Visit my Facebook page

I post on this blog about twice a month. I post on my facebook page several times a week with tips, appropriate quotes and ways to support your increased assertive behavior. Please visit my facebook page (and please "like" it, if you do)

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Handling Work Place Change Assertively

Today's workplace is characterized by change - people are losing their jobs and with the diminished workforce at many businesses, responsibilities are changing.

Normal reactions to change are shock, denial, resistance, grief and acceptance.

Early in my career I worked at a state mental hospital. I had been hired to train the staff. I love teaching, so I was very happy with my job. I could teach whatever I liked so I offered workshops on stress management, new games, and team building.

One day I received a notice that the teaching unit was closing and that I was now assigned to be a staff psychologist on the unit at the hospital where the long-term mental patients were housed. (SHOCK)

I was hired to teach. I didn't want my new assignment. So I simply didn't go. (DENIAL)

I staged my own version of a sit-in strike, stayed in my old office and continued teaching. Two weeks passed (RESISTANCE).

One day the psychiatrist from the chronic care unit knocked on my office door, took me by the hand and led me to my new office on the chronic care unit.

I left my lovely office with windows looking out onto a beautiful field and moved to my new "office." It had been a linen closet in its previous life - narrow, no windows, dark paneled walls. I took one look and burst into tears. (GRIEF)

Once I made friends with the other staff members and we started planning for treatment of these patients, my attitude began to change. I bought sky blue paint and painted the closet walls to look like the sky. I found posters of windows looking out on lovely gardens and hung them up on my sky blue walls. I was moving into ACCEPTANCE.

The pattern I experienced, moving from shock to denial to resistance to grief to acceptance is the normal course of a reaction to change.

The assertive approach to the challenge of change is defined by claiming the change in a way that works for you. Approach the change positively and gain as much as you can from the process.

Here are the steps to developing a positive approach.

1. Use reframing

Powerlessness is a consequence of workplace change. The decisions often come from corporate headquarters and you cannot do anything to make the results any different.

The unassertive person grumbles and complains in response to the lack of control when the change is announced.

The assertive approach is to "reframe" the way in which you view the change. A photo framed in a solid black frame will look much different than a photo in a cheerful red frame.

If your job responsibilities have shifted, a positive reframe is: "Now I have the opportunity to learn a new skill."

Or if you suddenly have twice as much work as you did before, you could reframe by saying, "Now I'll challenge myself to refine my time management skills."

Make a plan for the future.

Examine your goals. Where would you like to be in five years? What are the steps you can take now to aim toward that future life? Write a commitment plan and stick to it. Examine the new form of your current job and determine if it now fits the goals toward which you aim.

If moving to a different job or place of employment is part of your plan, begin now to examine what you need to do and start to take the steps necessary to control your own career.

For example, when my job at the hospital changed from training to chronic care, I began taking steps to leave the job and find a new one.

Starting the process of identifying your values and goals affirms your self-esteem in the middle of change.

Take care of yourself.

Handle your stress about the change assertively before it overwhelms you.

  • Use deep breathing and muscle relaxation to relieve physical stress.
  • Take baths at the end of your stressful workday, get massages, or take a yoga class
  • Take breaks during the day to walk around, to take deep breaths, or to gaze out of the window.
Use exercise to help you adapt to change and to keep your anger in check.

Once when I was undergoing a stressful relationship change, I swam laps every morning. With each stroke I said to myself, "I'm angry about !@#$!@," and at the end of the swim, I felt refreshed and relaxed for the rest of the day.

Get support for yourself.

Respect is the foundation of asserting yourself. Having respect for yourself includes noticing that you need some support in this time of change. This can take several forms. Go into therapy to sort things out; lean on your friends; talk to others at work about the effects of the changes on your lives.

Change takes time. The secret to adapting to workplace change is to remind yourself that change takes time. Allow yourself time for the process of reacting to the change through the stages of shock, denial, resistance, grief, and acceptance.

Then take steps to move through the change:
  • Reframe,
  • Make a plan,
  • Take good care of yourself and
  • Get support.
Handling the change with a positive approach will turn workplace change into an opportunity for your own growth and development.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Secrets to Resolving your Complaints with Customer Service: First Time, Every Time

Would you like to return the dress that is the wrong color or to complain about a mistake on your telephone bill?

