Words of wisdom

Is it better to be confident or assertive?

I recently had a long conversation with a fellow mom about our 11 year old daughters.  We were discussing how chatty they are with us, and each other – but in school, they are quiet.  We quickly attributed it to the, shall we say, unruly boys in their 5th grade class that they find a bit overwhelming.

With my single-sex education background, I quickly got on my high horse about the virtues of all-girls’ schools where, without the influence of boys in the classroom, girls are able to grow, express themselves without fear of judgment, and ultimately gain confidence.

But is confidence the same as assertiveness? We both agreed that, while our daughters are not very assertive in school, they are confident.  So, what’s the difference?  And, is it better to be assertive or confident?

To me, confidence can be loud or quiet.  Confidence is the belief in yourself, your intelligence, character, skills, and other qualities.  Wikipedia (my go-to source of information) defines confidence as a state of being certain either that a hypothesis or prediction is correct or that a chosen course of action is the best or most effective. Self-confidence is having confidence in oneself.

Assertiveness is an ability to communicate your confidence or your position in a variety of ways. Wikipedia defines it as the quality of being self-assured and confident without being aggressive. It goes on to say that assertiveness can be a learnable skill and mode of communication.  Wikipedia expresses no opinion as to whether confidence can be learned.

I found it interesting that the definition of assertiveness actually used the word confidence.  I believe that confidence and assertiveness can be mutually exclusive.  One can surely be assertive while lacking confidence. Haven’t we all seen that person who tries to cover up their lack of confidence with bravado?  (See 5th grade boys.)  And, you can definitely be confident without being assertive – sometimes, that’s a sign of even greater confidence.

We concluded that confidence, especially in girls, is key.  We also concluded that our girls’ confidence will carry them farther than just possessing the ability to assert themselves (in the way that the boys in their class do).  Of course, do not mistake this conclusion for a statement that assertiveness doesn’t matter. One needs to be able to effectively communicate one’s position, and advocate for oneself.  This by its very nature means that one must be able to make oneself heard through the “noise”.

But the real conclusion of the conversation was that our girls will be fine.  As 11 year olds battling rambunctious 5th grade boys on a daily basis, they may be thrown for a temporary loop. But, their confidence in themselves and their brains will get them where they need to go.  When those boys quiet down and listen, they will surely find that our girls have many interesting things to say.

Please share your thoughts with me here.


Words of wisdom

How To Calculate The Real Cost of Services

As an attorney who has worked on both sides of the table (firm-side and client-side), I have become highly sensitive to attorney billing practices – or for that matter, billing practices for any professional service.  Far too often, I have seen a client, myself included, select a service provider based on cost—because that provider offered a lower per unit rate.  However, after engaging service providers in various industries to provide services, based on rate as well as other factors, I have come to learn that the lowest rate does not always represent the best price or quality, and can be more expensive in the long term.

 To help make sure others do not make the same mistakes I have, I hope that this list of cost considerations beyond the “hourly rate” helps you find the most effective providers for your business.

1.  The cost of speed
Some people simply work faster and more efficiently than others.  If Provider A is billing $1,000/hour and Provider B is billing at $250/hour, you would think that Provider B would be less expensive.  If Provider A had the experience and expertise to deliver the service 5 times faster than Provider B, (s)he is not only less expensive, but also more effective in a shorter time frame.

2.  The cost of learning
At many service organizations, monthly quotas and bonus structures incent individuals to bill every minute of their time.  But, should you really be charged for the time it takes for them to learn the basics of your industry? Or, if they are being paid for their expert advice, should you be paying for the time it takes them to become an expert?  Not all time should be billable – make sure the rules of engagement are clear ahead of time.  Otherwise, the costs can add up quickly. 

3.  The cost of mistakes
If a provider makes a mistake, you should not be billed for the time it takes to fix it.  Period.  Otherwise, you are literally paying for their mistakes. 

4.  The cost of your time
Each of the above scenarios are focused on the time that the provider spends on a project.  What about your time?  Every minute you spend reviewing work, fixing mistakes, and teaching them about your industry or your business is time lost for you.  How much is your time worth?

5.  The cost of inferior work
Perhaps the greatest cost is the lost opportunity cost that can result from inferior work.  At the end of the day, ROI is the most important measure.  If (using the previous example), Provider A can deliver a product that is 5 times more effective than Provider B, then Provider A is the better choice (assuming hours billed are equal).  Quality of service is difficult to gauge before choosing a provider, and should be the most important factor in the selection of a service provider.  References or personal recommendations can help.

