Mood Hoovers. Emotional Vampires. We’ve all met them. Whether it’s a colleague at work, your boss, that demanding client, friends, a family member or even a partner. You’ll recognise them by that sinking feeling when you’re with them or the way that you feel depleted after spending any length of time in their company. Maybe just thinking about them leaves you feeling low. They drain you. They sap your energy. You’ll feel like crap after they’ve offloaded their emotional junk on you. It takes time to re-balance and find your equilibrium again after they’ve gone. Negative encounters are part of life. But what if you find yourself surrounded by them?
Years ago I worked with a man who would regularly berate his car when it refused to start. The car, an ageing, rusty land rover, would frequently be on the receiving end of physical blows and shouts of admonishment rained down upon it by my colleague in the belief that the car would somehow be shown the error of it’s ways. The ritual would last for five to ten minutes until the perpetrator stood back, kicked off his steel toe capped Wellington boots (I kid you not), placed his hands on his hips and stated “That told it”. Now that’s belief. As we say up north, “There’s nowt so queer as folk”. He truly believed that this strange and irrational behaviour impacted upon the car’s performance.
Laugh as you may at this story, sometimes we can all be guilty of harbouring weird and wonderful beliefs about the world we inhabit. Ok, so I’m not suggesting that you are someone who kicks and shouts at their car believing that you’re persuading it to perform like a Ferrari, but there may be an equally erroneous belief about yourself that you’re holding on to. Perhaps you think it’s ok for everyone else to be assertive, but not for you? Maybe you think it’s wrong to say no to requests from co-workers? friends? family? Like it or not, what you believe about yourself determines how you perform, what you think you’re capable of and ultimately what you get out of life whether it’s the career, relationship, income or lifestyle .
Years of research into human behaviour tells us that we all have blind spots or ‘schotomas’ things we can’t see or keep missing no matter how hard we look at ourselves. Perhaps you were told something about yourself as a child, by parents, teachers or some other authority figure. Were you told that you were clumsy? Not ‘academic’? That you were ‘plain’ or lacked talent in something you loved? My experience of working with hundreds of people (yes, even clever people like you) tells me that not only is this list endless, it also bears no relation to reality. These words or labels, often carelessly uttered, with little or no thought, can lead to years of inaccurate self assessment, ultimately leading to a belief that one single opinion from long ago is actually the ‘truth’ about who you are and what you’re capable of. We (along with the latest research in psychology and neuroscience) say a very big ‘Pah.’ to that.
The strange thing is, once that we’ve been told something about ourselves (especially as children) we’re prone to hold on to it. We become selective perceivers, looking for evidence to prove that we’re right to believe the inaccurate things we do. Psychologist Carl Festinger calls this the cognitive dissonance principle. Our subconscious is unable to hold two opposing beliefs at the same time so any evidence that suggests we might be wrong to cling onto these inaccurate labels is conveniently pushed to one side. We literally become blind to it. If I tell you that you are ‘Clever’ when somewhere down the line it was implied you were ‘the average one’ and somewhat lacking in the cerebral department who do you think you’ll be more likely to believe? You’ll find a reason to discount my comment, just as you’ve been doing for years when anyone tells you the same thing, so that you can continue to believe you’re not. That’s selective perception. Once you get something into your head, it stays there and when you’re sifting through all of the stuff that the world presents you with, you’ll only pay attention to the information that proves you’re right, however misleading it might be.
Something to think about;
So my question for you is where are your blind spots? What talents, skills, abilities or characteristics might you have overlooked? Take some time to really think about this one and examine some of the beliefs that you have about who you are and what you’re capable of. Where do they really come from?. Are they serving you or holding you back? To move forwards and create the changes you want in life you’ll need to reexamine them and decide whether they’re a true reflection of who you are now or just someone else’s outdated, dusty opinion.
Where’s the Evidence?
