Third Phase Coaching | The Clock Repairer’s Guide to Assertiveness (Part1)


The Clock Repairer’s Guide to Assertiveness (Part1)

06 Oct 2017, by Dave Paton in Coaching, Harrison, Leadership

ThinkstockPhotos-160104471Lessons for life and leadership can come from the unlikeliest of sources. One was from a clock repairer I met years ago.

For as long as I can remember, my family had a long case clock that was made for my great grandfather, who was a farmer in Scotland. (I suppose you could say I own it now, but it feels more of a responsibility than a possession)

Over the years it became more and more unreliable until, one night in the seventies, it chimed over 200 times at about 2 in the morning. This seemingly interminable noise was only halted by my father opening the case and tearing the weights off their cables.

It never worked again. Through a series of house moves it remained a silent ghost gathering dust. Eventually I inherited it and it’s immobile hands fixed me with a reproachful grimace every time I left the house.

I don’t remember how I heard of Mr Atherton, but having found there was someone who specialised in old timepieces I gave him a call. He was a retired aircraft instrument maker. He gave me details of how to find his workshop, what to do to attract his attention once I arrived and exactly how to prepare the mechanism for transport. (You wind the cables up fully onto their drums, remove the pendulum and, taking the clock out of the case, lay it face down on a curtain which you then use to wrap the whole thing into a tight bundle. This was a man whose lessons tend to stick!)

Once I got into his workshop (you’ll have guessed this was no easy feat) he examined the clock and gave me an estimated price and then turned to a school exercise book on his bench. ‘I want you to look at this book and listen very carefully’ he said and explained how he kept his waiting list. Basically, your job was written on the first blank line in the book below about 10 others. All the completed jobs were crossed though. ( He went back quite a few pages to make sure I got his point)

To summarise, he did his jobs in strict order. He never queue jumped. He could only give me an estimate of how long it would take to get to my job. He would only take the commission if I accepted these terms. By this time if he’d told me I had to marry his daughter I would probably have nodded obediently. I nodded obediently.

But it wasn’t over yet. ‘One last thing’, he said. ‘I will, once it’s ready, return the clock to your house and set it up. If, when I get there, the case is not screwed to the wall – I will not be leaving it with you.’ With this final edict I was ushered, somewhat stunned at the prospect of my belongings being kidnapped, out to my car.

He may have been memorably blunt, but he wasn’t rude and – the critical thing for the customer – he delivered. That clock chimes beautifully; and only the required two times at 2am!

Why was he able to be so direct?

He was in a strong position – he didn’t need my business and could set the rules.
He had a well rehearsed routine. He knew what his message was.
His message was congruent with his values and personality.
The rules were demonstrably fair and worked to the benefit of the customer as much as the business. (How many times have you been let down by plumbers, electricians or others who don’t turn up when they say they will?)
He’d developed his approach in response to problems dealing with customer expectations.

So a clear message, checked for understanding and agreement with the customer and based on being fair to everyone. Did that satisfy everyone? I’ll tell you how he dealt with difficult customers in the next part of the story.

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?

To find out more about how develop your team’s ability to deal with conflict please go here 


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