Assertion works well when you’re quick and nonjudgmental, and you listen

Diagram on enlarging the “No Problem Area” with various skills, showing where assertion works

Enlarging the “No Problem Area” with various skills

Assertion works sometimes when you’re just quick and nonjudgmental

John, I’m glad to have the opportunity to talk with you. Okay, Doc, what’s up?
Do you remember about a month ago, you came in with a cold and I saw you? Yes, I do.
Well, I learned that you returned after I left and complained to the on-call nurse about how you’d been treated. Did I? I don’t really remember.
Well, I just wanted you to know I was annoyed by your complaining, since I had given you the opportunity to tell your concerns at that visit.
(I-MESSAGE)
Sorry, Doc. I didn’t think that what I did would bother anyone.
Okay. I just wanted you to be aware.  

 

Good morning, Carrie. I was just talking with your Mom about your diabetes. She’s quite worried. She’s always worrying. I’m doing okay.
I’m sorry, Carrie, but I have a problem with what you just said.
(I-MESSAGE)
What problem?
You said that you were doing okay. I disagree, and I’m concerned because you’re not testing your sugar levels or following your diet, and that has resulted in two hospitalizations. If you are to stay out of the hospital, I need your cooperation.
(I-MESSAGE)
 

 

Assertion works more reliably when you also listen

I have a problem with your taking so much time before letting me administer your shots each time. I’m afraid I won’t be able to get to my other patients.
(I-MESSAGE)
I really hate those shots. They hurt a lot, and I’ve always been a baby about pain.
You’ve always been afraid of pain, and these shots really hurt.
(SHIFTING GEARS WITH ACTIVE LISTENING)
 

 

I have a problem when you say you don’t walk every day. I’m afraid the circulation in your legs will get worse, and that would make me feel I haven’t done my job well.
(I-MESSAGE)
It takes too much time. Right now I’m swamped with work at the office.
It sounds like your work has a higher priority right now, so there’s no time for walking.
(SHIFTING GEARS WITH ACTIVE LISTENING)
 

 Assertion works amazingly well sometimes if you just try it

One morning the door swung open and in marched a resolute five-year-old boy with a diagnosis of leukemia. He was followed by four nurses, one of whom said, “This is David.” I was surprised to see so many nurses and was about to ask why, when one of them lifted David to the table. Suddenly there was a mass of struggling women: “Got his leg? I have his arm. Watch out, he bites… ” and the room was filled with David screaming and screaming.

A little arm projected from under the white mound of their bodies. As it was smaller than the rest, I drew blood from it, assuming that it was David’s. I said, “I have it,”…

…one by one the nurses, wrinkled and sweating, got up, and left David alone and quiet on the table. He was watching me.

My hands were shaking so badly that I could not transfer David’s blood from the syringe into the test tube. I brought my hands up against my chest to steady the transfer.

David said, “Why are your hands shaking?”

…I found myself saying, “I’m shaking because you yelled so loud you frightened me.”

A few days later I was again in the treatment room at dawn. As I glanced anxiously over the list of patients, my eye caught David’s name. I asked that he be called first, as I wanted to have it over with. The door swung open, and in walked David, followed by four nurses.

Waving the nurses back, he climbed up on the table and extended his arm to me. “There,” he said, “I won’t scare you this time.”

And he never “scared” me again.


  1. Gordon, Thomas, and W. Sterling Edwards. Making the patient your partner: Communication skills for doctors and other caregivers. ABC-CLIO, 1997, pp. 104, 113-117.

Serving customers best requires radical innovation

Paths from market orientation to new product success illustrate that serving customers best requires radical innovationThree market orientation–learning style–innovation–new product success paths.

Market orientation is expected to be positively related to generative learning (1)
and negatively related to gleaning (3)
but is not expected to be related to adaptive learning (2)…

Serving customers best still takes incremental innovation

…market orientation may be characterized as ‘‘ pervasive commitment to a set of processes, beliefs, and values reflecting the philosophy that all decisions start with the customer and are guided by a deep and shared understanding of customers’ needs and behavior, and competitors’ capabilities and intentions, for the purpose of realizing superior performance by satisfying customers better than competitors’’…

Although market-oriented firms are expected to be adept at adaptive learning inspired incremental innovation,… it is expected that this will also be true of most firms regardless of their market orientation.

Typically, innovation takes the form of brand or line extensions, modifications to existing products, or repositionings. There is a comfort to the learning and innovation that takes place in this mode because organizational members are not questioning the successes of the past. They are merely improving on them.

Although the results show that this type of innovation is the most common and least variable in the sample of firms, they also show that it is not related to market orientation. Incremental innovation was the most common form of innovation in firms. The priority firms place on it, however, was not related to new product success.

Serving customers best requires more radical innovation, and less imitation

In general, radical innovations have greater value to firms than incremental innovations, particularly when radical innovators have deep pockets and strong market power… New product concepts have greater value than line extensions… and technological breakthroughs are more profitable than incremental improvements… [Researchers] reported… product advantage and product innovativeness—two correlates of radical innovation—to be strongly related to new product success. Radical innovation priority was positively related to new product success; imitation priority was negatively related to new product success.

Market orientation had a direct positive relationship with new product success. Market orientation also had a positive indirect influence on new product success through generative-learning-inspired radical innovation and a negative indirect influence on new product success through gleaning-inspired imitation. Market orientation had no influence on firms’ adaptive learning priority or incremental innovation priority.

Overall, the results suggest that market orientation shifts the weight of a firms innovation programs away from imitation toward a balance between incremental and radical innovation.