If your beliefs are getting in the way of the kind of life you want, the next step is to ask yourself, ‘is that REALLY true?’. Look for evidence that proves the old belief is wrong or outdated. Remember you’ve been ignoring this kind of evidence for years so it might take a while to spot it at first. Be sure that you are being 100% honest with yourself when it comes to any evidence you might be overlooking. Letting go of these beliefs and leaving your usual way of thinking might feel uncomfortable at first but ultimately, it’s liberating.The next time you catch yourself reaffirming those tired old scripts about who you are and what you’re capable of, stop and ask yourself “Are you absolutely sure that’s true?”. Start to create a new bank of evidence, from events and situations that prove the opposite of the old belief, painting a brand new you picture of yourself, a canvas that truly reflects exactly who you are now as well as where you’re headed in the future. And there next time you think about saying ‘Yes’ to others and ‘No’ to yourself? Give yourself permission to do what you really want to.
And on that note I’ll leave you with the following thought from Patanjali (c. 2nd century) India.
‘If you desire a glorious future, transform the present’
How assertive are you?
Achieving the right level of assertive behaviour can sometimes feel less than easy. People often walk a thin line to get the balance right. Aiming for an optimum level of assertiveness is key. Take an overly strong approach and it can all too often result in you being perceived as too aggressive, arrogant or bullying, damaging your relationships and generally being counterproductive . Opt for a more low key approach and you could communicate a far too passive message, failing to get what you want and running the risk of appearing to be a pushover. So how can you strike the right balance?
To fully appreciate your current level of assertiveness and understand which aspects of your assertiveness skills require improvement, it’s essential to accurately evaluate your level of assertiveness. The most effective way to complete an assertiveness evaluation is by using both self-assessment – our how assertive are you? inventory is a great place to start – and also asking others for their feedback. Aim for a 360 degree assessment to provide you with the maximum amount of information about your assertiveness skills.
Track your assertive style with a journal
Try keeping an assertiveness journal over a two week period. Note the times when you entered into discussion or negotiation at work or at home. Identify what you hoped to achieve from each interaction and then assess how successful you were in gaining your desired outcome. Specifically recall:
- What techniques did you use to persuade?
- What emotions did you notice coming to the fore during each interaction?
- Would you describe yourself as easily able to control any strong emotions that occurred or did you struggle to remain calm?
- How did your ability to control emotions affect the outcome of your interaction?
- If you found yourself wishing that your discussion had ended differently, was this because you or the other person was unhappy with the way thing were discussed or the outcome? Did you find yourself dwelling on the outcome?
- Take a good look through your journal after two weeks, do you notice any triggers that commonly lead you to behave in a particular way? Are themes and patterns emerging from your journal? If you’re not sure, ask a trusted friend to take a look at your journal and have an honest discussion with you about what they notice.
- Would you classify your predominant style as assertive, aggressive, passive or aggressive?
Set goals to keep you on an assertive track
The next step is to set yourself some key assertiveness goals to boost your skills in the areas requiring work.
- Start by setting yourself some easy wins. to begin with, choose goals that will challenge you but won’t be too intimidating.
- Take a step by step approach to build confidence and develop your skills. Give yourself specific goals to be achieved within a dedicated timeframe. Your audit may have highlighted the feeling that you often struggle to be heard by others and feel your views are ignored. Using this information to plan what you want to say in future discussions and how you want to say your piece can help you form your next assertiveness goal.
- Work your way up to the more challenging assertiveness goals. Remember that assertiveness needs to be practiced to achieve effective results. When you feel ready to flex your assertiveness skills go head to head with your bigger assertiveness challenges.
- Remember, when situations don’t go to plan, they provide you with essential information for improving your future performance. View less successful interactions as your route to assertive mastery, analyse each situation to establish where things went wrong and establish what can be done differently next time.
- Go for it!
Like to find out more? We’d love you to join us for our one day Essential Assertiveness course in London on 8th December 2016. Look forward to seeing you there!
How long do you have before you’ve made an impression? A day? An hour? 3 minutes? Incredibly research shows that it’s less than a second. Yes. A second. The rest of that second we spend looking for evidence that our initial assessment was right. We concentrate between 70% to 80% of our attention on non verbal communication so it’s crucial that your body language matches the words coming out of your mouth. Congruence is key.
Without the right non – verbals all of your influence, persuasion and assertiveness strategies are wasted, leaving you, well, looking like a bit of a pushover. Judging a book by it’s cover seems a little unfair to us so we’ve put together 5 tips to help you look like you mean business.
