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Barriers to Assertiveness
What keeps you from being more assertive? There could be any number of reasons why you would choose not to speak up when you have something to say. We have to be careful, though, that our reasons for non-assertiveness are not actually rationalizations we are using to avoid something we don't like. We all have the capability of lying to ourselves - of telling ourselves an excuse and buying it. Don't buy your own excuses.
If you aren't in the habit of being assertive, it can be uncomfortable to speak your mind. There may be risks involved. You may be frustrated by a difficult person. You may be nervous or self-conscious. The bottom line is that you don't feel confident to speak up, because you don't have the skills you would like to have. But you'll never get the skills if you don't start practicing! Don't let yourself miss a chance to build your assertiveness skills.
Disruptive Behavior in the Workplace
There are three common reactions to disruptive behavior: ignore, avoid or react. These are all strategies that we choose for dealing with conflict (even if for most people that choice is an unconscious one). The ignoring strategy says, "If I ignore it, it'll go away." Not surprisingly, that strategy usually does not work. The avoidance strategy is similar to ignoring, but it involves a more active attempt to literally remove yourself physically from the source of disruptive behavior. This doesn't tend to work either, since purely on a practical level it's usually not realistic to expect to remove yourself cleanly and completely from a conflict situation in a team environment. The reaction strategy, finally, refers to whatever 'just happens,' automatically, to you when your emotions are triggered. This is the most unpredictable strategy, because the reaction could be volatile, or bad for team ecology, or just counter-productive to what you hope to accomplish. In fact, if you could see the situation objectively, often you'll find that it is actually your own reactive behavior that is triggering a lot of the very disruptions that are setting you off in the first place!
Behavioral Cues in Communication
A behavioral cue is a word or short phrase that two or more people agree on to signal a behavior in one when said by another. The signal can be used to either prompt a certain behavior or alert someone to an unconscious habit they are trying to adapt. The purpose and meaning of the cue is worked out beforehand by the group in a positive and emotionally-neutral conversation; it acts as a sort of behavioral short-hand - part of the shared vocabulary of a team - letting them share important information or improve work processes without bringing everything to a halt for a long, drawn-out and possibly-emotional conversation whenever the situation comes up.
People who work together or share a space are bound to have certain things that come up again and again to affect overall team strength. And anyone wanting to change an unconscious habit can clearly benefit from the awareness of those around them to succeed. Behavioral cues give teams a useful shared language that improves productivity and strengthens team ecology.
Away-From vs. Toward Motivation
There are two types of motivation: away-from and toward. Most people have a tendancy for one or the other of them, but the most productive, engaged people are without a doubt those who are toward-motivated. A toward-motivated person is driven by the future: by what they want, what they like, and by the possibilities a situation might hold. Away-motivated people, by contrast, are motivated by avoidance of "pain": away from what they don't like, from what they see as problems, from what seems to be risky or threatening in a situation. Toward-motivated people may face the same difficulties or risks, but they are able to translate those hurdles into opportunities: into a vision of better things that fuels their efforts to make that vision a reality. As a coach, you can often help an away-motivated person to change their direction by reflective listening. Reflective listening involves retranslating a person's away-from complaints back to them as a statement of toward motivation. In other words, when they say, "I don't like the way we do this," you respond, "So what you're saying is that you'd like us all to work together on finding a more productive way to accomplish this goal." It isn't really what they said - but it is a way of looking at what is implied by what they said. Over time, you can begin to see a real change in the way a person sees things, by teaching them to view the world with a greater sense of possibility and personal opportunity.
Reframing Your Attitude
There are fortunate and unfortunate things that happen in any person's life. The question is, do you really know which is which? Sometimes, a situation can look unfortunate while it's happening, but can turn out later on to have been the best thing that could have happened to us. We don't always know what's good for us, and we don't always know what we need.
The best thing we can do, when faced with events that seem unfortunate, is to reframe our attitude towards the situation. The very first step should be to accept the reality of what is happening, right away, on its own terms, regardless of our expectations or plans. Since we know we can't always see whether something is fortunate for us or not, there's no sense in wasting energy in complaining about how we think things should be. We need all our attention and focus on creative thinking and problem solving to deal with what's at hand. Quite often, in fact, our resourcefulness in the moment is the very thing that determines whether a situation turns out to be fortunate or unfortunate for us in the end.
Personal Power and Influence
'Personal power' is the ability to influence the behavior of other people even when you have no authority over them. You have no authority over your customers, for example. They don't work for you. But you still have to positively influence them if you want them to continue to choose you over your competitors. Even when you are in a management position, the power you hold by dint of your authority is very erosive to use. Personal power is when people follow you, not through force or because of your title, but because they respect and believe in you. It is the strongest type of power you can access - because it is based on relationships, and fueled by a person's own motivation to help you. And, in contrast to the more coercive types of force you can exert on others' behavior, personal power has the greatest potential to continue to be effective during times when you're not around.
It's Time to Let Go of Your Old Habits
Sometimes, the little things are really important. This is quite true in relationships: very often, we find that it is the small actions, or a few spoken words, that form the foundation to our connection with another person; and conversely, we know that it can sometimes be only minor disagreements - if they are allowed to linger unresolved, and to accumulate and aggravate further conflicts - that can ultimately lead to a relationship's demise. How is it that we could tear down something that we really value? Maybe our habits get in the way.
