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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Silence Never Makes Me Feel Better

When I feel disappointed, I try to express it assertively, if it's worth it to me to do so. If I don't make the effort to say something, I usually run the event or problem over and over in my head and don't feel resolved.

Sometimes writing letters or in today's world, a thoughtful email, helps me put an issue to bed.

For Christmas for the past few years, I've given my nephews and nieces (all of whom have most of what they might want in the way of material things) donations to the Heifer project. I'm a beekeeper myself, so I usually give a hive of bees in each of their names as donations to the Heifer Project.

The Heifer Project page announces that you can notify the people in whose names you made donations via a printed out donation card that you send to them via US Mail or by E Card. In the past, I've always printed out the actual card and sent it to my relatives whom I was honoring. This year I thought, "Why not save a tree and keep the gas pollution down and send the E Card?"

On the Heifer Project page, the donor gets to pick the E Card that represents what you are donating: flocks of chickens, flocks of ducks, a sheep, beehives, etc. I donated the amount for six beehives and chose the beekeeper examining a frame of honey as the picture for my E Card.

Finishing up the process meant entering each relative's email and making a personal gift message. To each, I said that I was donating in their name and hoped they had a Merry Christmas, but on only a couple did I mention that I was donating bees since I thought the picture on the card spoke for itself.

I got an email thank you from my niece, Rachel, and scrolled down and clicked on the Heifer project link to see what the card looked like that she got. To my shock, there was the card, but no picture. Now I realize there's some remote possibility that my computer didn't allow the picture to show but I was greatly disappointed.

I went onto the Heifer Project site, found "contact us," went through the FAQs and didn't find this problem addressed. So I wrote the following to customer service:

For Christmas, I sent donations of beehives in honor of six of my nephews and nieces. They received E Cards, but there was no picture of the beekeeper on the card and the card did not in any other way indicate that I had given hives of bees because I assumed they would see the bees in the picture.

I am a beekeeper so it means a lot to me to donate beehives. I am very disappointed because I wanted them to know I had spent the money for bees and not just made a general donation.

If your E Cards are not sent in the way they are represented on the site (with an included picture of the bees), then I don’t think you should offer them.

If I donate next year, I will not use an E Card and will instead waste trees printing the print-out cards that you also make available.

In Disappointment,

Linda Tillman

I don't know if I'll get a response, but simply writing this email made me feel better.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Romantic Assertiveness

At Thanksgiving my youngest daughter flew to Charlottesville, Va. From Atlanta that means that you fly to Charlotte, NC and get on a smaller plane (about a 40 seater) to go the rest of the way. As the small plane approached Charlottesville, a military man took the microphone that the staff uses.

He said, "I need 12 people on this plane to help me ask my girlfriend to marry me! Raise your hand if you are willing to help me."

This assertive request was met with 12 volunteers, including my daughter.

The man had 12 roses and he wanted each of the volunteers to carry a rose out to hand to his soon-to-be-fiance. He would come after the roses had been delivered and propose to her.

My daughter and another girl were the first two and had to determine who this right girl was. The man showed them a picture of her and told them her name.

They studied the crowd as they got off of the plane and decided that they knew who the girl was. They walked up to her. "Are you XXX?" they asked. When she said, "Yes," they each handed her a rose.

One after another the people exited the plane and each handed a rose to this astonished girl. Most of rose-deliverers hung around to see the end of the story. Finally after all the roses had been delivered, the military man came off of the plane, dropped to his knee and asked her to marry him.

I asked my daughter if the girl said yes. "Mother!" she said, "Of course she did."

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Compliments and Assertiveness

Giving someone a compliment is an assertive act. When you say something positive to someone else , you are taking a risk by asserting your opinion. You may be met with any number of responses.
  • The recipient of your compliment may blow you off.
You say: "I love the way you wrote that letter."
Response: "Oh, anybody would have said the same thing."
  • The recipient of your compliment may react negatively
You say: "That briefcase really makes you look like the professional you are."
Response: "My stepfather gave it to me so I feel like I HAVE to carry it around."
  • The recipient of your compliment may react in an unexpected way
You say: "I was so impressed with the stand you took in that planning meeting."
Response: The recipient bursts into tears, "Yes, but did you see how Mr. X looked at me - I know I'm going to get called on the carpet."

So as you can see, it is an assertive act to give a compliment because although nothing is required of the other person in the way of a response, there are many ways in which someone can respond.

On your part, work on the assertive challenge of receiving compliments well. An assertive way to receive a compliment is simply to say, "Thank you." Fight any effort to throw away the compliment, negate the compliment or react in any other way than a simple thank you.

