How do I not get read as aggressive when I'm trying to be assertive?
October 15, 2019 4:17 PM   Subscribe

I don't have a lot of practice being assertive, partly because when I try to be clear, precise, and direct, the people I'm talking to treat me as though I'm being aggressive. I hate that! When this happens with someone doing a job I stop dealing with the people after this happens and ask my long-suffering person to deal with it, which is annoying to him. When this happens in my personal life, I back down and suck up feelings and my needs.

Probably relevant: me= cis-female, definitely femme, usually soft spoken both in terms of how much I say and how loudly I say it.

The current situation: We had a freak winter storm and lost a big old elm. I called an arborist and scheduled an appointment for today. Their online portal said my appointment was today. I'm home waiting, getting progressively more anxious, until I phone at 3:30 (they estimated a 2hr job, and their office closes at 5) to ask if they were planning to keep that appointment and if not when, exactly, they were planning to come.

My words, verbatim: Hi. I totally get that you're slammed, but you made an appointment to come today to take care of a tree in my back yard. I need to know if you're planning to keep that appointment, and if not when you plan to be here. I've already lost a day of work this week, and I really can't afford to lose two.

I spoke what sounded to me as firmly -- didn't let my voice do that softening thing where I lengthen my sentences. I did not raise my voice above ordinary speaking.

They responded with bluster -- Wasn't it today *or tomorrow? To which I responded, no, you told me on Friday morning that it would be Saturday or today. And, I repeat, I can't lose another full day to this.

They eventually called the crew who said they'd come today if they had enough daylight -- which they didn't. Fine. I'm annoyed but that's not their problem. Their office is closed until tomorrow anyway. I still don't know when they're coming, and I don't know how to get them to give me a straight answer. (Like, seriously, at this point I care less what the answer is than that I get a real one.)

What did I do wrong?
posted by platitudipus to Human Relations (30 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
In your script: you should stop talking after the sentence, “I need to know if you’re planning to keep the appointment.” Then let them respond. You may end up saying the rest of what you said after their response, but I think all the words after your first request are aggressive and making the listener defensive.
posted by u2604ab at 4:32 PM on October 15, 2019 [14 favorites]

Yeah, this is tough. You were pretty irritated, reasonably so, and that showed. I don't think the issue is aggression but irritation and word choice. Did you start out irritated and grumpy about it all? (I get why if so.)

But, yeah, sounds like there was a miscommunication or mess up somewhere, and you're pissed, and that showed, and they got defensive.

Another way to handle this (not saying it's inherently better, but...): "Hello! Last week I made an appointment for today, but the person hasn't arrived yet, so I wanted to check in about that."

Agreeing with the comment above that this wasn't really information they needed:
I've already lost a day of work this week, and I really can't afford to lose two.

Remember you're probably not talking to someone high up in the organization. They're not in control. They're probably more like dispatch. It sounds like a misunderstanding.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:38 PM on October 15, 2019 [7 favorites]

But also... why do you think you did something wrong? Because of their reaction?
posted by bluedaisy at 4:38 PM on October 15, 2019 [11 favorites]

First, if all of this is happening in your yard, do you even need to be there? Do they need access to your home such as it would require you to let them in? Because this may all be solved without you having to take any time off work at all and they can come when they next have availability.

Secondly, I actually don’t think you did anything wrong. I also don’t think you’re wrong for telling them that missing your appt has consequences for you (missed day at work). And to be honest, if they can’t get back to you after you’ve asked repeatedly when it’s happening, plus aren’t professional enough to tell you that they won’t be turning up on the designated day (or even appear to KNOW they had an appointment on that day - I’d be tempted to cancel altogether and hire someone else.

They don’t seem to have their act together and are resentful on being called out on it. And yes, I get that mistakes are made but they’ve followed this up by being flakey too, soooo....
posted by Jubey at 4:46 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think you might actually be asking how to get better at negotiating, in which case I would start by reading Never Split The Difference.
posted by inkyz at 4:47 PM on October 15, 2019 [7 favorites]

Is it that they're responding as though you are aggressive and that creates issues or that you feel like you are being too aggressive and you're not comfortable with that feeling?