Habits are insidious things. Human beings are creatures of habit: we learn how to work together, how to communicate together, how to talk, how to act, as habits that are instilled in us as children. We tend to carry those habits with us to adulthood - and most of the time, we don't even realize how these habits impact how we communicate and interact. A great majority of the dysfunction in our lives - from extreme disruptions such as addiction or anger-management issues, down to everyday things like procrastinating or difficulty with conflict management - can be traced down simply to habits: that is, to specific, unconscious patterns of behavior we have, that had been programmed into us at some point in the past, but are now working against us in the present and need to be replaced.
How to Manage Interruptions & Avoid Being Sidetracked
Ironically, the biggest barrier to productivity at work is often the interruptions that come from your coworkers. What makes it a particularly complicated issue to manage is the fact that most of these interruptions are (probably) not just idle chatter: your fellow employees have a work-related reason for coming to you. They may have work they need to pass on to you in the pipeline, or maybe they need something from you in order to finish a job. They might want your input on an issue with another coworker or client, or they might just be looking for help brainstorming ideas. The problem is, we don't know - and because people have very different ways of communicating, we can lose quite a lot of time and focus deciphering what that person wants or needs. Even when the point of the interruption turns out to be an important reason to switch gears, it can still be very frustrating to have your priorities repeatedly shuffled beyond your control.
Since there's not much we could do to limit interruptions from team members in the first place - and we probably wouldn't want to if we could - the key to the problem lies in managing the format. The "Two-Minute Interrupt Rule" is a handy tool for simplifying the process of communication with coworkers, to get at the heart of what it is they actually want, reasonably early in the conversation, so that you have a say in determining how to manage your daily priorities.
You Can Negotiate With Anyone
In a broad sense, negotiating is a lot like clarifying. It is an invaluable tool for ensuring effective communication, and for guiding behavior in positive ways. If you are the type of person who considers yourself to be non-confrontational, you may find it hard to initiate a conversation with the intent of negotiating. You may think it would be rude or insubordinate to voice your concerns, or suggest alternate procedures with a manager or client. You may find it difficult to assert yourself, or reluctant to risk engaging conflict.
But you are an important part of the team, and your input is too valuable not to share. You may have better information than the other person, or know a better way to do what the other person is trying to do. You can negotiate with anyone - and you should. Twenty minutes of negotiation can save 20 hours of work. Remember: your job is not to just take whatever comes your way and accept it - your job is to help your team do the best work that they can do.
Learning to Become a Proactive Company
It's dangerously easy for a company - or an individual, for that matter - to become entirely reactive in their work: spending all their time and energy on putting out fires, rushing from one emergency to the next. The difference between reactive and proactive behavior is like the difference between fire-fighters and fire marshalls. Fire-fighters are devoted to split-second emergency response and crisis control: they are trained to react and respond to the fires and emergencies that arrive. Fire marshalls, on the other hand, don't go to the fires. They go to businesses and buildings, and verify procedures are in place and codes are being followed, to prevent the fires from ever breaking out, or to minimize the damage from the fires that do happen.
The importance of having proactive systems in place can be under-valued when no fires are burning. But true crisis-management lies not in how we deal with emergencies, but in the day-to-day discipline of preventive maintenance against emergencies happening in the first place: practicing habits like setting personal deadlines, continually refining processes, and helping to prevent "bottlenecks" in workflows among and across teams.
Productivity 101: Learn to Sell Your Ideas
If there's any relationship that's important to your working life, it's the one you share with your boss. To a great degree, your career is right now in the hands of your direct reports. Every day, they are having conversations, above your head, about you - or they have opportunities to bring you up to other people who make a difference in your organization. You want your supervisor to be your advocate.
Just like anyone else, your manager has blindspots. The fact that she outranks you does not mean that she does not have areas of weakness, or that you do not have areas of strength in which you can be an invaluable aide. But for you to be any help to your team at all, you must learn to sell your ideas. If you offer input to your supervisor, and your ideas are rejected, you could blame the supervisor... but it wouldn't really be true. The same techniques you would apply in selling your company's product to an external customer, are relevant to the selling of your ideas to the management and fellow team members in your organization: your internal customers.
Do You Have a Hard Time Receiving Criticism?
When somebody tells us something that sounds like a criticism, it can be easy - even automatic - to react with defensiveness. Whatever forms it takes in each of us - whether we become dismissive, sarcastic or even phlegmatic - our defense mechanisms are triggered because, to the emotional center of our brain, it feels like an attack. Our anger, derision or withdrawal are efforts, in an emotional sense, to stop the pain. But when our defense mechanisms shield us from hearing what others have to say, we miss out on what could be valuable insight on something we're not able to see from our perspective. In essence, we sabotage our ability to learn and improve ourselves. On the one hand, these defense mechanisms are really just habits we've learned, and habits can of course be changed. Unfortunately, however, for most of us these are habits that have been with us since we were very small children, which is why they can seem so much a part of us. Whether we're talking about people skills, relationship skills or productivity skills, we have to remember that there are forces that are programmed into our brains that will keep us doing things that make us counterproductive - that go against what we really want.