Not every travel agent is comfortable being assertive. Yet, unless the travel counselor takes charge of their many relationships, they risk performing far below par. There are times when an agent must be assertive with clients, with co-workers or suppliers. But how can you be assertive without being “pushy” or rude? Is it possible to be assertive, maintain integrity and still be fair to all involved? It is, and an analysis of how to properly assert yourself is a valuable tool in communicating with others.
First, understand the appropriate context and definition of being assertive. Being assertive is different from being aggressive.When a person is assertive, they are taking into account their needs, the needs of others, and attempting to communicate a desired outcome. When a person is aggressive, they are first and foremost stating a case only from their own perspective. The person who is assertive understands that they may not achieve what they desire, but they clearly state the outcome they want to achieve. The person who is aggressive, however, disregards the wants of others and insists on the outcome favoring their perspective.
To develop a sense of how to be properly assertive, understand the need to empty yourself of emotional charge when stating your position. Passion is fine, even necessary to enrolling others in your perspective. Excess emotion, however, can derail your efforts, transforming assertiveness to aggression.
Secondly, empathetically envision the goal you want to achieve and the impact it will have on others. To be appropriately assertive, you need to have a sense of the values that inform your goals. You must also appreciate the position of others. If you hope to be effectively assertive, you will appeal to a universal sense of fairness. Your rights and wants are as valuable as everyone else’s’ – but not more so.
Clearly understand what you want, and why you want to achieve the desired outcome. Let’s say a client is delaying providing you with a final payment. The travel agent who is not assertive may allow the client to delay so long penalties or even cancelation may ensue. The aggressive agent may demand payment and even threaten the client – achieving an outcome but risking an ongoing relationship. The assertive agent will explain the necessity of a timely final payment to the client, the consequences of being late and her desire to protect the interests of the client.
I once wrote a column on Expectations addressing the need for a special type of assertiveness.
Language is important to being appropriately assertive. Express your desire by saying “I want to protect your interests, and getting the payment in on time is important to keeping your reservation in place. I don’t want you to lose your deposit and miss out on the trip.” Expressing your desires this way ensures the client that your interests are with them and, importantly, places the consequences for failure to comply squarely with the client. It is fair, honest and authentic. Other language with a more threatening tenor would be overly aggressive and may have an undesired impact on the client relationship. Use value-filled terminology when stating your position – say “I want” rather than “I need”; use language that expresses choice such as “could” instead of “should”.
An assertive person will stand up for their rights, but will do so within a context of shared values. Most people understand the concept of what is fair, and how to accept responsibility for their actions. An assertive person will attempt to state their position within that context. This “safe” area helps to protect you when you assert your position against others’ anger or aggressiveness. Calm assertions, fairly based, stand up well when other’s attempt to sort out the correct action to take.
You can learn to be assertive. Know who you are and what you want, consider the positions of others and the fairness of your position relative to theirs. State your desires in the context of shared values. Be firm, be strong and keep your emotions under control. You may find yourself getting more of what you want and deserve.