Trying to resolve a consumer problem can seem overwhelming. In fact, addressing a complaint as a consumer is a matter of learning the formula for success and applying it often. Approaching the task in an assertive manner provides the foundation for a good outcome.

Seven secrets to successful complaint resolution:

1. Be prepared.

Think of what the store clerk will need and take it with you. For example:
  • Do you have a receipt for the purchase?
  • Do you have a copy of your check or your credit card receipt
Paying for purchases with a credit or debit card provides you with indisputable proof of purchase as well as provides a vehicle for easy return of your money.

2. Begin your conversation pleasantly

Remember that the foundation of assertiveness is an attitude of respect. Approach the clerk with a pleasant look on your face.

Say, "Hello, how are you?" and extend your hand in friendship.

Do not start with "Excuse me," or "I'm sorry, but I need to talk to you."

Making an apology to get attention simply takes away from your power and claims a one-down position. If you want the clerk's attention, use his/her name (you can read it on his/her name tag) or say "Sir..." or "Ma'am, I need to talk to you about this item.

3. Stand or sit at an angle

Confrontation, according to the dictionary, means a face-to-face meeting.

If you stand directly in front of the person to whom you wish to speak, he/she will experience your behavior as angry and confrontive. However, if you wish to convey respect in your assertion, then stand at an angle to the other person.

The angle conveys, "I am free to walk away from this interaction, as are you." Respect for the other person includes our recognition of his/her choice to talk with us and his/her freedom not to talk with us.

4. Use empathic statements

Connection works more effectively than confrontation. We achieve a connection with the other person by letting them know how we imagine it might be to bein their shoes.

An empathic statement to the sales clerk might sound like this, "You seem really busy today, Mrs. Smith, and I imagine that it isn't pleasant to deal with the return of items, but I need to return this dress because it is the wrong color.

Since you made an effort to understand how Mrs. Smith must feel today, she will be more likely to help you.

5. Speak in a well-modulated tone of voice

Keep your voice moderate in tone and volume. Speak so that your words go down at the end of the sentence.

If you allow the pitch of your voice to go up at the end of the sentence, you will sound unsure of yourself and your response will sound more like a question than a statement.

To the waiter: "This is not the salad I ordered," with "ordered" going to the lowest tone in the sentence.

6. Make statements. Don't ask questions.
  • A statement sounds positive and powerful.
  • A question interjects doubt.
"I want to return this waffle baker" is more powerful than "Is it OK for me to return this waffle baker?"

Avoid qualifiers such as "I hope this isn't too much trouble, but I want to return this waffle baker."

An implied question takes away power as well, "I want to return this waffle baker, OK?"

7. Follow-up

If you get good cooperation from an employee or a company, follow up with a thank-you letter or a note of commendation.

you had a difficult time of it, also follow-up with a letter, detailing the reasons for your dissatisfaction. These letters will help you practice assertiveness and often bring results from the company.

Practice these steps every time an opportunity comes your way. Taking the right steps makes complaining a breeze and positive results more likely.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Speaking Up When a Response is not Required

Much of the time when we speak up for ourselves, the goal is to get something to happen that we want to happen. Sometimes, however, a soft assertion is a valuable way to speak up for yourself.

A soft assertion by definition is taking a stand when you do not require a response. This can be as simple as wearing a t-shirt with a slogan on it such as "Atlanta Braves." The shirt tells the world that you support the Atlanta baseball team. You don't expect people to respond to the shirt, but you are sending a message, all the same.

A soft assertion can be a compliment. When I give a compliment, I am taking a risk. The recipient of the compliment can accept my gift (the compliment) and simply say thank you. Occasionally someone will reject your compliment: "Oh, this old thing? I've had it for years."

Today I was driving home from the N. Georgia mountains with a quarter of a tank of gas. I knew I should fill up my car. There's a gas station between Clarkesville, GA and Cleveland, GA that always has comparatively low gas prices. I haven't stopped there before but decided that I had enough gas to get there before filling up today.

It's Labor Day so there are lots of people on the road. I like to take what I call the "pretty way" home which involves only about 1/3 of the trip on Interstate roads. The rest of the trip is on pretty country roads. I took that today and easily got to the gas station between Clarkesville and Cleveland.

