Shawn’s Blog

“Assertive” Is Not an Insult

Enough already with hiding behind an introverted personality. You still have the right—and a responsibility—to talk about your thoughts and feelings OUT LOUD to other people at work. This means you are being assertive, not aggressive. If you’re not sure why it’s important to conquer your fear and directly address problems and issues in the workplace, read my blog post: “Conflict Avoidance: It Doesn’t Make the Problem Go Away.”

What It Means to Be Assertive

You’re assertive if you express your feelings, thoughts, and beliefs in an honest, direct way that’s appropriate to the situation. You get your meaning across, but in a way that preserves your rights and dignity. If others regard you as a pushover, or you think it’s better to be well-liked than well-respected, you’re not assertive enough.

Are you assertive? Yes, if you:

  1. Express negative feelings about other people and their behaviors without using abusive language (“I disagree with the way you handled that client interaction, and I’d like to discuss alternatives.”)
  2. Know what your strengths are, and you use them
  3. Easily recognize and compliment other people’s achievements
  4. Ask for what is rightfully yours (“I have put in the time, and now I need some time off.”)
  5. Accept criticism without being defensive
  6. Feel comfortable accepting compliments
  7. Stand up for your rights (see “My Assertive Bill of Rights” below)
  8. Refuse unreasonable requests from friends, family, or co-workers (“No, I can’t work that shift for you tomorrow on such short notice.”)
  9. Comfortably start and carry on conversations with others
  10. Ask for assistance when you need it (“Can you please help me run these month-end reports? I’m not going to be able to get them done by myself before the deadline.”)

Do eight or more of these statements accurately describe you? If not, you have got to start taking baby steps and practice being more assertive. Otherwise, you will spend the rest of your life getting walked on. Other people’s feelings and rights are NOT more important than yours. You will NOT offend other people by being assertive. You ARE important enough to express your feelings and rights.

In fact, I’m going to give you your bill of rights, so that you know exactly what they are.

My Assertive Bill of Rights

  • I am allowed to state my thoughts and feelings out loud, even if someone deems them negative or illogical.
  • I have the right to request that another change his or her behavior if s/he is infringing on my rights. That person might not change, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t ask.
  • I have the right to take my time when answering questions. I don’t have to respond immediately, even when someone is being demanding.
  • I have the right to say, “No,” to unreasonable requests and demands.

What Aggression Looks Like

Are you aggressive? Yes, if ANY of these statements are true about you:

  1. You become abusive—verbally or physically—when criticizing others (e.g., calling names, using foul language, using intimidating body language, throwing things, raising your voice).
  2. You think it’s OK to have angry outbursts at work.
  3. You purposely make others feel like they are incompetent or unimportant.
  4. You make unreasonable demands of other people.
  5. You brag about or exaggerate your achievements.
  6. You ignore the rights and feelings of other people.
  7. You aim to get your way at all costs.
  8. You often dominate conversations with others.
  9. You think that intimidation is the only way you can get what you want.

Listen, you can’t do this stuff at work. Your kids, spouse, or friends might tolerate it, but they sure don’t like it. And at work, it’s inexcusable. You will get fired, or you will lose your best people. The cost is just too high. Go see a psychologist, and start changing your behavior immediately. It doesn’t have to happen overnight, but you need to take steps starting today.

Here are some tips:

  • Be cognizant of your expression and body language at all times. Are your brows furrowed? Do you cross your arms or lean threateningly toward people?
  • Do not act hastily or in anger. Remain calm, cool, and collected. Take your time! If you feel triggered, excuse yourself for 30 minutes, then revisit it. If you still can’t get it under control, set an appointment to discuss it the next day.
  • Avoid making mountains out of molehills. Not every infraction or injustice is worth a battle. Learn to let some things go.

Following these simple suggestions will present you as someone who is confident and optimistic, as opposed to someone who is hostile and angry.

What Would Shawn Do? Understanding Social Styles at Work


The person we hired as a practice manager is very smart and good at her job, but her lack of communication is driving me crazy. She doesn’t respond to small talk, and I can’t seem to build a relationship with her. I keep reaching out, but she’s all about work, work, work. I don’t know if I did something to offend her, but I’m uncomfortable, and I find myself avoiding her. What do you recommend?


What we have here is a difference in social styles. Based on your behavior, it sounds like you’re an amiable. She’s either an analytical or a driver, depending on how assertive she is when she gets her ideas across. One style isn’t any better than another. Understanding how you’re different will help you approach the new manager in a more positive way.

Angry businesswoman

The main difference between you and her is how much you focus on feelings. Amiables are very concerned about feelings and want everyone to get along. They tend to ask questions rather than make statements. The worst amiable stereotype is a Chatty Cathy who never gets anything done.

Analyticals also tend to ask questions rather than give orders, but they are focused on accuracy almost to the exclusion of all else. The worst analytical stereotype is “detail-oriented.”

Drivers want to get things done. They’re task-focused and assertive. The worst stereotype of a driver is a workaholic. Neither the analytical nor the driver pays much attention to feelings, especially at work.

