizing that person, so you have to prepare yourself for an unsympathetic, even nasty comeback to your observations. Therefore, you must be ready with an appropriate, honest, and respectful response or the exchange will become angry on both sides and you will not get what you desire.

[bctt tweet=”Remember…..being assertive means: “knowing what you want and asking for it in an honest and respectful manner.” ” via=”no”]

In addition, there is a very thin line between being assertive and being aggressive. If you cross that line, you will find yourself in a lose/lose situation rather than the possible win/win one that you are attempting to achieve.

So here is what you might want to try…..create an assertiveness script in your mind ahead of broaching the topic with the offender. Try to put yourself in their shoes and understand why you may end up putting them on the attack. Imagine how you would react to a similar conversation and anticipate what they may retort so that you can prepare yourself to stay assertive. Even if they demean your feelings or yell at you, you still must remain calm enough not to lower yourself to their level of impolite remarks as this will only inflame the situation.

[message type=”custom” width=”100%” start_color=”#FFFFFF” end_color=”#FFFFFF” border=”#fb7200″ color=”# fb7200″]Here is a simple format for creating an assertive exchange:

1.   First of all:

Describe the situation objectively, without judgment words.

Example: “When you don’t get your input on the project to me on time,”

2.  State the result of what happens because of that behavior

Example: “The result is that I am not able to proceed, and many other people are also affected.”

  1. Make a polite, specific request.

Example: “I would appreciate it if you would finish your calculations by 3 p.m. today so that I can continue with the report.”

  1. Whatever the retort, just keep coming back to what you want and try NOT to use the word, “but” as it is very confrontational and tends to negate whatever the other person has just said. Instead, use: and, nonetheless, although, however, etc.

Example: “I understand, and would probably feel and react the same way that you are, however, it would make it easier for all of us if you could finish your aspect of the project by 3 p.m. today.”[/message][su_spacer]

Sadly, even if you do screw up enough courage to do this, it still may not get you what you want, in fact, you will likely have to have this conversation two or three times before the person will consider changing their behavior.

[bctt tweet=”We cannot actually make people do something that they really do not want to do. ” username=”bizmastersglobal”]

However, you will feel better just for trying as you will have taken back a measure of control just by telling them how they made you feel.

If they do react very badly, you cannot “let them get away with that outcome”. Instead, you should suggest that perhaps they could think about what you have told them, and then tomorrow or the next day the two of you can meet again to finish the conversation in a pleasant manner.

This would be especially beneficial to both of you if you work together, as respect is extremely important in any work environment, so this sort of issue should really be resolved so that the rest of the team is not affected by the bad feelings between the two of you. This is definitely true if the offender is your superior, but it is still can affect everyone even it is a colleague.

Here are a couple of other things to keep in mind when trying to stay respectful while getting resistance.

a) If there are no options: Try to summarize the other person’s point of view, and then clearly state the decision.

Example: “You feel that it is a waste of time to do this project before the other one. I understand your point of view, and yet we have no choice except to get it done by Friday. It is a publication deadline.

b) If there are options: Summarize the other person’s point of view, and then explore options with them.

Example: “You want to do it the way it has always been done. I want to try a new way. How can we work this out so that both of us would be satisfied?”

In any large organization, the chances of you liking everyone is highly unlikely, however, you truly must respect others for the skill set they bring to the team, particularly when it helps all of you to achieve your common goals in a timely fashion.

Remember, no one else is going to stand up for you, so if you feel you have been disrespected, prepare an assertiveness script and approach the person with your perceptions of the situation in an honest, clear, and respectful manner. There is truly no place in the workplace, or in other aspects of your life, for disrespectful behavior, however, if you do not address the issue it will certainly not go away by itself.


Sandy Chernoff
Sandy Chernoff
SANDY'S 30 years of didactic and clinical teaching in study clubs and continuing dental education, coupled with her almost 40 years of Dental Hygiene practice bring a wealth of experience to her interactive soft skills workshops. With her education background she easily customizes interactive sessions to suit the specific needs of her clients. Her energetic and humorous presentation style has entertained and informed audiences from Victoria to New York City. Sandy’s client list includes law firms, teaching institutions, volunteer and professional organizations and conferences, businesses, and individuals. Her newest project is turning her live workshops into e-learning programs using an LMS platform. Her teaching and education background have helped her to produce meaningful and somewhat interactive courses for the learners wanting the convenience of e-learning options. As the author of 5 Secrets to Effective Communication, Sandy has demonstrated her ability to demystify the complexities of communication so that the reader can learn better strategies and approaches which will greatly improve their communication skills and ultimately reduce conflict, resentment, disappointment, complaining, and confusion. As a result, the reader will be able to increase productivity, efficiency and creativity, improve all the relationships in their lives and ultimately enjoy a happier, healthier existence! Sandy blogs regularly on her two websites on the various soft skills topics that are featured in her workshops and e-learning programs.

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  1. I often ask the question when I have a sit down with the person. What do think I want to talk to you about today? It is amazing the answer a lot of the time will be what I was going to say. I feel that people know when they speak harshly and given the right environment of engagement they we speak openly and honestly about what happened. Thank you Sandy I really enjoyed your article.

    • Hi Larry,
      Excellent question to ask, it certainly gets the conversation going in a direction that can be quite enlightening and how heartening it must be to find that you are often both on the same page. Yes, honesty and respect are two great traits that can certainly enhance any conversation and relationship. If people allow things to fester, not deal with them and carry the anger around it can only cause more issues. Usually better to “clear the air” but in an honest, respectful and calm manner. Thanks again for your input, Larry, you are very insightful.

  2. When people feel they are under attack, they will ignore what you say and put their guard up. So anything we do cannot be construed as an attack. I find talking how great a person is already doing and quantify it. Then talk about how they can do even better. It’s easy to do when you’re friendly, sincere and trusted. Not so easy when you’re a chronic liar.

  3. This article is timely. Just this morning a friend asked me to pray for her and another friend who had to confront someone over an issue. I sent this article to her in hopes that she can glean some meaningful help before her meeting occurs.