If you can achieve this, you will have taken a step in the direction of good assertiveness!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Buzzing Around a Bee Problem

For the past two years I have chaired a committee for the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Association that provides "Goody Bags" for the short course we offer in beginning beekeeping every January. I requested a donation of items for the bags from the National Honey Board last fall. They gladly complied and sent me items donated for the bags.......

and have continually billed me for the items on a regular basis ever since. Each time I get a bill, I call and get it supposedly straightened out. Today I received a bill with a large red notice that said:
Final Notice Before Credit Bureau is Notified.

In assertiveness, the general policy to is to start with basic assertive statements, increasing the intensity as needed. Originally I called and said, "I'm confused. I requested that you donate these items to my club. Your representative acknowledged that this is something the National Honey Board is glad to do to support new beekeepers. To my surprise, I have received a bill for the donated items. I don't want to pay for items you donated to us."

That phone call included basic assertive statements:
"I requested that you donate.....
"I received a bill for the donated items.....
" I don't want to pay for the items.....

The second time I received a bill, a firmer assertive statement was warranted. In that phone call, I said, "We wouldn't request items from you for the goody bag, if we expected to be billed. We are promoting your organization by putting these items in our Goody Bag. I don't think I should be charged for your donation to promote your organization."

(Although this isn't exactly an escalating assertion, it does state rather directly that we would not ask them for items which we would have to purchase.) An escalating assertion has a consequence in it. This is mildly escalating because there is an implied more support for their organization from our bee club, or at least from me as a Director on the board of the bee club.

Now not only is this the third time I have been billed, but the bill from the National Honey Board included a threat. Most situations escalate in a balanced way. The National Honey Board has threatened me, so I will respond at the same level by including in my letter an escalating assertion as well as a confrontive assertion.

I wrote the following letter which I will fax to the National Honey Board tomorrow:

National Honey Board
11409 Business Park Cir
Suite 210
Firestone, CO 80504

July 14, 2008

Re: Invoice XXXXX

To Whom it May Concern:

I am a member of the Board of Directors of the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Association in Atlanta, GA. Each year we hold a short course for upcoming beekeepers and each year we give the attendants at that short course a “goody bag” full of beekeeping items. Every year we request a donation from the National Honey Board of pamphlets appropriate for the Goody Bag.

I was chair of the Goody Bag project for 2007-2008. I called the National Honey Board in the fall of 2007, requesting that you donate something for the Goody Bag. The person to whom I spoke said that the National Honey Board regularly does this for clubs and would gladly send me some items. She asked how many I would need and I requested 65 items of whatever you chose to donate.

I received the items in December 2007. Since then I have received three bills for the items you supposedly “donated” to our short course. When each of the first two bills arrived, I called the National Honey Board and explained that you had donated the items. Each time I was assured that I didn’t need to worry about or pay the bill and that you would make sure that I was not billed again.

Today I arrived at home to find a bill stamped: Final Notice Before Credit Bureau Is Notified.

I feel deep regret that I ever called you to request your help with our short course. You told me yourself that you donated items to clubs for the purpose of short courses and would be glad to donate the items to me. Now you are threatening to report me to the credit bureau for not paying a bill that I do not owe.

If I am the chair of the Goody Bag committee again (I’ve done it for the past two years), I will not ever again request anything from your organization and I will not be speaking kindly of your group going forward.

Please CANCEL THIS BILL and do not even think of reporting me to the Credit Bureau. And since I keep receiving bills despite your continued verbal agreement that I do not owe the money, I would like a written letter to acknowledge that I do not owe this money.

Linda D Tillman, PhD


A confrontive assertion is one in which an agreement was made and the other party has broken the agreement. In this type of assertion, you state what the agreement was, how it was broken and what will be the consequence of the breaking of the agreement. You can find all of those in the letter.

I want the situation to end, so I requested a written response to my letter since speaking to them and receiving verbal reassurance does not work. Also if they do in fact report me to the Credit Bureaus for this $18.75 bill (!) I will have something to submit to the Credit Bureau to rebut their claim.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Father's Day Fiasco

My father who is 87 is a man who has everything he wants, so when holidays like Father's Day come around, it's hard to find something that he will enjoy. He does love chocolate, though, so this year I decided to give him Chocolate of the Month through a company called C&H Clubs.

A couple of holiday seasons ago, I gave a monthly beer subscription to my son-in-law and he really enjoyed it, so I thought chocolate might bring the same enjoyment to my dad.

I went on the website and purchased the subscription, indicating that I wanted a notification email sent to Daddy on the day before Father's Day.