So what can you do to maximise your personal impact and truly look like you mean what you say?
Eye contact is one of the cornerstones of assertiveness. Look away too often and it lacks confidence, revealing your anxiety. Making strong eye contact, breaking it briefly every now and again to keep it natural is a much more confident start. If you find eye contact difficult, or if you’re met with a stoney stare cyborg style, stand your ground by aiming for a soft gaze between the eyes of the person you’re talking to. It will take the sting out of meeting their gaze for you and they won’t notice the difference.
Shouting is a huge no (you’ll lose credibility) whispering is just as bad (nobody will hear you) and it projects a lack of confidence. Aim for the middle ground, a calm, well modulated voice commands respect and demonstrates your self assurance. Remember to breathe steadily to reduce the physical symptoms of stress and prevent your voice from wobbling or trembling . Take a look at our mindfulness blogs for more tips and stress reduction strategies to keep you pitch perfect.
Use your hands to add authority to the points that you make during conversation. Affirmative hand gestures will add gravitas as you speak and stop you from fiddling with clothes, tapping pens or anything else which might act as anxiety ‘tells’ detracting from your words. Interlock your figures into a steepling gesture for maximum impact and a clever technique to prevent your fingers from faffing nervously.
Make yourself bigger. No, we don’t mean loom over your prey with menace when you want to be assertive, that’s just rude (and aggressive). Inhabit your space. Bring your awareness to what you’re doing with your body. Aim for open gestures. If you catch yourself making yourself look smaller, excusing yourself by crossing your arms or wringing your hands, pause. Open up your gestures instead for more confident presence. When you’re nervous your shoulders move up towards your ears as tension takes hold. Relax your shoulders and keep your head high. Now you look like you mean business.
Now feet. Yes, we said feet, the number one giveaway for anxiety. Think about what you’re doing with them. Are you tapping them, shuffling from side to side or nervously moving your legs? Both are telltale anxiety indicators and give the green light that you’re not sure of yourself. We say stamp that out and project self assurance instead. If you’re standing keep your feet hip width apart, knees relaxed for a strong, confident posture that will prevent you from shuffling or foot tapping and ground your core. If you’re sitting down, cross your legs or place them together to one side. Now you’ve got your non – verbal communication sorted you can get down to the business of really communicating your opinions, feelings and needs with self assurance
Want to find out more? Check out our Essential Assertiveness course on 8th December in London on our ‘Events’ page. We’d love to see you there! https://positivechangeguru.com/events/practical-asse-course-london/
Feeling assertive? No? Well you’re not alone. On our Essential Assertiveness course we often hear the same thing from delegates. Reasons range from not wanting to hurt others to fear of being perceived as a tad machiavellian. If you can answer yes to the following questions, you may benefit from flexing your assertiveness muscles:
Do you worry about hurting others’ feelings if you’re assertive?
Is the path of least resistance your favourite route?
Are you afraid of being thought of as a bully?
Do you feel that there’s something not quite ‘nice’ about being assertive?
Are you afraid you’ll be disliked if you disagree?
Do you find it hard to say ‘No’
Are you constantly putting others first and yourself last?
Are you frustrated when you don’t speak up?
Feel you owe more to yourself than keeping quiet?
If you answered yes, there’s a good chance you need to keep calm, carry on and put the following tips into practice.
Step 1: Examine Your Beliefs About Assertiveness:
It’s time to make like Inspector Clouseau and work out where those beliefs about assertiveness come from. And then ask yourself if they’re really true. The next time you stop yourself from speaking up for any of the reasons outlined above. Stop. Pause and ask yourself;
Where’s the evidence? Am I 100% sure it’s true?
Look for alternatives. For example, before you say yes instead of no because you think others will think you’re being difficult, examine your thinking. Find an alternative response, a more effective way of thinking:
‘The other person will understand that I’m busy right now.” or “Other people say no and nobody minds. It’s ok for me too.”
Once you begin to question your thinking you’ll find that very few of our beliefs about ‘how things are’ in life are true. Other than we’re born, we die and we get taxed in between we can’t think of anything else that isn’t up for discussion!