I ask because I don't think there's anything wrong with how you handled this situation. If anything I would have have been more aggressive. If people blow off an appointment I may just move on to the next service if there are alternatives. Depends on how good the price was I suppose. As long as you aren't making somebody in a customer service role with no ability to help you feel bad then I'd say you're fine, but I don't want to tell you how you should feel about something.
posted by willnot at 4:53 PM on October 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

I think it would help you to be more clear about what you want them to do. Not to have done differently in the past, not to feel bad about, but to do. In this case you started by asking for information, but then made a statement demanding a specific outcome and came off sounding like you might have just been calling to complain.

What did you need? If you needed to *know* if they would be there so you could go in to work and not lose an unnecessary day, that's one call (and it's one where you might actually want to encourage them to admit they might not make it and move your appointment officially to the next day, because their optimism is bad for your ability to plan.) Did you need them to move you up their priority list? Did you need to keep escalating until you could talk to a supervisor? Did you need them to reschedule next time for a Saturday, and first appointment of the day, so that you don't have to take a day off work and can be confident it will get done?

If you aren't sure what they can do, you can ask them: "How can we schedule this appointment so that I can know for sure what day it will happen? Do you have a team that can work on weekends? What would you suggest we do so that I can avoid taking another day off work?" Etc. Then stop talking and listen. Silence is a powerful negotiating tactic.
posted by Lady Li at 5:07 PM on October 15, 2019 [14 favorites]

I'm going to say that last piece again, actually. State the problem or request and then stop talking. The temptation is to soften or justify your request after the fact, and it makes it weaker.
posted by Lady Li at 5:09 PM on October 15, 2019 [17 favorites]

Well, it's not words so much as tone that gets people's hackles up, even if they deserve it. It really does all come down to how you say those words and we can't hear how you do that so it's difficult to answer.

When I'm dealing with something like this, I opt for a pleasant, but businesslike, tone that does not go up into questions ("I need to know if you're planning to keep that appointment?") or angry exclamatory, even low-key angry. ("I need to know if you're planning to keep that appointment!") Just a kind of neutral almost-flat affect to the voice, a certain lightness to the pitch that conveys friendliness more so than anger, but without being breathy and submissive. Frankly, if I heard words like that in what sounded like an angry tone I would feel on the defensive, and that even if I understood the customer's frustration.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 5:12 PM on October 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

"I've already lost a day of work this week, and I really can't afford to lose two."

For me this is the place where it stopped being an assertive conversation and started being aggressive. Reminding them they made a promise and they need to honor it is one thing; trying to make your problem their problem changes the tenor of the conversation entirely.

In this example it is also probably overkill. The person you were talking to seemed (from your account) to be a bit flustered. In their shoes I would be. I would want to make sure everything goes smoothly. I would want you to be ok. The fact that you find it appropriate to ladle a guilt trip on top of me makes me think you doubt my goodwill.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:30 PM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

So, let me start by saying that the only way a woman trying to be assertive doesn't get read as aggressive is when we burn the patriarchy down, so you're aiming for a goal that's unachievable on your own.

That said, this:

Hi. I totally get that you're slammed, but you made an appointment to come today to take care of a tree in my back yard. I need to know if you're planning to keep that appointment, and if not when you plan to be here. I've already lost a day of work this week, and I really can't afford to lose two. a lot of things to say at once without pausing for a response. Especially since some of the things you said were questions. A less aggressive conversation would have gone something more like this, because they would have been providing answers, rather than you assuming them:

"Hi, this is X, I'm calling to check on when the crew is going to be at my house today. It's getting late and I haven't heard from anyone."
"Wasn't your appointment for today or tomorrow?"
"No, it's scheduled for today. I have the confirmation email and I stayed home today to meet the crew."
"I'm sorry, but our crew is overbooked for the day and they're not going to be able to make it to you tonight."
"I can't afford to take another day off work tomorrow. How can you fix this?"

