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Assertiveness

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended correspondence course in management. You can dip into it as you go, or you can follow the course, right from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


There is only one thing that you need to know about assertiveness, to fully understand it:

Assertiveness is all about respect

Assertiveness is about the respect you have for the people you deal with and for yourself.  Let’s see a summary diagram.

Assertiveness

Aggressive behaviour has little respect for the other person and instead, focuses on winning-out over them.  It can be controlling – even abusive  – and has no place in modern management.

Passive behaviour shows little respect for yourself.  It focuses on not getting hurt and so leads people to submit their own legitimate needs and desires to avoid the possibility of confrontation.  Often that possibility is more perceived than real.  Passivity shows itself in a fear to disagree, guilt at saying no, and a reluctance to offer feedback.  It too has no value to you as a manager.

Assertive behaviour is what to aim for.  Respect yourself and the other person and focus on over-coming events and getting the best result you can.  Do what is right: not what is easy and celebrate success.  Be collaborative, offer sincere praise and objective feedback, say what you think and feel, taking responsibility for your emotions and for your decisions.  Be confident to ask for help and support when you need it.

An Exercise

Think back to examples you have observed in colleagues of assertive, aggressive and passive behaviours.  In your notebook, note down:

  1. some words you associate with each of these
  2. voice and speech patterns you associate with each of these
  3. facial expressions and patterns of eye-contact you associate with each of these
  4. postures, gestures and body language you associate with each of these

Exercise Part 2: Reflection

Now look over your notes.  Which of these seems most like you a lot of the time?  Which one do you tend towards during stress?

Assertively making a request

Be direct but courteous.  Be specific about what you want and offer details as appropriate.  You don’t need to apologise, unless you know you are putting someone out, but do say ‘please’.  The best asking words are ‘would you…’  Alternatives can seem weak (could you), doubting my ability (can you) or too direct (will you).  Finally, respect my right to say ‘no’.  If no is not an option, then be honest, and tell me.

Assertively disagreeing and putting your views

Listen intently.  Identify where we agree and disagree and acknowledge both.  Use ‘I’ to take responsibility for your point of view and be constructive in building on mine.  Offer reasons, facts and supporting evidence.

Assertively giving bad news

Be proactive in addressing the situation.  Make good eye contact, and prepare me with: ‘I have some bad news.’ Be brief and to the point, though never abrupt.  Be specific about the news, but the more complex and damaging it is, the less information I will be able to take in – at least at first.  Answer my questions and allow me to express my emotions.  You do not need to be defensive.  Be factual and caring and be prepared to help me work through the implications.

Assertively saying ‘no’

Be short, to the point, and respectful.  Offer reasons when you can and alternatives where appropriate.  Make your ‘no’ into a ‘NO’ – a ‘Noble Objection’.  This concept is explained fully in the new  (autumn 2012) book, The Yes/No Book.

Further Reading

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How to Understand Resistance and Handle it Effectively

Mike Clayton

Mike’s first law of change: “Resistance is inevitable”

There’s no getting around it, so all you can do is to embrace it, and engage with your resisters.  But how can you do so positively, and increase your chances of a successful transition?

That’s the reason I developed my Onion Model of Resistance, which I started working on back in the 1990s.  It helps us to understand the nature of the resistance we encounter and leads us towards effective strategies.

Five Layers of Resistance

There are five layers of resistance that we encounter and they are summarised in the image below. (click to enlarge)

The Onion Model of Resistance by Mike Clayton

What we find is that, as we uncover a layer of resistance, there is often another layer beneath it.  Each layer is psychologically deeper, it is emotionally hotter, and it is harder to deal with.

Harmonious Engagement with the Resistance

My Golden Rule for Handling Resistance is:

‘I will always respect my resisters’

This means I need to use a harmonious approach that does not clash with them nor seek to put them down.  Our instinctive approaches, to blame, bully, plead, fight, do deals or lie, do not work – or, if they do, are not sustainable.  In my talk – and in the book – I listed a dozen or so techniques, inspired by the principles of Aikido, a Japanese martial art, sometimes called the ‘way of peace’, or ’the way of harmony’.

Three things to remember

The talk ended with three things to remember:

  1. Resistance is part of the process.  It is inevitable.
    Don’t fear it: embrace it.
  2. There is always a reason for the resistance you get.
    It may not be rational, but you can understand it,
    and you can deal with it.
  3. Above all, always respect your resisters.

Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

The Handling Resistance Pocketbook, by Mike Clayton

The Onion Model, how to handle resistance to ideas, to sales, and to change, along with a host of tips are all in the Handling Resistance Pocketbook.

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You may also like:

For more on the Onion Model…

…take a look at this earlier blog, on Handling Sales Objections.

The Golden Rule for Resistance: "I will always respect my resisters"

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