Working With Assertiveness-Resolving Conflict

Stuff happens! Conflicts, miscommunication, disputes, and many more problems interfere in workplaces, not to mention the routine stress producing issues on a film project. (e.g. time, costs, location changes & conditions, lighting and coordination, to name a few).

We all communicate differently in normal situations and stressful ones where challenging personal interactions or other pressures act on us. When issues arise, we deal with them in our own way, sometimes well, or not so well.

We hear of the Fight or Flight responses to stress. Facing rudeness, conflict, disputes, harmful events, attacks, or threats, we may become flushed, short of breath, our heartbeat & breathing rates increase, & hormones are released. Afterwards, it takes 20 to 60 minutes for the body to return to its pre-arousal levels.

The fight-or-flight response (also called hyperarousal, or the acute stress response) is a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat.

Fight-angry, reactive responses, not only disrupt the present situation, but impair future interactions between people who need to work together.

Flight-Passive, unsatisfactory responses that produce stress, resentment and also impair essential working relationships as issues are not resolved (and may get worse!).

We Need A Better Way!

“The shortest distance between two people is a smile.” Victor Borge,

While each of these approaches above, actually has a place in communication, we need a third, more Assertive approach to get things done in a modern workplace.

There are many assertive methods we have to address challenging situations. Start by considering how to positively influence the other party, with three primary steps…

  1. Acknowledge that you have hear, and understood their point of view
  2. State your point of view
  3. State what you want to have happen

Understanding and Managing Conflict!

To control and manage conflict, let’s understand,

A-Conflict happens, and may relate to personal interactions, or less personal, work related issues

Aside from personal issues, common sources of work-related conflict include,

  • Incompatible Goals-where each party’s objectives differ
  • Differentiation-lack of knowledge of each other, mutual goals & pressures are not understood
  • Interdependence-where each depends on the other (It can be great, or a real problem!)
  • Scarce Resources-competition, for funds, staff, equipment, resources, etc
  • Ambiguous Rules-if clarity exists, conflict is lower as everyone knows, “this is how we do it!”
  • Poor Communication-a common issue linked to both circumstances and individuals.


B-Differences exist between destructive relationship conflict vs constructive, problem solving conflict

  • Relationship Conflict-Focusing on another persons’ characteristics, as problems vs actual issues
  • Constructive Conflict-Focused on issues, yet respecting other views

C-We have conflict management choices to make, all of which have valid uses for different situations.

Strategy Best to Use When Disadvantages of this Approach
Avoiding The consequences of conflict are too high . e.g. “Not today” Not here!” Nothing gets solved. The issue is not resolved. The other party gets frustrated.
Forcing Deep conviction exists (e.g. other party is unethical). A quick solution is required.

The other party will not cooperate

Highest risk of relationship conflict.

Damage to long term relations, impairs future problem solving.

Yielding The other party, has substantially more power

The issue less important to one than the other

Your position value or logic is unclear.

It increases the other party’s expectations you will likely yield in future conflicts.
Compromise Both parties have equal power

There is time pressure to resolve conflict

Parties lack trust/openness for problem solving

Sub-optimal solution where mutual gains may be possible, if more time & discussion are available.
Problem Solving Interests are not perfectly opposed or issues are complex

Parties have trust, openness & time to share information

Sharing information the other party may use to their advantage in the future.


It’s Within Us All!

Why do we react physically to stressful situations? We have inborn tendencies (our Limbic system, we share with animals) to aid us in dealing with challenging situations. It is our Fight or Flight reaction when faced with danger or a challenge. When we sense danger, the Limbic system releases hormones to enable us to fight or to flee. Fine in a pre-civilization world, but now we need a more subtle system.

These instincts show up in workplace interactions. Let’s see if the behaviours below are familiar…

Aggressive Communicators-those who… Passive Communicators-those who…
 Talk over and interrupts others

Tells others what to do before finding out what they want

Treats others as if they are superior

Makes sarcastic, demeaning, or threatening remarks

Doesn’t consider what you want, only what they want

Always wants their way, whatever the cost

Stands too close to others, or in other ways makes others feel physically uncomfortable

 Rarely says what they really think or want

Let’s others make decisions for them

Agrees to do things they don’t want to, to “avoid making waves”

Speaks hesitantly or quietly

Acts as if they think they are less important than others

Avoids conflict and disagreements at all costs

Drops hints rather than directly requests what they want


Impacts Impacts
Conflict, disruptive workplace arguments.

Poor cooperation, turnover, delays, added costs

Negative impact on clients

Harassment, bullying, in some cases violence

Potential legal action if allowed to continue

Ineffective workplaces

Stress and soured work relationships

Harassment & bullying continue or get worse

Attendance drops, sick leave increases

Issues not dealt with

Staff “work around” the aggressive person

Ineffective workplaces

Win/Lose Lose/Lose

A More Balanced Strategy

Assertive Communication-is a balance of both styles that is very effective.