Step 2: Prepare, prepare, prepare
Planning and preparation will stand you in good stead for those moments of amygdala hijack when your mind goes blank (it happens to the best of us). Try using a simple script to help you get your point across in difficult conversations. We love this easy, peasey example:
“When you…….” State clearly what happened.
“I feel…..” Let the other person know the impact of whatever has happened upon you using objective, neutral language.
“What would really help me is….” State what you would like them to do.
“How does that sound?” Check in with the other person to see if they’re on the same page.
Having a plan will stop you searching for words, ‘umming’ ‘erring’ and wondering how you’re going to get your view across.
Step 3: Give Yourself Permission & Believe You Can:
Self belief is the cornerstone of assertiveness. Work on your thinking, identify your beliefs (see step 1) and then commit to being assertive. Start practicing right now. Set yourself small assertiveness goals each day. Make a pact with yourself to communicate your opinions, feelings, beliefs and wants on a daily basis. Give yourself the rights and responsibilities associated with assertiveness. The right to express opinions and to say no along with the responsibility to do it. Permission granted. Knock the guilt (and the fear) on the head and go for it. The more you achieve your assertiveness goals the more you’ll build your assertiveness muscles and believe that you can.
Want to find out more? Check out our Essential Assertiveness course on 8th December in London or discover our other courses on the Events page. We’d love to see you there!
Developing your assertiveness toolkit
Being assertive can feel like it’s easier said than done, but including new skills and techniques in your personal toolkit will develop your confidence as well as increasing assertiveness. Try these five tips to give your skills a boost:
1. Allow your self-belief flourish
Self-belief is the foundation of assertiveness. Develop a strong sense of self-belief by challenging yourself to try new things and learning new skills. Acknowledge and celebrate your successes. Spend time monitoring your inner dialogue; when you notice yourself making negative or energy-sapping statements, take time to dispute them with a positive, self-affirming response. With practice, the positive inner dialogue can become habit.
2. Develop your emotional intelligence (EI)
Assertiveness requires two core emotional intelligence skills, the ability to:
a) identify our own emotions and the emotions of others
b) manage our own emotions, and the emotions of others, whilst under pressure
We can all develop our level of emotional intelligence, and the best way to start is by taking small steps. Begin by challenging yourself to manage your own emotional responses in situations you know you will find relatively easy to control. Gradually build your skills: increase the level of challenge and practice managing the emotions of others. Think of your EI skills as being like a muscle: every time you use those skills that muscle is growing bigger!
3. Get modelling
Observe someone whose assertiveness you admire and think about what makes their skills so impressive. Are they cool and unruffled under pressure? Do they casually take their time? Can they manage aggressive challenges effortlessly? Is everyone wowed by their authoritative body language? Although this technique is about observing behaviour, you can also ask the person for their top tips. Once you have discovered exactly what they are doing, saying or projecting to be so assertive, model that behaviour for yourself.
Listening is a key technique in the assertiveness toolkit. Effective listening allows you to hear what the other person thinks, feels and needs. This information is invaluable and can help you to negotiate and influence much more effectively. Listening also provides you with an opportunity to:
- practice calm
- choose your assertive response
5. Stay calm
When we feel anxious and under pressure our bodies enter into fight, flight or freeze mode. The way in which the body responds includes the release of stress hormones into the bloodstream and a reduction in the ability to process complex thoughts – not a helpful situation when you want to be assertive! Finding a technique that enables you to remain calm whilst under pressure is vital, and what works for you will be as individual as your personality. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach but some popular techniques include:
Stay calm with this simple anchoring technique
Practice holding your thumb and forefinger together whilst in a state of calm. It can help to think about a place or time during which you have felt extremely calm and relaxed. Next, ‘anchor’ the calm feeling to the thumb and forefinger action. Practice until you are able to prompt the feeling of calm just by placing your thumb and forefinger together. This enables you to use the thumb and forefinger technique, on its own, during times of anxiety, to evoke your moment of calm.
Remain calm by practising this easy breathing exercise
Breathing exercises are also a popular way to effectively handle anxiety. Breathing is connected to, and influences, all aspects of the mind and body. Research has shown that inhaling for 5 seconds and exhaling for 5 seconds five times per minute prompts the body’s mechanism for reducing anxiety into action. This technique enables you to manage difficult situations and respond assertively.