Then leave it to them to offer things like a weekend appointment, or an early morning appointment or whatever might allow you to get this work done with minimal hassle.

Even though you already knew the answers to those questions, letting them provide them makes the conversation less aggressive. Letting them come up with the solutions can help, too, because people are more invested in ideas they thought of themselves. If they don't come up with anything useful to you, then start making suggestions.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:47 PM on October 15, 2019 [71 favorites]

I find that interactions like this go best when I give the person the least amount of information as possible. The more details, the more possibility for confusion, and the more confusion, the more emotions come out. Before I dial I just take a second to boil down what I need to 1-3 sentences at the most. The other stuff can come out if they ask.
posted by bleep at 5:50 PM on October 15, 2019 [6 favorites]

I kinda agree that the "I've already lost..." part could be unnecessary, but at the same time I think you can flip it from sounding aggressive to persuasive by adding a "because". Yes, it's something I read in Cialdini's book Influence, but have found it really works in practice. In the research, adding a "because" and a reason (any reason, in fact) to a request for something was shown to improve likelihood of getting what the person wanted.
posted by homesickness at 5:53 PM on October 15, 2019

I initially read the whole ‘missed a day of work’ thing as an appeal for sympathy but on second thought depending on how it was delivered I can see how it could be seen as aggressive. It really does all come down to tone of voice. I think jacquilynne has the balance right.
posted by Jubey at 6:26 PM on October 15, 2019

just a note: I did pause to wait for a response. (I mean, I don't speak in paragraphs). I merely could not quote them precisely and so don't want to slander anyone. I said the bit about work because they asked why it was a problem that they hadn't come (not their precise words).
posted by platitudipus at 6:53 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Agree with others that you don't need to put everything into the first communication. This is what is meant by 'coming on too strong.' Just because you don't say it right away doesn't mean you can't say it later.

It's fine to let the person you're talking to know that the problem at hand is due to their company's lapse, but leave off the proof of their commitment or the statements of how you've been damaged unless they push back.

If you let people save a little face, you may get a more satisfactory response than condemning them in a way that they feel compelled to respond defensively.

And it's also good to keep in mind who you're dealing with. Unless you're dealing with the person responsible for the error directly, that is some other person with a job on the other end. It's not their ass and they go home at 5. Ask yourself whether you want to be a version of the "I want to speak with your manager" person before you do it. Sometimes, yes, you do want to be that person, but not always.

And once you do, I've found saying "this [situation/reponse/treatment] is not acceptable" and then stopping to see how they respond to work better than hitting them with the exhaustive list of things their employer has done wrong and how you've been affected. They can ask why it's not acceptable or what your trouble is if they want to get into it, at which point its patently reasonable for you to lay it all out.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:09 PM on October 15, 2019

and, yeah, I should have indicated pauses. I'm sorry. I was trying to be succinct and I was still irritated by not only their failure to show up but also by the way they spoke to me -- as though I could not possibly...

It super weirds me out that people think that I was trying to make someone feel bad -- that that would be Tell Me No Lies' first thought.

And yes, I need to be home for all kinds of reasons ranging from the practical to the neurotic.
posted by platitudipus at 7:11 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

I was still irritated by not only their failure to show up but also by the way they spoke to me -- as though I could not possibly...

These people could be total buttheads, and might deserve whatever you said and more!

But your ask had that this is a pattern you worry your approach elicits, in some way you haven't put your finger on, so I think folks are responding to that. (I was.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:15 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm doing a lit review right now of sexual and workplace harassment and there are a bunch of interesting papers I've read about women's voices in gender presentation. In general, women who are perceived as traditionally feminine are routinely dismissed and negotiated down, women who are perceived as masculine-behaving are seen as threatening and are openly attacked and more overtly harassed. Basically, you lose either way if you're female and negotiating with someone who has traditional gender views. Burning down the patriarchy is indeed the best long-term strategy.