As I pulled into the station , the prices were predictably low for the area ($2.38/gal compared to the usual $2.48 everywhere else). I drove up to the pump to find a white hand-written sign the size of a piece of typing paper taped to the front of the pump. I couldn't read the ball-point pen writing and decided that pump was probably out of gas at those low prices.

I pulled to the second pump which had the same sign taped to it. I stopped, opened my gas tank, and got out of the car. The sign in small handwriting in ball point pen actually said, "Fishing supplies inside."

When I went in to the gas station store to get my receipt, I used a soft assertion with the station manager. "Sir, those signs taped to the pumps are very hard to read. I thought they meant that the pumps were out of gas and almost didn't stop. I couldn't read that they said "Fishing supplies inside" until I got out of the car."

He actually replied, "Well, I don't have any more signs." (not sure what he meant - that he couldn't re-do them or that he didn't have another way to advertise his fishing supplies???)

I said, "Well, since I almost didn't stop and probably I won't be the only confused person today, I thought you'd want to know."

Since a response is not required to a soft assertion - it doesn't make any difference to me whether he changes the signs or not - I smiled, thanked him for the receipt, and went out the door.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Pay Off for Assertiveness at COSTCO

I am a Costco member and one advantage of that membership is to be able to buy gas at lower prices. I was out of town in Maryland this weekend and had a rental car to drive from the Pittsburgh airport where I flew in to my daughter's home in western Maryland.

Driving back to Pittsburgh and getting gas in the rental car before you get to the airport is a challenge. The last 6 miles of the drive go through non-commercial territory with absolutely no obvious gas stations. I pulled off the highway about 8 miles from the airport at a shopping area and looked for a gas station.

The Mall at Robinson is where I exited. There are beautiful shops, eating facilities, and other mall specialties but no gas station. Then I noticed the Costco store. Like our Costco in Atlanta, it sells gas, so I drove down to the gas station area.

I paused just a few yards from the pump and pulled out my wallet. Oh, dear, I had left my Costco card at home in an effort to travel light. I saw a man who obviously worked maintaining the pumps. I drove up and rolled down the window of the rental car.
  • "I am a Costco member," I said, "but I'm traveling and I left my Costco card at home in Atlanta."
  • "No problem," he said, "Drive on up and we'll take care of you."
  • "Can you look me up on the system?" I asked.
  • "I believe you," he said.
  • "How are you going to pay for this?" he said as he flashed an all-purpose Costco card under the identifying card reader.
  • "Credit card," I said.
  • "We only take..."
  • "American Express, I know because I am a member and use my Amex card in Costco all the time."
  • "Of course," he said, smiled, and helped me finish getting gas for my car.
If I had not been assertive and spoken to him, I would not have gotten to buy gas there and might still be wandering around the Pittsburgh area looking for a gas station!

Monday, July 20, 2009

MARTA Bus in the Way

Today I was on Lenox Road in Atlanta, heading toward Piedmont. I got in the turn lane to turn onto Lindbergh to head for Emory. I teach every summer in the med school where the doctoral students in physical therapy learn interpersonal communications from me. I was in the turn lane with another car and a MARTA bus in front of me. Anyone who lives in Atlanta knows that this is a busy intersection.

The arrow came for turning and the MARTA bus turned left. Usually five or six cars turn left there before the arrow is gone. The car right behind the bus turned as did I. The MARTA bus stopped dead in front of the Chevron station on the corner, leaving me and the car in front of me stuck in the middle of the street, blocking traffic. I guess the bus let someone out, but it seemed to take forever, and then started moving just as the turning arrow turned yellow. I just barely made it through the light.

As I drove behind the car and the bus on Lindbergh, I saw the MARTA bus stop (the real one). It's about a city's block length from the intersection, which would be a safe place for the MARTA bus to stop. If the MARTA bus had stopped at the designated place, all five or six cars could have safely made the turn before waiting behind the stopped bus.

I was so irritated by being stuck in the intersection, in danger of being hit by an oncoming car as well as in danger from potential Atlanta road rage from other drivers because I was blocking the intersection.

