A Must-Have Quality Everyone Needs to Create Credibility and Respect!
Perception is always reality. Doesn’t matter how smart or talented or educated we are, if we don’t create the perception of confidence and credibility, ironically our skills and talents may diminish in the estimation of others or go completely unnoticed. Today it’s necessary to speak up, stand out and use our assertiveness skills in order to remain competitive. Silence may be golden but it’s an ineffectual tool in the business world.
As an example, if I have a brilliant idea but sit quietly during the meeting because I hate to fight for the floor or yell over a loud, abrasive co-worker, there’s a good chance I will miss opportunities or be overlooked. Of course no one wants to get in a shouting match or display abrasive behavior in order to be heard, and it’s even worse for women who get all sorts of negative labels when they speak up and take control of a meeting or situation.
So how do we stack the odds in our favor, demonstrate assertiveness and still maintain our demeanor and dignity?
For starters it’s a mindset; many people mistake assertiveness for aggressive behavior, and decide it’s better to do nothing than to be seen as aggressive. Yet assertiveness is simply standing up for what we believe while respecting others’ rights as well, and it’s essential to model this behavior if we want to be seen as credible. We need to speak up, even if it means getting outside of our comfort zone. If the perception is that we let others control the situation, it may not be fair or accurate, but again perception is always reality.
Years ago when my daughter started college at the University of Florida in Gainesville we drove from New York to Florida and stopped at a hotel halfway in between. All along the way there were billboards advertising free breakfasts so when we checked into a hotel I asked what I needed to do to get our breakfasts. The hotel clerk explained free breakfasts were only for executive members, at which time I saw my daughter quickly move away from me. I lowered my voice and said very seriously that I thought that was false advertising since that wasn’t mentioned on the billboard. The clerk opened his drawer and handed me two breakfast coupons. When I asked my daughter why she was moving away from me so quickly she explained she was sure I was going to “make a scene.” Her idea of standing up for our rights was “making a scene.”
If assertiveness is demonstrating through our actions that everyone deserves equal respect and has a right to be heard, then how do we become more assertive, especially if it means putting ourselves in an environment that can be uncomfortable? Here are some great ideas to make it easier to display assertiveness whenever you need it.
Act "as if".
- Think of who you know who displays the kind of confident assertiveness you would like in any situation, and then imagine becoming that person when you walk into the room or say what needs saying. It’s an excellent way to begin acting “as if” you already have all the assertiveness qualities you need and it definitely works. Before the next meeting where you know you’ll need to stand up and be heard, think of who you can emulate…an old boss or professor or colleague, and imagine how they would act or what they would say.
- Your non-verbal communication will help you convey a sense of confidence and assertiveness. First make yourself bigger/taller, meaning stand up to your full height and walk with shoulders back, chin straight (up denotes arrogance and down submissiveness so just straight) and make eye contact. Sit at the table always (even if you come in late) and take up a bit of room. The person who has the most power typically spreads out the most, takes up the most space.
Take back the conversation.
- If someone takes your idea in a meeting or talks over you, take back the conversation. Here’s how. If you offer an idea in a meeting and it gets a lukewarm reception, and Bob offers the same idea worded slightly differently and it gets a great response, say something like “Thanks Bob for expanding on my idea. I never thought of it in those terms, and I appreciate your feedback.” And if someone talks over you become the stuck record. “Thanks Joyce but let me finish…I hear you however let me finish first.” If the person continues then let them take the floor and the second they finish jump back in “As I was saying…” It’s essential to own your idea or the floor, even if it feels uncomfortable.
Reframe negative language meant to derail you.
- Example: Someone says “John, what a stupid idea.” You can reply “Thanks for the comment,” “I hear you, however Barb and I thought it went well” or “I appreciate your perspective but I do not agree.” If it’s a boss add “Help me understand what you disagree with.” People say things in that manner typically to get you to react, and usually are disappointed when you don’t.
- There are many ways to do so, however one way that can feel more comfortable is Can, Can’t and Why. Example: Will you drop everything and help me with this project? “I can help you later today (or I can see if Joan has time), I can’t because I’m finishing a project for the CEO that will take all week. What you can do, what you can’t do, and why. Other ways to say no include “No I can’t do that right now” and “No, this isn’t a priority for me; I’ll let you know if I get time” and “Unfortunately I can’t do that right now because…”
Watch your words.
- Words are powerful and the right ones add credibility, just as the wrong ones denigrate one’s stature and respect. Get rid of try—it demeans. If John and Joyce were being interviewed for a job and Joyce said she would try to do the best she could if hired while John said he would do the best he could if hired, we would all gravitate toward John. Avoid “sorry” since it is again a word that is overused and can sound weaker. If you accidentally bump into someone, “excuse me” and “pardon me” are better choices. If you make an egregious mistake the words are “I apologize for this mistake and am in the process of correcting it.”
Cut out the extra words.
- Watch out that you don’t add extraneous words that don’t belong. Often if we’re feeling uncomfortable we say something at the beginning of the sentence before we say what we need to say. Example: “I’m not sure this is the right time to bring this up” or “I don’t know if that is what you meant but…” And don’t add anything after the sentence as well, which sounds like you’re seeking permission or approval from others. Example: “I think we should use the first approach, what do you think?” or “I think we go with the ABC project, OK?”
Bottom line, the more we stand up in a respectful way for our beliefs the more everyone benefits and the better we feel in the process. On December 8th I’m teaching a four-hour assertiveness class, in conjunction with the University of Florida in Gainesville, for anyone who wants to become more skilled in the age-old art of speaking assertively while increasing the perception of worth and credibility. Everyone deserves to be heard, respected and have the wonderful, inalienable right to disagree or question!
To learn more or register for the class click here.