Do you know anyone who,

  • Is open and honest about what they are feeling?
  • Makes direct requests of what they want, (so you can say yes or no)?
  • Respects themselves and shows respect for others?
  • Finds out what others want, states what they want, and looks for ways to reach agreement
  • Listens to and respects others opinions, even if they disagree?
  • Will let you know, clearly courteously, if you are doing something they wish you would not do?
  • Can disagree with others, without creating bad feelings?


Maya Angelou, “Being humble, doesn’t mean one has to be a mat.”

Assertive Communication-a set of verbal & non-verbal skills, based on mutual respect, resulting in clear, open communication.

So?-In many cases, we need to be assertive, as we are often in situations, where,

  • Specific laws, rules, policies, processes or instructions need to be followed
  • Consequences need to be made clear and the impact on others is high
  • In business situations, working relationships need to be maintained
  • Where you have a disagreement with another person
  • Where you need to persuade a senior person or others to take certain course of action


Assertive Influence-We must manage communication with others & influence “to do the right thing.”

Win/Win Communication-Assertive Communication Techniques

To address situations assertively, there are three primary steps to take…

1-Acknowledge that you have hear and understood their point of view

2-State your point of view

3-State what you want to have happen


1 – Listen and acknowledge that you hear and understand-Avoid negative responses-aggressive people get them all the time, and ignore them.

Methods to get their attention-confirm that you have heard and understood. “I know it’s essential to get it by tomorrow!”

Acknowledging/confirming their needs, slowing their momentum, and, eliminates the need for them to repeat their request.

Aggressive people face a lot of opposition and use repeated requests or urgency to emphasize their point. We need to slow them down, take charge of the situation & clarify that their point is understood.

Listening builds respect. You need to be clear, that, while sympathetic to their request, there are reasons why it may not happen.

2 – State your point of viewExplain the problem that exists in agreeing to their request.

  • “I am working on a task my Supervisor has as a priority. I cannot do both, by tomorrow.” Or,
  • “When you speak to me that way, it gets me upset and gets in the way of being helpful.”

You need to be clear, while sympathetic to their need, there is more to the situation than their request.

You can preface this with the phrase, “However…” which brings in other aspects. Don’t use the word “But” that is a stopping word and you are trying to keep the conversation going, not escalating it.

  • Request a full hearing of your point of view
  • Be silent, give the other person time to reflect and respond
  • Use active listening

– State what you want to have happenKeeping a positive approach, offer an alternative that you may be able to accommodate. “Here is what I suggest we do.”

“If you wish to speak to my Supervisor about the priorities, you can do that.” Or, “Let me know what are the key parts of the job needed for the morning, and I will let you know if I can do those.”


  • Restate the problem if necessary–Calmly repeat your needs.
  • Then engage in collaborative problem-solving.
  • Be prepared to shift between Active Listening &Positive Assertion. Be persistent.


More Assertive Tools & Techniques

Repeating your Initial Statement

The Broken Record Technique-is to repeat your initial statement.

Aggressive persons often disregard the views of others & try to steamroller them. This refocuses the situation, (which hasn’t changed). Don’t let them sidetrack you. Return to, and restate your original position.

  • “As I indicated to you a moment ago, I am working on a priority for my Manager.”
  • “I hear you, and understand how important it is, but that doesn’t change the priority my Manager has given me.”

Positive Assertion/Workable Compromise

-Focus on what can get done. Consider what options exist for both to get what they want.

  • “I can address it after this scene. After that I must pick up my kids. If you prepare part of it for me, I can do the priority sections first thing in the morning.”

Negotiations (same phasing as above)

While you may not be able to accommodate their request, there may be things each of you could do to solve the problem. Here, you want to ensure they understand that discussion of their request, does not mean agreeing to it. It is a negotiation, where each side needs to agree.

  • “I can address it after this scene. After that I must pick up my kids. If you prepare part of it for me, I can do the priority sections first thing in the morning.”


Paraphrase or reframe the request to confirm that it is clear.

  • Are you saying, despite my telling you I could not do it this week, here it is Thursday and you what me to drop other priorities to address this now?”

We may need to clarify all aspects of the issue to get the other person to realize the unrealistic positions they are suggesting. Aggressive persons don’t really care much about your problems, but they still exist. This can be a stopping moment and give you both time to reframe.


Positive Inner Dialogue (or Self-Talk)

-in this approach you coach yourself to respond better to upcoming situations. (How often do we say, “I should have said this.” or, “I should have replied that way.” Often we don’t respond assertively, as we are surprised by the request, or unnerved by an aggressive manner.

Think ahead to situations you face & have an inner dialogue with yourself on how to reply.


Saying No-Careful, sometimes you can’t say no a person in a senior position. You do, however, want to ensure if their request will not be met, (e.g. by conditions beyond your control), you need to let them know immediately.

For others, who are just being abusive, this can stop, or at least slow them down, especially if they are used to an aggressive style and expect others to agree just to avoid conflict. You are being honest, and are clarifying the situation.

“No, I can’t do that, so let’s discuss what can get done.”