Third Phase Coaching | The Clock Repairer’s Guide to Assertiveness (Part 2)


The Clock Repairer’s Guide to Assertiveness (Part 2)

20 Oct 2017, by Dave Paton in Self-development




In the first part of this blog I described how the clock repairer got his customers to agree to his idiosyncratic way of accepting jobs. He had a clear message, checked for understanding and agreement and was very clear he was being fair to everyone. I also said I’d tell you how he dealt with difficult customers.

 Anyone who interacts with customers, clients, staff or members of the public knows the one thing   that unites them all is that they all see the world slightly differently. So although the vast majority of Mr Atherton’s clients happily accepted the rules of his game, inevitable someone was going to try and push the boundaries. I was lucky enough to be there when it happened.

I was there was because he himself turned out to be more flexible than advertised. A second clock I’d had repaired was losing time and I rang to ask what could be done. “Bring it round’ he said. (only 15 miles) ‘Will it be going on the bottom of the list?” I asked. ‘Let me look at it, I think I know what needs doing and I’ll be able to do it while you wait’.

He was in the process of fiddling with the mechanism when the phone rang. Clearly, I could only hear half of the conversation, but it was pretty obvious that this wasn’t a satisfied customer.

The conversation went like this ….
‘It’s third on my list, I think I’ll get to it in about five days’
‘No, I didn’t’
‘Because that’s not how I work’

‘I explained to you that I do jobs in the strict order.’

‘Because I always do – and I showed you where I was putting your job on the list’

‘Because I always do and you agreed to the arrangement’

‘I wouldn’t have accepted your repair if you didn’t’

So far, so good. This went round in circles for quite some time (my ‘repair it while you wait’ was turning into something of a marathon) But, as expected, he had a clear message and by keeping to facts on which he was firm he couldn’t be moved from his position. So the disgruntled customer tried a different tack.

Mr Atherton continued….

‘I can’t do that’

‘That’s not how I work’

‘Because it isn’t fair to my other customers’

‘I would know’.

‘That’s not how I work’.

‘I’m not prepared to do that’

‘You’re at liberty to do that’

‘You’re welcome to collect your clock at any time.’

Again, this was a circular conversation with these sentences being repeated quite a few times. The order in which they were used changed in response to the questions and the specific words might change. But one thing was clearly not going to alter – his position.

And throughout he was calm, polite and measured. Until the disgruntled customer ended the call. Whereupon he turned to me and said “I don’t want to repair his ******* clock now anyway!’

Common-sense and the PR approach
If you’re ever lucky enough to be given training in how to give media interviews you may be told to have three simple messages and simply keep repeating them, one after another. If you listen or watch interviews on radio or television you’ll identify this approach all too often.

It’s formulaic and patronising – and treats the interviewer as an opponent. But clearly the clock repairer was using a very similar approach. (I think the chances of him having received appropriate training are slight – or of his changing anything he did as a result as vanishingly small)

What he added was crucial. He listened carefully to what was being said by his ‘opponent’ and then answered with the appropriate response from his repertoire. In other words he treated the discussion with seriousness and his courteous manner was at least as important as what was said. It eventually got the message across that he wasn’t going to change his position.

So assertiveness is not about beating down opposition. It’s about having a clear understanding of what you’re trying to achieve and delivering it in a way that gets the message across. And if you’re able to live with the outcome whatever that might be (such as losing a customer) you can be relaxed and emotionally in control.

In the final analysis assertiveness is about being prepared.
Do your managers have the skills to be assertive with staff, clients and colleagues? How can you grow these skills in those who are new to supervision?

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