I hope that the few minutes you took to read this article saves you exponentially more time in the future.  Have a great day.


Words of wisdom

Helpful Hints For Successful Negotiation

Negotiating a deal or an agreement can often be stressful – and even adversarial.  But, more often than not, it represents the beginning of a relationship (as opposed to the end of one).  Therefore, it is not only important to get the terms you desire, but that all parties walk away feeling good about what they got (or gave).

Here are a few negotiating tips that I have found help achieve that end goal.  Use them as you’d like.

1. Let the other side go first.
When you let the other side present their position first, you are immediately in a better negotiating position.  There have been times when I have been in the position of having to present my stance first.  Once the negotiations have concluded, I step back and say, “Darn, if only I had known XYZ, I could have gotten more!”

2.  Be prepared. 
You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve witnessed people negotiate against themselves because they were not aware of what was already agreed upon in a draft agreement.  Know your starting point and be prepared to defend your stance.  Knowing what is “market” and having examples to reference can also help.

3. Know where you want to end before you begin.
Part of preparation is knowing where you want to end up.  And, what your fallback positions are.  You may ask for, but not get, everything you want.  Know your “must haves” versus “nice to haves” before sitting down with the other side.  This requires honest conversations among your side of the table as part of your preparation process.

4.  Don’t be afraid to ask for more than what you want. 
The direct approach can often be the most effective.  Rather than game playing, trying to one-up the other party, or the parties on your side of the table, clearly and succinctly state your position.  Start high.  Ask for more than what you want to ensure that you will end up closer to your ultimate goal.  And then, be quiet.  And listen.

5.  Know who you are negotiating against. 
A quick LinkedIn or Google search can provide a lot of intelligence. It always helps to know who you are dealing with.

6.  Make the other side feel like they won.
As noted earlier, negotiations often represent the beginning of a relationship.  So, it is important that everyone walks away feeling like winner as it will not be the last time you see one another.  If the other side feels like you took blood and their first born child, the resulting business relationship may be less than fruitful.

At the end of the day, never lose sight of the ultimate business goals, while always keeping in mind the legal framework within which those goals, and that business, operates.  I hope these tips help you next time you are at the negotiating table.

Thanks for reading!


Words of wisdom

How To Prevent Annoying Business Conversations

We’ve all experienced them.  Those conversations where, when you walk away, you wonder if anyone other than yourself heard anything you had to say.  You are immediately concerned if any of the next steps that were mentioned will be followed up on.   I’ve been in many of those conversations and, honestly, have caused a few as well.  However, over time, I’ve learned how to try to avoid this situation. 

So, here are five tips to avoid annoying conversations:

1.  Don’t play the “one-up” game.
Although it is tempting to want to “one-up” a story of how you did X, Y or Z, hold back.  While your story may seem entertaining, it can often come across to the other person as, “That’s nothing. Let me tell you about what I did.”  And that can be annoying.

2.  If you ask the question, don’t answer it. 
This one seems simple but, so many times, I’ve seen people (including myself) ask a question and then jump in with an assumed response.  If you have asked a sincere question, and want to know the answer, be quiet and let the person answer it.  Not only will prevent annoyance, but you will also get better information.

3.  Don’t get annoyed with “stupid” questions.
Conversations are all about learning from one another.  So, you can’t get frustrated when someone asks a question that seems “stupid” to you.  It’s not stupid to them, so be sure not to make them feel that way.

4.  Be sure they know you heard them
One of the most important things you can do in a conversation is listen, then repeat what you heard back to the person – especially for content that is important for you to understand.  When you repeat it back, the other person can be confident that you heard them properly (and correct you, if not).  Otherwise, they could walk away wondering if you really understood what they said.

5.  End with a clear set of next steps
Before the conversation is over, clearly communicate any follow up steps.  This will ensure that everyone knows how and when the conversation should continue, and what people’s roles and responsibilities are in the interim.   It helps to put it in writing after the meeting as well, to confirm that you and your colleague(s) are on the same page.

While these tips may not prevent conversations about annoying or frustrating topics, they will help ensure that the conversations themselves are less so. 

Thanks for reading.