In the meantime, what worked was emotional management by women which was exhausting and stressful but effective. That's the whole 'saving face' part. There are tons of books out there on how to do it, but it's essentially adopting a customer service persona, managing the other person's emotions, and denying and delaying the truth of your own feelings about work situations.

You're totally not imagining it. Women managers get ranked as cold and uncaring if they do not perform emotional management. Male managers who do just as little emotional management are seen as professional and effective managers. It's not expected of men so they're not penalised. You have to make the effort, and it's unfair.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 10:05 PM on October 15, 2019 [13 favorites]

> When this happens in my personal life, I back down and suck up feelings and my needs.
This part jumped out at me. Everyone else has the specifics of your conversation with the arborist covered, but if you're looking for more general ideas on how to make this type of conversation go more smoothly, I'd like to recommend the book Nonviolent Communication.

I'm also a quiet person who has struggled a lot with learning to be more assertive. Part of the problem for me is that I had this idea that I had a choice between being a jerk and being a doormat, and so I would swallow my feelings for much longer than I should have in the name of keeping the peace and not causing trouble. Then I would overcompensate and end up being pushy and rude in an attempt to be "assertive", which also did not get me the results I needed.

NVC was valuable because it taught me that it is actually possible to ask for something in a way that doesn't guilt, manipulate, or pressure the other person. It's not a silver bullet or anything, but if the above sounds like you, NVC might be worth checking out.
posted by Basil Stag Hare at 10:49 PM on October 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

Honestly I think women are just more quickly read as 'aggressive' than men are.

I have grappled with this for years and am still actively trying to be read as 'assertive' rather than 'aggressive', but more and more I am beginning to think that it is part of the way men read women who are trying to voice their opinion/wishes about something in a strong way.
Unfortunately the way I tend to deal with it is give them what they want: friendly, laughing, not-asking-much me. Then I get really angry with myself.

I don't have any advice for you, just commiseration.
posted by thereader at 11:10 PM on October 15, 2019 [5 favorites]

I agree with others that where you really went wrong was being a cis woman. Very few of us will ever manage to be perceived as the right combination of assertive, polite, and approachable. I spent last year being told at work that I was too shy/nice, and then was hauled into my boss’s office to be told I was “too negative” and “on the war path” when I actually stood up for myself and my team in a conference call. So.

However in response to your actual question, the part I’d take out is “I can’t afford to lose another [day at work].” Not because it’s inherently guilt tripping or aggressive, but because it’s an unnecessary justification (and one which, yes, because you’re a woman can *read* as guilt trippy or whiny). You can’t meet them another day because that’s not what was agreed upon, period. Just calmly plop their error right in their lap.

“We had appointment for today at two, and no one has come.”

[Oh wow sorry, not enough daylight over booked etc etc]

“I’m only available today this week. What can we do about this?”

They might still get pissy about tone, for reasons already covered, but it doesn’t leave you wondering what you said “wrong” or if the reason you gave was good enough.
posted by peakes at 1:39 AM on October 16, 2019 [6 favorites]

My mother has developed an uncanny ability to get pretty much whatever she wants, whenever, by being assertive in this way. She uses the same type of language and pushing (‘how will you fix this?’, ‘this isn’t acceptable’) that jacquilynne and snuffleupagus posted. I admire her for this and when I’m getting yanked around by people in this fashion I try to channel her, because she is basically never yanked around by anyone for very long before coming out on top. It’s a little perplexing.