Fired up to learn more tips? Take a look at Julian Treasure’s TED Talk:
Want to find out more? Check out our Essential Assertiveness course on 8th December in London on our ‘Events’ page. We’d love to see you there!
A more assertive you
So, you’ve committed to make that change. The change may be small, like making time for a hobby, or more profound such as following your lifelong dream. Chances are you will need to look, feel and be assertive to reach your goal.
Being assertive means taking responsibility for appropriately expressing what you want – your needs, views, ideas and feelings. Assertiveness also means acknowledging that other people have needs, views, ideas & feelings that need to be heard. Being assertive can sometimes feel less than easy, so here are Positive Change Guru’s five top tips for creating a more assertive you:
1. Be assertive – build your self-belief
Self-belief is the foundation of assertiveness. Develop a strong sense of self-belief by monitoring your inner dialogue or self-talk and noticing when statements are negative or confidence sapping. Challenge negative statements by replacing them with a positive, self-belief affirming sentence. For example, if you find your self-talk stating,
“Why bother trying? The last time I tried it was a complete failure.”
respond by telling yourself,
“Everybody has to practice to get better at things. The more often I practice, the better I will become.”
2. Be assertive – be body language savvy
More than 80% of all our communication is non-verbal. That means that when you are seeking to assert yourself and influence others you need to be aware of how positive body language can help you to achieve your goal. When we look confident it is easy for others to believe that we have something to be confident about. An easy way to start practising positive body language straight away is by focusing on the following:
1. A smile is an instant way to create a positive impression and develop rapport.
2. Your body should be relaxed and open . Not only does relaxed body language help you to remain calm, it also puts others at their ease.
3. Maintain an even tone of voice. To be assertive, make sure that your tone of voice is even. An even tone conveys that your emotions are in check and you have the situation under control. A tone that is too high may convey excitement or anxiety. A flat, monotonous tone runs the risk of conveying boredom or resignation.
4. Maintaining good eye contact is essential to effective communication, don’t allow your focus to wander to the ground or around the room when you feel under pressure. Maintain direct eye contact for approximately 60% of the interaction for maximum effect.
3. Be assertive – Get Modelling
Modelling is all about observing someone that you admire for their assertiveness skills and asking “What assertive behaviour are they utilising that I can emulate?” The more similar to that person you believe yourself to be, the more effective the results of this technique. So the next time you find yourself admiring someone’s assertiveness, note exactly what they are doing to create such an assertive impression.
Are they cool and unruffled under pressure? Do casually take their time, managing aggressive challenges effortlessly? Is everyone wowed by their authoritative body language? Although this technique is about observing behaviour, you can also ask the person for their top tips on being more assertive. Once you have discovered exactly what they are doing, saying or projecting to be so assertive, model that behaviour for yourself.
4. Be assertive – Listen
Listening is a key component of your assertiveness toolkit. Effective listening allows you to hear what the other person is thinking, needing and feeling. This information is invaluable and helps you to negotiate and influence effectively. Listening also provides you with an opportunity to pause, practise calm and think about which assertive techniques you want to use.
5. Be assertive – Stay calm
Finding a technique that supports you to remain calm in the moment whilst under pressure is vital. The technique that works for you will be as individual as your personality. There is no ‘one size fits all’ technique here but popular techniques for managing anxiety in the moment are thinking of someone or something that has a calming effect on you, practising holding thumb and forefinger together whilst in a state of calm and then using the thumb and forefinger technique whilst under pressure to evoke that feeling of calm.
Breathing is another popular technique. Your breathing is connected to and influences everything: how you hold yourself, tone of voice, level of anxiety. Make sure that your breathing fosters calm. Five in and out breaths per minute will maximise your ability to stay calm and collected and assert yourself to the max.
Want to know more? Amy Cuddy gives a fantastic Ted Talk on how what we do with our bodies affects not just what we communicate to others but how we also manage stress .
Want to find out more? Check out our Essential Assertiveness course on 8th December in London on our ‘Events’ page. We’d love to see you there!