Here's what happened:
  • No email arrived, so when Father's Day came, luckily I called to wish him a happy day, and found out in the phone call that he had had no notification. Instead the email arrived on Monday, June 16, the day after Father's Day.
  • The email read, and I quote: "Happy Father Dr. Clifford" While I do hope he is a happy father, it should have read, "Happy Father's Day." And if they had used his name, it should have read "Dr. Tillman."
  • OK, so that's not too big a deal, but then I received notification via email that the chocolate had been shipped. Mother and Daddy did not receive it on the day Fed Ex said they had delivered it.
  • My parents live on acreage that is sort of below a neighborhood. Their street address is on the street, so while they have a next door neighbor, his house is next to their driveway, but their house is about 100 yards away from the street. The day after the Fed Ex delivery, their neighbor walked down to bring them the chocolate which was for my father. The neighbor, thinking the package was for him (?), opened the chocolate and ate a few pieces.
So for Father's Day, my father received his gift late, opened, and partially eaten. He was not notified about his gift until the day after Father's Day, and the note was written in such a way that I suspected the company of outsourcing their gift notification to a non-English speaking company.

I sat with this for a while, but decided to call The Gourmet Chocolate of the Month Club to complain. The man I spoke to felt really bad about all of this. He put me on hold to see what he could find out. While he was away from the phone, I decided that I would be happy if he would extend Daddy's subscription for a month so that he could have his full subscription of unopened chocolates delivered to him.

I was all ready to be assertive and ask for a month's subscription when the customer service rep, Sheldon, returned to the phone. He acknowledged that they didn't keep their outgoing emails long enough to be able to look at the faulty email and sending date, but he apologized for that and said that he would like to offer to extend Daddy's subscription for one month beyond the end date to make up for the faulty partially eaten June delivery!

Mission accomplished!

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Apology that Never Quite Happens

The negative assertion is a statement that requires real courage on the part of the speaker. A negative assertion is taking responsibility for something you did wrong.

The classic example is the story of George Washington and the cherry tree. George was making a negative assertion when he told his father: "I cannot tell a lie, Father, I chopped down the cherry tree."

In a sincere apology, the apologizer takes responsibility for what he/she has done wrong and acknowledges his/her mistake. An assertive apology includes the implication or even a direct statement that behavior change will be the result of recognition of the mistake by the apologizer.

There are, however, a number of ways in which one may look as if he/she is apologizing and one is not actually taking the responsibility. Here are three:

"I didn't mean to hurt your feelings."
  • The pull here is for the other person to absolve you right on the spot by saying, "That's OK." So what happens is that the person to whom the apology should be directed is actually taking care of the perpetrator!
  • In fact it is not OK for someone to hurt your feelings. The assertive response might be (said in a calm, measured tone), "Well, you did hurt my feelings."
"I'm sorry you feel that way."
  • This is an observation and not an apology. In essence you are saying, "I'm sad to see you feeling that way." There is no responsibility taking when this is said.
  • Note that including the word "sorry" in a sentence does not qualify the sentence as an apology.
"I'm sorry I did XXX, but if you hadn't done YYY, I never would have done it."
  • While the speaker here is taking responsibility, he/she is actually doing a verbal hit and run: "I did do it but actually it is your fault, not mine ."
  • This speaker doesn't stay in the apology mode long enough to make it stick, but moves quickly to blaming the victim.
Because I am training for the Breast Cancer Three Day, I am walking longer distances each week. I gave myself an IPod - I've never had one before - so that I could listen to downloaded items to make the walks more interesting.

I've been downloading podcasts from NPR to listen to. I love "This American Life" with Ira Glass. Yesterday I listened to his podcast entitled "Mistakes Were Made," all about not-quite apologies.

The first hour of the piece is a grim story about failed cryogenics, but the second act (occurring at about 51 minutes) is a wonderful piece on an often quoted poem of William Carlos Williams entitled, "This is just to say."

I have eaten the plums

that were in the icebox

and which

you were probably


for breakfast

Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold

In this poem, the writer clearly knows that his wife was saving the plums and he commands her forgiveness, "Forgive me," rather than assertively apologizing.

Ira Glass's point was the phrase "Mistakes Were Made" does not include anyone taking responsibility. "Mistakes were made," puts the responsibility out in space somewhere and doesn't address the culpability of "by whom?" The statement: "Mistakes were made," is in the passive voice.which by English definition does not include the action of apologizing.

My extremely worn out copy of Plain English Handbook from my high school years says, "Passive voice denotes that the subject receives the action." In a sense, it's circular. The "were made" circles back to the "Mistakes" without any reaching out to claim responsibility. An active (and therefore responsibility taking) way to say the same thing via negative assertion is, "I made a mistake."

Wow, see how the change from passive voice to active makes a real apology happen!

As a result of this episode of This American Life, a number of take-offs appeared on the Internet. Here's one. (Be sure to read the numerous responses which include other quite clever spoofs)