As many people have posted, it’s a lose-lose situation for women a lot of the time. Your transcription of the conversation reads pretty fine to me. I think some of it is just a matter of stating exactly what you need for the situation to be resolved for you and not yielding with them until they’ve agreed to it. This doesn’t magically work for me every time like it does for my mom, but I’ve had much better results handling similar situations by approaching it this way. People are still likely to get upset or offended or whatever, but I think remaining firm in the face of that can still help us actually get what we need from them.
posted by caitcadieux at 5:18 AM on October 16, 2019 [4 favorites]

Having required the services of arborists a couple of times in the last year, my take on what you did wrong was to assume that they need your business more than you need your tree removed. My experience is that arborists in my town are not hurting for business and set their own schedules. It doesn't matter to them what your tone is, what you say, or who you are (unless you're a really rich person who will offer them lots of extra money to do the job right now), they're going to come when they're going to come. They're not thinking explicitly or subconsciously, "We're going to punish this rude woman by waiting even LONGER to take away her tree!" They're not thinking about you at all other than as an address on their list. The work crews are out going through their list of appointments which were set by someone in the office and are always over-booked, probably prioritizing dangerous situations (does someone have a tree in the road or about to fall on a power line), and then maybe prioritizing how much they're going to get out of an appointment.

I would explain to them that you have a demanding work schedule and ask them if you need to be at home when they remove the tree, and do my best to put the previous conversation out of my mind.
posted by frobozz at 5:33 AM on October 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

Agree hard with u2604ab's and Jacquilynne's comments.

From your whole post, I get the impression that you don't quite know the distinction between expressing your feelings and advocating for your needs. It's a really common misconception that a lot of people have (including myself until a short while ago): you seem to believe that assertiveness means stating your feelings openly to people, so that they can respond by making things better.

But no! Stating feelings openly and asking others to help you feel better is only appropriate when you're with your therapist or SO or close friend/relative. Like, you always have the right to feel disappointed and angry. But in almost every context - certainly in every business situation - expressing your disappointment and anger IS aggressive. And expecting people to respond to your expression of feelings by helping to make things right is useless at best and inappropriate at worst.

Assertiveness is about advocating for your own needs by seeking solutions to your problems, not about expressing your feelings.

Your verbatim script above was top-to-bottom about expressing your feelings, which is why it was aggressive rather than assertive. (The fact that you may be fully justified doesn't make your aggression not-aggressive. While you read this deconstruction, please remember that I am not accusing you of being unjust or wrong or bad. I'm just pointing out the aggression in your statements which you seem unaware of.)
"Hi. I totally get that you're slammed,"
-- you may think this shows you are considerate of their situation, but actually, everyone can see the "BUT" coming a mile off. That makes the listener brace for your coming attack: a tone of aggression has been set.
"but you made an appointment to come today to take care of a tree in my back yard."
-- i.e. "You screwed up." You are finding fault with them, blaming them, judging them. This statement is not at all about advocating for your needs, because you aren't looking for a solution. You are only expressing blame and judgement. You are right, and your aggression is justified, but this is aggressive.
"I need to know if you're planning to keep that appointment, and if not when you plan to be here."
-- this started off okay, but the second half ruined it! The quick addition of "and if not...", without pausing to hear their answer to the first part of the sentence, communicates to them your assumption that they are probably not going to keep the appointment. That transforms your perfectly good first part of the sentence into covert aggression: "I know you aren't going to show up, but let me still make a show of asking you whether you plan to show up, just so I can rub it in once again that you screwed up." Even though this sentence is ostensibly about advocating for your needs and trying to find a solution, it is covertly a vehicle for more blame and judgement. It's passive-aggressive.
"I've already lost a day of work this week, and I really can't afford to lose two."
-- i.e. "Look what you people did to me." Pure blame. That's aggressive.

That's why I like u2604ab's and Jacquilynne's comments so much. It's almost always to your best advantage if you handle business situations in pure problem-solving mode. The only exceptions are when you are giving feedback at the end of the job, and even then it pays to be intentional with your wording. In every other case, expressing your feelings will be read as aggressive and makes the other party less willing to co-operate with you.