I picked up my cell and used Google411 to call MARTA's customer service.

I explained to the customer service agent that the MARTA bus had stopped at a non-bus stop, blocking traffic in the intersection. She asked the route number. I didn't have that because I was behind the bus, but I did have the number on the back of the bus (2964). And I could describe the exact direction the bus was going.

I told her that the incident made me feel very unsafe and that I didn't think it was OK for the bus to stop where there wasn't an official MARTA stop. The bus is so big that to stop immediately upon making the left turn is a guarantee to strand the cars behind it.

I also told her that I am a MARTA fan, take it to the airport every time I fly, and take my grandson on the buses and the trains for fun Friday mornings. I wanted her to know that generally I support MARTA.

I don't know if my being assertive in this instance was of any help. My hope would be that the MARTA driver would be called to task for making an unofficial stop and causing traffic problems. I don't want anyone else to find themselves in my situation this morning.

I also have to report that the MARTA customer service rep called me back about 20 minutes later to make sure she had all of the details right.

That impressed me.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Michelle and Merced: An Assertiveness Triumph

The students of the University of California at Merced wanted to invite Michelle Obama to speak at their graduation. It seemed difficult - this was their first graduation and there were only 500 graduates at this start-up university. They were undaunted and decided to speak up for themselves to reach their goal.

One of their most effective ways to speak up was to create a You-Tube video:

They set up a Facebook page for their "Dear Michelle" campaign and created a template for the letter they hoped the students would write to request that our First Lady speak to their graduation. Here's an example of one of the letters.

The key throughout the effort to speak up and ask Michelle Obama to be the commencement speaker was the use of RESPECT. You'll notice in the sample letter linked in the previous paragraph, that respect for her time and schedule is noted as the request is made.

Respect is the key to effective assertiveness. In this effort, however, respect was only one component. The students persevered with letter writing, Valentines, and video media to emphasize both their request and the importance of getting their wish granted.

They succeeded in their great effort to speak up for themselves and on May 16, Michelle Obama spoke at their graduation!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

When Speaking up for Yourself is Not Worth It

Monday I was sitting in the dentist's chair to have a crown done on one of my very back teeth. This is not my idea of a favorite way to spend a morning, but nevertheless, here I am.

The dentist has a new assistant. She introduces herself to me and then proceeds to help the dentist work on my tooth. In the process she has to move behind the dental chair in which I sit over and over. Every time she moves behind me, she brushes into my head and I can feel my hair being pushed into a new and unkempt position.

She never says "I'm so sorry," no "Oh, did I bump into you. Sorry," no "I'm sure it doesn't feel good for me to keep bumping you. The space is narrow, but I'll try not to hit you the next time I go between the chair and the XXX."

Part of the process even included making a mold of my back tooth using bright blue molding material. After long amounts of numbing, drilling and making a mold of my tooth, the passing back and forth behind my chair was done, but the assistant and I were not finished.

Her next job was to put the temporary crown in place. To do this she used a long instrument to poke around on the tooth. The instrument had a poking part on either end so as she was poking into my back tooth, the other end was jabbing my nostril. I couldn't say anything (cotton all packed in my mouth, numb tongue) so I wiggled around and got my own nose out of the way. She said not a word.

You may be thinking, surely this is the end of the story, but, no. As she is finishing up, she suddenly notices my lip and says as she rubs vigorously on it with a Kleenex, "Oh, there's some molding material on your lip." The molding material was very blue and had been sitting brightly on my lip at least 30 minutes before it caught her eye.

One of my jobs is to teach in the Department of Rehabilitative Medicine at Emory University. I teach the doctoral students in physical therapy how to develop a caring relationship with the patient. I teach them to approach the patient as a person, not the Knee in Room 203.

I don't think this assistant had a course like mine in her training.