Remember that this IS work, and even though you’d really like it to be otherwise, you and the new manager are probably not going to be best friends. She may be overwhelmed by all of the friendly overtures you’ve been making. She may think you’re in her space way too much and not letting her get her work done. That doesn’t mean you need to avoid her. Try out some of these techniques and see if she’ll warm up to you:

  • Emphasize the rational, objective aspects of the issue you’re dealing with.
  • Speak slowly and quietly.
  • Be more formal in your speech or manner than you would be otherwise.
  • Present pros and cons, as well as options.
  • Don’t overstate or exaggerate the benefits of your ideas.
  • Follow up in writing.
  • Be on time, and keep it brief.
  • Show how your approach has little risk.

Conflict Avoidance: It Doesn’t Make the Problem Go Away

People who withdraw in response to conflict think they’re better than the yellers, because they feel they’re not as “aggressive.” As I said in this blog post, that’s blatantly untrue! Responding passively–which is the go-to for many introverts–is just as damaging to your work relationships as being sarcastic or throwing something across the room.

Businesswoman arguing with a colleague

What Is Conflict Avoidance?

First, let’s define conflict avoidance: It’s a method of dealing with conflict—a conscious choice—to not directly address the problem at hand. The “problem” is any situation in which people have apparently incompatible interests, goals, principles, or feelings.
(Note the emphasis on apparent, meaning there might not actually be incompatibility. You’re assuming there is conflict and acting accordingly. Maybe you should check it out with the other person first?)

Why Do You Avoid Conflict?

People avoid conflict for a number of different reasons, and sometimes many reasons at once. Perhaps you avoid conflict because you want to be liked and accepted, and you think ignoring the conflict, or hiding your true feelings, is the way to achieve that goal. Or maybe you want things to be peaceful, quiet, and stable. So you pretend there is no problem.
You may be terrified of conflict. If you were raised in a violent or abusive environment or have suffered other trauma, conflict can seem intolerable. You feel paralyzed, numb, or overwhelmed by fear or anxiety when conflict arises.
You may be a thinker and need time to process. It’s fine to take some time and not respond right away, especially if you’re triggered or angry. But it’s not okay as a permanent solution.
All of your feelings are legitimate, and you need to be aware of and acknowledge them to yourself. Then, you have to buck up and learn how to deal with conflict anyway. Why? Because when you avoid, you’re actually making it worse for yourself in the end!

The Consequences of Conflict Avoidance

When you engage in the behaviors of avoiding, yielding, hiding your emotions, and self-criticizing, you’re doing nothing to solve the problem at hand. Looking the other way, or blaming yourself, instead of directly addressing the problem, leaves the conflict sitting in the middle of the room, like the proverbial elephant. Let’s list the consequences:

  1. Good people walk out the door. They’re tired of you ignoring problems, and they can’t take it anymore! You’ve created a dysfunctional environment that they can’t tolerate, so they leave.
  2. Your boss, teammates, or subordinates mistake your avoidance for acquiescence. You don’t say anything, which, in their minds, is the equivalent of, “Okay, let’s move forward!” when you’re really not on board at all.
  3. Because you refuse to state your real thoughts and feelings, people make them up on your behalf. They often misinterpret your intentions completely. This doesn’t feel good for you or them, and it makes the situation more tense.
  4. People who want to solve the conflict will pursue you even more. This pattern of avoid-pursue-avoid-pursue leaves everyone exhausted, confused, and even frightened. (“She won’t talk to me. Am I going to get fired?”)

What to Do Instead

Here are some suggestions for how to start replacing your destructive, passive responses with more constructive ones.

If you avoid conflict:

Unhelpful Behavior
Changing the subject
Better Choice
Acknowledge what the other person is saying by repeating it back to her. “So what I hear you saying is…”
Unhelpful Behavior
Refusing to make eye contact
Better Choice
Look directly in the person’s eyes when you pass each other, when you speak, and when he speaks to you.
Unhelpful Behavior
Going out of your way to avoid interaction
Better Choice
Keep your office door open. Go through your normal routine. Make an appointment to meet.
Unhelpful Behavior
Walking away
Better Choice
Feel the fear and take action anyway. Say, “I’d like to give that the attention it deserves. Could we meet tomorrow at 10:00 to discuss it?”

If you tend to yield during conflict:

Unhelpful Behavior
Compromising your values
Better Choice
Stand up for yourself by using “I” statements. “I’m not comfortable with that course of action. Could we discuss alternatives?”
Unhelpful Behavior
Not voicing disagreement
Better Choice
Prepare for difficult conversations by planning how you can state your needs and wants. Use words like, “I’m not sure that’s the right direction. Can I take a moment to explain?”
Unhelpful Behavior
Letting others take credit for your work
Better Choice
Take credit for your own work. “I worked late last night to have those charts ready for this morning.”
Unhelpful Behavior
Responding with neutral words like, “I don’t care. Whatever you want is fine with me.”
Better Choice
State a preference. “What I’d prefer is…” or “The direction I’d like to go is…”

If you hide your emotions during conflict:

Unhelpful Behavior
Being vague, cryptic, or unclear in your communication; using one-word or short answers like, “Fine,” or “I don’t know.”
Better Choice
Force yourself to say what you’re thinking and feeling. Ask the person to repeat what he thinks you said until you are both on the same page.
Unhelpful Behavior
Stating pleasant emotions with your words while acting out unpleasant emotions with your body language
Better Choice
Match your words to your body language. If you’re rolling your eyes, no one believes it when you say, “That’s a great idea.”
Unhelpful Behavior
Not acknowledging your true feelings, even to yourself
Better Choice
Check in with yourself. What are the sensations in your body? Which feelings do they indicate? If you’re not sure, ask for some time to process and set a time to meet.