If you want to give feedback to your landscaper, you would first articulate to yourself what you intend to achieve. Craft your feedback in a way that serves your intention.
(a) You may want to inform them of how disappointed/angry you are and that they cost you valuable time/money - then you might say, "When you failed to keep your appointment, that cost me an extra day of work. I am disappointed and angry at your lack of professionalism."
(b) You may want an apology or restitution - then you might say, "When you failed to keep your appointment, that cost me an extra day of work. Normally, I love working with you, but this makes me hesitate. How can you make this right? Can we work out a discount?"
(....n) [Insert feedback crafted around specific intent rather than for venting feelings]
You said this is a problem in your personal life as well - which is also just as common as business-world issues, and similarly "simple but not easy" to fix. The basic principle to understand is: it's only in very close relationships that it's appropriate to express your anger and disappointment resulting from people's actions. Heck, even in those cases, there is an entire genre of books and an entire industry of coaching dedicated to how to express your feelings in the right way!

- "I" language (as in "I felt.... when you ...") replaces blame and judgement ("You screwed up and this is your fault.").

- Vulnerability is mandatory. It feels safer to say, "You cost me a day of work!" and expect the other person to understand the hurt underneath your anger, and know that you are indirectly asking for an apology. You would feel vulnerable saying, "I feel hurt and betrayed. I need a sincere apology." But the safe way escalates conflict, not just because it's blaming/judgemental but also because it dodges the core need you are trying to express. When you directly express the core need, it doesn't feel emotionally safe at first, but it's more honest, and it de-escalates conflict.

- etc. I don't actually want to write a precis of all the books in this self help genre! This comment is long enough already :)
posted by MiraK at 8:59 AM on October 16, 2019 [16 favorites]

I definitely find that saying less and deliberately allowing awkward pauses encourages the other person to fill those pauses with either apologies or actual reparations (offering to come early, offering money off, etc). Whereas if I talk more, the other person retreats and becomes monosyllabic. So you could try that.

“Hi, the crew were meant to be coming this afternoon but they haven’t shown up yet?”

Then shut up and make them do the talking, except to confirm it was definitely today if asked.
posted by tinkletown at 10:41 AM on October 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm another of those people with a knack for resolving this sort of situation on the phone. My spouse, el_lupino, calls it Jocelyn's Phone Magic. Here's how I think about how I go about it.

About emotion in such calls:

I come at this having been in a retail job for several years, and that's important to how I approach these interactions. I've been on that side, and I remember the emotional outlay dealing with the public requires. It's tiring to put positive emotion out all day, receive negative emotion, and not be allowed to openly respond with negative emotion. When one has to take in negative emotion under those circumstances, people will use what negative responses they *are* allowed to use.

So in terms of tone, I'm friendly and as reasonable as possible to begin. Yes, maybe their company screwed up and I have the right to be irritated, but irritated doesn't take down someone's guard and make them want to help me, and if one starts irritable, it makes the person think "if this is where they're starting, this person is definitely going to become unreasonable and possibly fly off the handle with me or someone else and they might really make trouble for my job" and "I think this person is overreacting based on the range of situations I've seen in this job and therefore I don't really want to help them, so I'm going to look for ways not to, even if it is my job to help them."

Because some people will read righteous annoyance in a woman as "unreasonable" and "emotional," the stereotypes about cisfemale behavior can be turned to one's benefit if one can play it cool. Playing it cool can get read as "This person is unusually calm in this situation where I've heard other people not be calm and therefore are in control and therefore must be a powerful person. I should probably cooperate with them."

About contractors:

And definitely, in this particular case, I would have top-of-mind that I'm dealing with a contractor here, and there are *always* more jobs than there are workers, especially for arborists after a storm, and I want them to feel that I will be an easy customer so they'll be inclined to take my job. Making them think that doesn't mean making them think I'll be a pushover, or preclude me from being more directly demanding later, if they screw up multiple times.


1. I know I'm asking this person for something, and they have the power to say yes or no. I want them to feel as much as possible that we're working together to solve a problem and to make it easy for them to say yes.

2. I state the facts and see if they recognize the screwup I'm pointing to; that way it's their insight rather than my accusation.

3. I know what problem I want solved, but I don't know what options they have available to offer. I want to explore with them what different ways there might be to resolve the problem, and I want to offer them as much face-saving as possible.