Relative priorities of firms by market orientation, showing that serving customers best requires radical innovation

Serving customers best requires new learning and experimenting

Maximal long-term success requires a two-pronged innovation strategy.

In the short run, firms must remain competitive and alluring by engaging in incremental improvements that appeal to their customer base. These types of innovations can be discovered and prioritized by talking to customers and by monitoring competitors through traditional marketing research and intelligence activities.

In the long run, however, the most successful firms accompany adaptive modifications to the marketing mix with framebreaking initiatives. …long-term market leaders must innovate relentlessly and must be willing to cannibalize their own products to maintain their leadership position. These initiatives must be proactive and planned and must encourage employees to be selectively destructive (e.g., to identify and undo the obsolete). Although short-run incremental innovation programs can be linked explicitly to deadlines, budgets and outcome measures (e.g., ROI), longer-run destructive programs are not likely to produce results in a linear manner. As a result, they may best be pursued offline.

…a strong market orientation appears to be a key to the ability of firms to balance incremental and radical innovation programs. Prior research has also identified learning orientation as a key element of this process.

Managers should strive to improve their market and learning orientations by diagnosing their performance on each and benchmarking progress relative to exemplar firms.

In addition, long-run radical innovation requires firms to foster the motivation, opportunity, and ability to implement change…; in other word culture is key…

  • Motivation can be instilled by a reward system that makes experimentation and failure psychologically safe and the maintenance of the status quo psychologically unsafe.
  • Opportunity requires that employees be given the money, time, and voice to engage in change related behaviors.
  • Ability requires firms to hire the right type of people: ‘‘Individuals with low needs for uncertainty avoidance, high tolerance for ambiguity and the lust to experiment should be recruited for decision-makers’’…

  1. Baker, William E., and James M. Sinkula. “Does market orientation facilitate balanced innovation programs? An organizational learning perspective.” Journal of product innovation management 24.4 (2007): 316-334.

Assert well by stating one sentence, listening, and reasserting

The increase and decrease of defensiveness with reflecitve listening to assert well

Figure 10.1. The increase and decrease of defensiveness in the assertion process as the asserter “shifts gears” between asserting and reflective listening responses.

…when someone is violating my space, I want THAT behavior changed.

The three-part assertion message… begins with a description of the offending behavior and includes a description of the consequences on your life and how you feel about those consequences.

The three parts of the assertion message are stated as succinctly as possible and are contained in one sentence.

Effective assertion is characterized by firmness without domination. It vigorously defends one’s own space while steadfastly refusing to violate the trespasser’s turf. That is why the three-part message contains no solution. It is up to the other person to figure out how he can best evacuate my space.

Beginners at assertion usually send more effective messages when they use the formula:

When you [state the behavior nonjudgmentally],
I feel [disclose your feelings]
because [clarify the effect on your life].”

Assert well in one sentence: describe one behavior

First, describe the behavior in specific rather than fuzzy terms.

Second, limit yourself to behavioral descriptions. …behavior… is observable. Anyone present who had sound hearing and sight could have noticed the same behaviors.

Third, make your behavior description an objective statement rather than a judgment. …be sure that no subtle judgmental words have crept in.

Fourth, behavioral descriptions should be as brief as possible. I typically concentrate on one behavior at a time.

Fifth, be sure that you assert about the real issues. …repeated small irritants often grow until they loom large in our feeling world.

Sixth, be sure to assert to the right person.

Assert well in one sentence: disclose your feeling

“When I experienced the negative effect of the other’s behavior, what was the first feeling I experienced?” Often the first feeling is the primary feeling—the one which belongs in the assertion message.

The asserter can increase the emotional accuracy of his statement by selecting from several words of varying intensity to see which best matches his inner feeling. For example, he might try such words as “nervous,” “worried,” “afraid,” or “petrified.”

The more we express our feelings, the more we sharpen our emotional awareness.

Assert well in one sentence: say one tangible effect

Concrete or tangible effects” seem to be most convincing to people. By concrete or tangible effects we mean those things that unnecessarily cost the asserter money, harm his possessions, consume his time, cause him extra work, endanger his job, and/or interfere with his effectiveness at work.

In most ordinary relationships and in every significant relationship, people trespass on one another’s turf in tangible ways.

The assertion message that cites tangible effects often influences the intangible areas of a relationship.

…a three-part assertion on values issues is never appropriate (in fact, you can never complete the third part—citing a concrete effect of the other’s behavior on your life space).  One assertion after another is discarded—as many as half to three-quarters of them—because they fall into the values area and constitute an intrusion on the other person’s space rather than a defense of the asserter’s space.

Effective assertion is open and honest communication.

Assert well by shifting gears: reflectively listen, then reassert

I get down to business quickly. When you send an assertion, your body language should demonstrate that you mean what you say, that you are not ambivalent about it, and that you expect to get your needs met. At the same time, assertive body language communicates respect for the other person.

After sending your brief assertion message with appropriate body language—stop. Be silent.

…it is almost certain that the person to whom the assertion was addressed will make a defensive response. …it is most important to “shift gears” and listen reflectively to the predictable defensive response. As Figure 10.1 indicates, this shifting back and forth between assertion and listening normally takes place several times before the assertion is completed.

As the recipient of the assertion expresses her defensiveness and that is reflected back with respect, her defensiveness subsides. The vicious cycle of increasing defensiveness is broken and constructive conversation can begin again.

The defensiveness-reducing power of effective listening responses is truly remarkable. For many people, it must be seen to be believed.[1]


  1. Bolton, Robert. People skills. Touchstone, 2009, pp. 262-314.