Being Assertive at Work: A Real-Life Case Study

What does it look like to be assertive at work? In this article, I’m sharing a real-life example of being assertive at work from my life. I’m so excited to share this example with you because not only was I able to successfully get what I needed, but I also improved the relationship with my boss.

Check out the video, or keep reading to learn about how I practiced assertiveness at my job!

Table of Contents

How to be assertive at work: A SUCCESSFUL example of how I did it!

I recently made a video on five key elements for how to be more assertive (if you struggle with people pleasing or worry about stirring the pot).

In that video, I mentioned that I had an experience at work where I was able to communicate assertively and get what I need, and improve the relationship of the person that I was communicating with. And I promised to make a little in-depth case study about that example and why it worked so well.

So here it is…

how i was assertive at my job in the film industry

Being assertive about the tools I need for my job

I work part time in the film industry. I’m a camera assistant.

That means every now and then, I am the person that is responsible for transferring all the footage that’s captured on the camera throughout the day to external drives. We then send those drives to the editor to edit.

Now, for some important context: There’s a couple of different drives that we can use. The industry standard, at least where I work, is an SSD, which is a solid state drive. It’s ten times faster than a HDD, which is a hard disk drive.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I was getting ready to go on this job that this producer had hired me for. When I get ready, I typically like to ask a lot of questions like, “what’s the gear that we’re using?” There’s all sorts of technical things that I ask.

One of the things I asked was “what kind of drive are we backing up to?” The producer responded and said, “we’re working with HDDs,” and sent me a link to what they’re going to be purchasing.

Uh oh.

Attempt to be assertive at work (Take 1)

The alarm bells start going off in my mind because you’re not supposed to use HDDs when you’re backing things up because they’re ten times slower.

I figured it was just this producer isn’t a very technical person. Maybe they don’t know the difference between SSDs and HDDs. Maybe they don’t know the impact of like how slow HDDs really are going to be for this kind of job.

So I responded, “SSDs are really the best solution to use in this kind of situation because they’re ten times faster than HDDs.” And in my email, I included a link to the same store that she was shopping on, but the SSD version (because I figured it was just a mix up).

I hear back from the producer and she says “No, we can’t go with the SSD. We have a super, super limited budget for this shoot. So we have to use HDDs.”

So at that point, I’m thinking, “crap.”

“They’re actually going to give me these HDDs. My life is going to be significantly more difficult because this is going to take forever. I’m going to be on set for hours and hours after we were scheduled to end. That’s going to really suck a lot. I’m not going to get home until like 3 a.m…”

That’s when I try a different approach…

So I took a step back and I went, “OK Tali, when you tried to appeal to the producer from a ‘this is going to take extra time’ perspective, it didn’t work. That was not something that the producer was super concerned about. Or at least not concerned enough to change their mind.”

And I had to remember that the goal of the producer isn’t necessarily to make my job super easy for me.

The goal of the producer is to make sure that we’re staying within the budget. So I had to think of it not in terms of time and impact to my ability to do my job, but in terms of the impact to the overall budget of the project.

So I actually took out a piece of paper, did a bunch of calculations, and I figured out it was going to take me 7 to 10 hours to dump all this data.

And then I figured out that the earliest we’re going to be able to start transferring the footage onto the drives is 2:30pm. And if it takes 7 hours total, that means that the earliest I’d be able to get out of there is 9:30 p.m. while everybody ended work at 6.

I figured out that if we use these hard drives, because they are so slow, it would cost either an additional 3 or 4 hours of overtime for me because I’d be working past the standard ten hour day for the film industry in my city.

Or I would have to finish working the next day and charge them half of my day rate.

Attempt to be assertive at work (Take 2)

So when I got back to the producer, I said, “you know, if we stick to this plan of getting HDDS, then it’s going to take me an extra 3 hours of overtime on the day that we’re shooting. Or I’m going to have to work a little bit the next day and I’m going to have to charge you a half day rate.”

I was able to say, “if we use these slow HDDs , either I’ll have to work on that day and that’ll cost an extra X amount of dollars or I’m going to have to finish the next day and I’m going to have to charge you half my day rate, which is Y amount of dollars. How would you like to proceed?

She got back to me the next morning and said, “we were able to move some money around and we are able to purchase the SSDs now instead of the HDD. So all of the extra complication and extra money that would or what it cost to use the HDDs… we don’t have to deal with that anymore.”

I was very grateful and I expressed gratitude, but that’s not the point of the story. The point of the story is what worked well here.

Being assertive at work: What worked well

Keep reading to learn why this worked so well… And by the way, that producer has since then hired me for two other jobs.

Figuring out the impact the other party cares about

I was able to take something that felt like my problem and figure out the impact to the larger picture.

What’s the impact that the producer cares about and how do I appeal to that impact?

That impact was monetary.

So if the producer has a budget and they’re super concerned with making sure that we stay within the budget, then I had to show her, “if we stay with these HDDs, sure you’re saving some money, but you’re actually going to lose that same money, if not more, because I’m going to have to work overtime because of the estimated amount of time that it would take to transfer all that data.”

I was able to take a step back and go, “you know what, this isn’t just impacting me. This is impacting the entire project because it’s going to cost more. It’s going to add all these complications because I’m going to have to stay at the venue later and it cause all these extra complications.”

When I was able to demonstrate not just that it was uncomfortable or frustrating for me, but what was going to be a larger impact, was going to overcomplicate things for the entire project, and cost more money… Once I was able to take a step back and see that, and demonstrate that to the person I was working with, they went, “Oh yeah, that is not going to work for us. We better go with the solution that you suggested.”

Speaking kindly but firmly

And I didn’t point fingers. I didn’t blame. I didn’t tell this producer “Hey, you’re so stupid. You don’t understand the technical difference between SSDs and HDDs, and obviously it’s going to take longer.”

I just explained more. I just made sure that they understand the impact, that they understand all their options and all of the financial impacts of their options.

And I made sure to ask solution-oriented questions.

Instead of just dumping a bunch of problems on this producer (who was probably really overworked and stressed), I was able to say, “here are the three options that we have. Here are the impacts of all of those three options that we have. How would you like to proceed?”

I treated this person with respect.

When I was assertive at work, it helped everyone

By communicating assertively, by finding that shared common goal, that shared language by showing that impact on the larger, broader picture, and by asking those solution oriented questions, I was able to not just help myself, but help the project.

I was able to help the larger team by simplifying things.

And I was also able to show the producer that, I’m not just watching out for me, I’m watching out for the larger team.

A guide to quit being a people pleaser

Want to stop people pleasing at work?

By the way, I was so excited about this example of how assertive communication can be beneficial for all parties involved, that I actually put together a free guide on how to support people pleasing.

If you struggle with being assertive, if you struggle with speaking up for yourself because you’re worried about stirring the pot, I share ten tips for how to communicate more confidently so that you can get what you want and improve the relationships with the people around you. So be sure to download that free guide.

FREE GUIDE: How to STOP People Pleasing

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Additional resources for being assertive at work:

Being assertive at work: A real-life case study

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