Why Filipinos need to be more assertive

A Western client was explaining requirements to a Filipino analyst. The analyst was not sure she understood certain details, but was ashamed to ask for clarifications. The product was completed on time, but it did not meet the client’s requirements and had to be reworked.

A team member made plans for dinner with his wife, but the boss asked him to work overtime. This has happened many times, but he could not muster the courage to refuse the boss. He reluctantly works overtime, while resentment with his boss builds up, and his marriage goes downhill.

Our culture has instilled in us many commendable attitudes. Filipino children are taught at an early age to kiss the hands of their elders as a sign of respect. Like many Asians, we have a sense of personal honor and we do not want to lose “face” or be embarrassed in front of others (“mapahiya”). We also have a strong sense of “pakisama”, valuing harmonious relationships and avoiding conflict and confrontations.

While these are good values to live by, they could have costly consequences in business and personal relationships if applied the wrong way. We need to be able to protect our own interests while respecting the interests of others as well. If the team member wants to have that dinner with his wife, he could respectfully decline his boss and suggest other ways that the deadlines can be met. We also need to have that inner confidence to overcome fears. The analyst could remind herself of her capabilities and her value as a person, and get past the notion that she may appear stupid if she asks questions.

Our culture has given us good values and we are gifted with many talents to contribute to the world. Being assertive can push us Filipinos to contribute even more in the global economy, while enhancing the personal relationships that we so cherish.



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