Developing an Assertive You for Consulting Win-Wins

In high school, I remember a cheer we used to shout at basketball games. It went something like,


Be Aggressive

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?







Avoid Conflict

Missed Opportunities



Avoid Blaming

Lack of Influence





Lack of trust

Decisions Made


Not Engaged


Take Stance




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!

Beverly Crowell is an experienced facilitator, speaker, thought leader, and author specializing in the areas of business operations, organization, employee and human resources development.

Expressing Wants: A Basic Flawless Consulting Skill

In the Flawless Consulting Skills workshops, we stress that you’ll want to change your conversations . . . the way you talk to your clients, your boss, and to each other. We see that new conversations will move you toward partnership. For example, in our initial conversation with our clients, our goal is to get an agreement on what we are going to do and how we are going to work together. We call this the Contracting Meeting. As consultants, we want to be clear about what we want to help the client be successful.

Expressing those wants often causes anxiety for the consultant. Consultants feel that to say, “I want . . .” is too direct, aggressive, potentially disrespectful, and may be harmful to building a partnership with the client. People often use national, regional, or corporate culture as a reason to not use these skills: “You can’t be that direct in this culture. Others won’t like it.”

This is more about our own anxiety (resistance) than the culture. It is a human issue. Being direct is uncomfortable for all of us. We are concerned that we will be misunderstood, be considered disrespectful, or anger the other person.

There are a variety of styles that people use to express expectations (wants), some more direct than others.

Here are some examples of how one might express a desire to interview the client’s direct reports . . .                                     

You could use… 


Closed-ended questions

“Could I interview your direct reports?” (weak)

“Is it okay with you if I interview your direct reports?”  (weak—seeks permission)

Open-ended questions

“What’s the possibility of interviewing your direct reports?” (weak)

“What do you think about me interviewing your direct reports?” (weak)

Indirect Statements

“It would be helpful to talk to your direct reports.”  (may be confusing)

“Sometimes in projects like this, we try to interview the manager’s direct reports.” (may be confusing and get ignored)

Direct Statements

“I would like to interview your direct reports.”  (may get ignored)

“I need to interview your direct reports.”  (may sound aggressive)

“I want to interview your direct reports.”  (can negotiate)

Now, any of these might work and you’ll get what you want. I’ve used them all at one time or another. However, when I did, I often ended up with an agreement that needed to be clarified later.

The key is keeping our words direct, simple, specific, and descriptive AND our tones supportive, non-punishing, and non-judgmental. Stating a want with harsh or argumentative tone can be off-putting, while a weak or timid tine might get ignored.

When you try using these skills, start with people with whom you have a good relationship—don’t start with your toughest client! Also, listen to the language your clients use when they talk to you—you may find that they are direct with you. Partners speak the same language.

We believe that direct words and supportive tones are most effective in being clear and building partnerships. We also recognize that the style is your choice. Recognize that in choosing questions or indirect statements, you may be using a style that will not create the partnership you want.

I’d love to hear about your experiences in expressing your wants. Drop me a note. Let me know how it’s going.

Charles L Fields was a highly acclaimed Senior Consultant at Designed Learning and a lover of life. He traveled the world by car, rail, plane, and ship, watched the sunrise on Croagh Patrick, and set on Victoria Peak, weathered a perfect storm in the Pacific, bartered for a darbuka in the Grand Bazaar, prayed at Lord Nelson’s Sarcophagus, ate lunch in the oldest restaurant in the world. His prolific and thought-provoking writing contributed to the design and re-design of many DL products, including Flawless Consulting, Empowerment, and Stewardship. Charlie shared his passion for this body of work in over 25 countries. His impact is a blessing.