If you tend to self-criticize after conflict:

Unhelpful Behavior
Overanalyzing your own actions
Better Choice
Seek feedback from trusted co-workers and friends. Compare your self-appraisal with their opinions.
Unhelpful Behavior
Beating yourself up; saying things like, “I just can’t ever do anything right.”
Better Choice
Don’t associate your self-image with the conflict. Stop taking it personally. Say, ”I’m a work in progress, and that’s enough for today.”
Unhelpful Behavior
Revisiting past conflicts too frequently
Better Choice
Tell yourself that you can’t resolve any conflict “perfectly.” The past is over. Let it go.
For all conflict-avoiders: Practice explaining your emotional state in an informative and professional way that casts no blame. Remind yourself that how you feel is important to the conflict-resolution process. For more information on constructive responses to conflict, read my blog posts here and here.

What Would Shawn Do? When to Hire More Staff


We have a 24-hour hospital that has grown tremendously recently, and we have been hiring new staff just to keep up with that growth. We have been seeing weekly revenue of $80,000 and know we could easily generate $100,000 per week.

We want to ensure that we not just adding bodies and look more closely at the level of reception and technician support we need to generate that level of revenue. Do you have a framework that you use to ensure that you are keeping staffing under control during rapid growth periods?


Great question! Generally speaking, you allocate 20% of production for technician and customer service representative (CSR) wages: 12% for techs; and 3% for CSRs, leaving 5% for benefits. A typical DVM generates $600K in revenue. That would mean $120K goes to tech and CSR support, or approximately 2 techs and .75 CSRs per DVM.

Managing Change: The 20/50/30 Rule

In this post, we talked about how to identify if you’re really a pessimist or an optimist when it comes to change, and how to change your Negative Nelly ways. Here, we talk about where to focus your energy during a change, which tools to use, and when to use them.

Who’s on Board?

According to management guru John Maxwell, the “20/50/30 Rule” is in effect when you implement a change. It looks like this:

  • 20% will embrace any initiative you propose.
  • 50% will be ambivalent about the change.
  • 30% will resist any initiative you propose.

DON’T waste your time trying to convert the non-believers! Focus your energy on courting the 50% who’re undecided and encouraging the 20% that’ll help you move the change forward.

How to Court the Fence-sitterschange

If you’re like other managers and practice owners, you probably underestimate the ways you can positively manage and influence change. Here are some tools you can use, along with advice about when to use them:

Connection to Strategy

First—and most important—is to connect the change to your strategic plan. Explain the “why” of the change in terms of your vision for the practice. Also show how the change will positively benefit clients and patients.

Use every single time you implement change.


Initiators (management) and implementers (staff) must have a good relationship to make this tactic work. Hold one-on-one and staff meetings, and educate with memos, presentations, and reports to increase buy-in.

Use when there’s a lack of information about the change, or inaccurate information is being spread.


If you involve the team in some aspect of the change, you can forestall or eliminate resistance. People do not argue with what they help create.

Implement when the initiators don’t have the needed information, or when implementers have considerable power to resist.


Support your employees, especially when fear and anxiety lie at the heart of resistance. If you’re a tough manager who cracks the whip, chances are you’ll overlook this method of courting the fence-sitters. Don’t! Facilitation and support means giving them training. It means giving them time off after a demanding period. It means being prepared to listen and provide emotional support.

Use this method when people resist because of fear of change and how the change will affect them.


A relatively easy way to avoid major resistance is to negotiate and come up with an agreement everyone can live with. It’s risky in terms of relationships, though, if all parties do not honor the agreement.

Use when someone will clearly lose out in the change, or where resistance is considerable and implementers have lots of power.


This method includes conscious structuring of events and handpicking information to covertly influence people. Usually, it involves giving an individual a key role in the design or implementation of the change. You’re essentially looking for an endorsement. Co-optation can lead to future problems if people feel manipulated.

Use when other tactics don’t work or are too expensive.

Explicit/Implicit Coercion

When time is of the essence and the change is unpopular, your only tool may be “forcing” people to accept change by implicitly or explicitly threatening them with loss of job or promotion possibilities. It’s speedy and overcomes the resistance, but it can also backfire.

Use when speed is essential and resistance is likely to be powerful.



This article is adapted from content in Shawn McVey’s presentations titled, “Managing Change and Growth” and “Manager’s Guide to Implementing Change.” To schedule Shawn to give this presentation to your group or team, contact Cindy Oliphant at 888-759-7191 or by email.