EDITORIAL: Assertiveness and salesmanship as personal values


Most jobs in the free market workplace involve salesmanship. Customer service jobs, even those for internal customers only, ultimately have the aim of selling a company’s services or products to the outside world. Other kinds of jobs in a sense involve salesmanship, too. A teacher tries to sell the importance of the material that he or she teaches, as well as good learning habits.


Many jobs, however, are predicated on directly prospecting for customers and selling them a company’s “brand.”  Many jobs are predicated on negotiating effectively with a customer to make the most money possible (just watch Donald Trump – as well as George and Carolyn -- on The Apprentice). A car salesman manipulates a customer to get that extra $100 from a car sale to make a profit.  Telemarketers and debt collectors stress the urgency of a situation with a client when on the phone. All of this involves making a living by manipulating others as a kind of middleman. “We give you the words,” the sales employee is told, and his or her job is to convince the client to buy or pay. There are sayings in sales culture like “Always be closing” (as in the films Glengarry Glen Ross or 100 Mile Rule).  Likewise, manipulation is common is other jobs, too, like law enforcement and, at least in lower grades or when working with disadvantaged students, teaching.[1]


Most jobs require “people skills” and these include persistence, assertiveness, and sometimes aggressiveness. But understand that assertion and aggression are different things. It is not hard to be constructively assertive when one has the truth on one’s side. Real life make this hard.


I spent thirty-plus years in information technology, often allowed to work as an individual contributor on projects that I had control over. The work was detail-oriented and required time management but did not require undue assertiveness with others. It did require clear, logical, and objective communication, both verbally and in writing. Jobs like this have tended to go off-shore in the past few years, and, since my “retirement” I have found that many employers are looking for higher levels of assertiveness and outright manipulation of people.


Now, my skills are more oriented to researching the information, connecting the dots, and presenting it logically, not pushing it aggressively. You could say this goes along with my “subjective feminine” polarity.[2] I am very loath to manipulate people whom I don’t believe have to cognitive skills or information to look out for their own best interests. I feel that it is not my place in life to do this.


Now there is a bit of a moral to this. When I was a boy and an adolescent, I resented the idea of competing on other boys’ terms. I questioned the idea of “hitting back,” was called “chicken” for not fighting, and failed to develop many of the “manly” athletic, mechanical and manipulative skills. I preferred to stay in my own world. I was indeed a bit of a “sissy” or lazybones (I would fear “getting hurt”) and could become a burden on others in a dangerous world, disinclined to go to bat for others in adversarial situations when it was my turn. I was not the kind who found any meaning in propagating my own genes--competing for and courting women and then pampering them as they bore families;  Fortunately, I lived my adult life in a technological society that had a use for me—and this modernity and its freedom are at risk. Call my behavior pattern Asperger Syndrome (or even an autism spectrum disorder) if you like. Maybe one can be politically correct and talk about this as a “disability.” It is just as likely a gift, since I perceive a lot of these external manipulations as distracting, superfluous and unnecessary. Nevertheless, it makes it ethically problematic to take a poorly regulated job requiring manipulation of others.


©Copyright 2005 by Bill Boushka, all rights reserved subject to fair use

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[1] The buzzword is “assertive discipline,” developed by Lee Canter. Here are a couple of links: http://www.adprima.com/assertive.htm http://www.humboldt.edu/~tha1/canter.html also the Honor Level System of Kohlberg, http://www.honorlevel.com/stages.xml

[2] I explain this thoroughly in Chapter 3 of my first “do ask do tell” book at http://www.doaskdotell.com/content/xchap3.htm