How to – Assertiveness skills for women on renovation work sites

My Home Renovation

Bitch or backbone continued …

Earlier I wrote about the sweaty palms and racing heart I still get when having to negotiate, disagree or argue a point with my mostly male tradies on renovation and construction work sites.

Becoming assertive is a critical part of my SheBuilds journey.

So what is assertiveness?

It’s the happy medium between passive and aggressive.

It’s the space in between that refuses to diminish the alternate party, simultaneously insisting that you not be diminished in return.

It’s a win-win situation.

Assertiveness is an island.

It’s a safe paradise place with a palm tree, hammock and a cocktail. If I click the heels of my shiny steel-capped boots three times when confronted with confrontation, I’m going to imagine myself there.

My personal paradise is a humid bubble that no bloke can penetrate where I can ask questions and expect respectful, honest answers.

It’s where what is right and beneficial for me is at the forefront. It’s not a subsequent consideration to keep everyone else happy and not in the least disappointed in me. It puts my needs first, without diminishing the needs of others.

Assertiveness in practice for women renovators.

In aid of answers I bent a knee at the Gods of Google and Quora and here are some ideas from a frightfully clever and insightful lady called Herma Swij who is – as far as I can tell – a Dutch mindfulness coach and Registered Psychologist.

Improbably, she had some of the best advice I have ever heard for women on a construction or renovation works site:

Stop being nice

It ends with supplying coffee and biscuits. Dealing with builders is a temporary situation. You’re not there to try and build nice relationships. You’re there to build a house! Being polite suffices.

Be vigilant

Don’t fall into this trap often set up by contractors: they’ll talk quickly and in complex jargon or industry specific slang hoping to obfuscate, bullshit and bluster or pull the old wool over the eyes trick to confuse the matter at hand, generally to their benefit.

They’ll do it in a certain way, with an air of self-evidence, which leads to your confusion, so consequently …

Don’t be afraid to ask questions

There are no dumb questions, apart from questions not asked.

Know what you want and be very clear about it

It’s their job to find a solution and make it happen, not yours.

Even if you don’t know exactly what you want, the builders should be able to provide you with several options to choose from, including information on the pro and con’s.

Keep in mind that your desired end result is the only thing that matters.
Herma also points out that being sub-assertive and hesitant will lead to dissatisfaction once the builders depart.  She recommends ensuring that you immediately make your point.

If you don’t and the opportunity has passed, it’s difficult to adjust the negotiation process and figurative walls put in the wrong place will stay there.


My greatest reassurance was found in her words;

“It might feel awkward at first to be assertive. But that doesn’t matter. You can handle a bit of a pounding heart and sweaty palms. It’s just temporary, it will pass by, and your satisfaction will last a long time though, as will your results.

“After a few assertive moves you will experience less discomfort. It kind of wears off. You might even start to enjoy it.  Hope this helps.”


Thanks Herma – it did.


Tell me your story:

Have you struggled with being assertive or does it come naturally for you?  When have you had to be assertive on a home renovation project or new house build?

About Suzanne Commerford

Suzanne has stepped out from behind the desk of Australia's largest home inspection business to build the skills, confidence and independence of women to tackle maintenance and home improvement projects around the home.

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