4. If we find they're not able to offer something satisfactory, there's always the option of escalation. I don't do it in a mode of "I'm going to tell your manager about you" but in a mode of "I understand that you have the authority to do some things; I'm not going to ask more of you than you've been authorized to give. I'll be as reasonable with the person you pass me up the chain to as I've been with you."

A basic outline:

- Greet them in a friendly tone and use their name back to them if they answered the call with it, then give your name; you're building a little bit of human connection to encourage them to help you: "Hi [name], this is jocelmeow. How are you doing today?"

- Give a summary of the basic information to date first, so they know you are the kind of person who has your facts about you and so they can look up your job: "I'm calling because I made an appointment through [name] on [date] for today at [time]. I live at [address] in [town]."

- The inquiry that allows them to recognize the problem, and presumes good intentions, that they are intending to do the job as booked: "I haven't received a visit or a call yet. Would you be able to tell me when I can expect to see someone?"

Positive answer - they'll be there soon: "Great! Thanks for your help, [name]." If the crew shows up, indeed, great. If they don't, tomorrow I know what person I'll be asking for directly, because they'll already be familiar with the situation around my job. I might ask if they have a direct line during this call if I expected I'd need to reach them again.

Negative answer - they won't be able to be there today, there's more work than there are crews. *This* is what you've saved your sympathy for them for and where you deploy it to encourage sympathy toward you, and where you start the work on solving the problem together. Make your suggestion of what'd be acceptable to you: "I'll bet you're slammed; this storm sure did make a mess for us all. I took off work today hoping I could meet the crew, and unfortunately I can't take off tomorrow. Would a member of the crew or someone from the office be able to come by and look at the job before nightfall, so the crew can come by at their leisure tomorrow to do the work without me being here?"

Positive answer, response similar to above.

Negative answer, and both parts of this are important - starting with "Hm" in a thoughtful tone, and showing humor, to encourage them, too, to get thinking in a problem-solving mode. "Hm. Well, as I can't take off again, and as I think this tree definitely seems to have settled in for the time being, how else could we go about this?"

And that's where you start exploring other solutions together.

I can't say this approach *always* works, but in situations where people have some decision-making autonomy, it mostly does.
posted by jocelmeow at 12:21 PM on October 16, 2019 [5 favorites]

Second calls, where a ball has definitely been dropped in the form of an appointment not kept and no call to you made, can be a little bit more pointed, but you're still allowing them to recognize the problem. The greater volume of information you supply in the summary sort of does that for you:

"Hi [name], this is platitudipus. I live at [address] in [town]. I made an appointment on [date] for a crew to come out Saturday or Tuesday. I'd been told it was a two-hour job. I called yesterday at 3:30 and I spoke to [name] to check if I'd be seeing them by the end of the day. They checked in with the crew, who hoped they'd be able to come by, but they weren't able to make it to my job by nightfall."

"Will you be available today?"

"Unfortunately, no; I had taken off work yesterday to meet them, but that was the only day I had available to take off."

Now you go a bit silent. It's clear you held up your end of the deal and they didn't. Let their gears engage. See what they propose and proceed accordingly.
posted by jocelmeow at 1:06 PM on October 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

>I said the bit about work because they asked why it was a problem that they hadn't come (not their precise words).

No one seems to have latched on to this passive aggressive bombshell, assuming your paraphrase accurately reflects what they said. They had the gall to ask why it was a problem that they hadn't kept a scheduled appointment? That to me would be an absolute speak to a manager/ trash the company on social media/ hire a different company tipping point.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 5:29 PM on October 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

There are lots of things about how you're read as a woman, and ways that the conversation could come across as aggressive that other people have said better than me.

One thing I wonder, you talk about how you don't normally make a fuss and I wonder if that's part of the issue. I know when I wait until I'm anxious, irritated and feeling frustrated and powerless to say something it does come out as more aggressive. I wonder if it would have come across differently if you'd made the call at a point where you started to get anxious but there still would've been plenty of time to solve the problem, and if that's a pattern in the times that you're read as being aggressive?
posted by Laura_J at 7:06 AM on October 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

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