I may have to work with her again in three weeks and don't want even worse treatment from her! I'm sure I'll feel like the Crown in Room 2, working with her, whether I speak to the dentist or not. I decided it wasn't worth it on Monday because most of the time my mouth was not functional for speaking, but if she is the assistant when I go back in three weeks, I plan to say something.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Aggressive Question: Attack without Assertion

Questions can be used aggressively. Using questions in this way can hamper communication and create bad feelings in a relationship. There are several ways this can happen:
  1. Answering a question with a question
  2. Asking a question when a statement would be clearer and more assertive
  3. Asking a question when you feel judgmental toward the other person
Answering a question with a question can be a way to avoid or push away the questioner. This inhibits a working relationship.
  • Suppose someone says, "What is your plan for starting the new project we're supposed to work on together?"
  • If you respond, "Why are you in such a hurry to start?" you have responded in a mildly aggressive way. Instead of giving the questioner a plan of action, you are pushing away the request and implying that they are in error for asking you.
Asking a question when a statement would be clearer and more assertive is another way to avoid connection in a relationship.
  • Your husband says, "When do you think you'll be ready to go to the restaurant?" with a stressed tone in his voice
  • Although you may say, "I'll be ready in a few minutes," your response is likely to feel defensive both to you and to him.
  • If we assume his wish is to go out the door sooner than later, then he would have been clearer and more assertive by saying, "I'm hungry. I'd like to leave for the restaurant before 6 PM." You would not feel attacked and as if you need to defend and he would have clearly stated his wish.
Asking a question when you feel judgmental toward another person is usually not about getting the answer to the question but rather about getting a jab in toward the other person.
  • What makes you think that doing it that way will work?
  • Why would you decide to drive on North Street instead of South Street?
  • Did you think the dog would just train herself?
In working on speaking up for yourself, it's helpful to look at how both you and the people in your life use questions. Recognizing the possible aggressive use of questions can help you to decide for yourself about how to participate in a conversation.

The mildest response to an aggressive use of questioning is to look at the other person and say empathically, "I imagine you want to say something to me about XXX. I could hear it much better if you simply said it rather than asking me a question."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tips for Assertiveness in a Job Interview

In these tough economic times many people are experiencing job loss. This morning I read a post on about a guy who after losing his job as a mortgage broker, then beat out 300 people to get a job he found on Craigslist. He is now busy and thriving.

In a time of so much unemployment, the job interview has to be an assertive event for the interviewee. Not only do you really need the job, like Josh in the CNN interview, but also you are competing with a lot of other people who equally really need the job.

You therefore MUST be good at having a successful job interview.

Asserting yourself is key to a good job interview. Assertiveness is about having respect for yourself as well as respect for the other person. Respect for yourself means knowing that you are worth hiring enough to make sure that the interviewer knows that as well.

I love listening to politicians. Often an interviewer will ask the politician a question and he/she answers the question in such a way that he/she gets information out that sells her/his platform. In a job interview, your strengths are the platform on which you stand. Assertively inserting this information into the job interview is the essential element in a good job interview.

Here are several ways you can assert your strengths in a job interview:

1. Take with you not only your resume, but a typed list of accomplishments you think you achieved in your last job. This should be a simple list:
  • Created a new program focused on X
  • Brought XXXX people into the firm
  • Timely in accomplishment of tasks

The details of these positive accomplishments can come out in the interview and give you an opportunity to talk about yourself.

Hand this to the interviewer saying assertively, "I made a list of what I achieved in my last job."

2. Bring with you a folder in which you have copies of emails, thank you notes, articles - anything you have to support your list of accomplishments. Note: If you haven't been keeping these type of things, it's a good thing to start doing going forward

3. If a question is one you can answer well, answer it and find a way, as a politician might, to insert something else you'd like the interviewer to know.

Interviewer: "Tell me about your computer skills. Are you familiar with Excel?"

You: "I am quite familiar with Excel and used it everyday in my last job. Your question about Excel reminds me of an Excel project I worked on involving XXXX in which I did XXXXX."

4. Be prepared to assert positive aspects of you into every possible question. And bring with you support for your assertions.

Simplest example:

Interviewer: "We are looking for someone who can write newsletters. I notice on your resume that your last position was an administrative assistant. I'm not sure you have the experience to do this writing job."

You: "Part of what drew me to apply for this job was the opportunity to write newsletters. I often had the opportunity to edit for my boss in my admin post. As a matter of fact, I brought a copy of XXX that I wrote for her when she was too busy to do it herself. In addition, I assumed that you would wonder about my qualifications to write that newsletter so I have written a mock-up of what might be the front page of a newsletter. Here it is."

A more complex example:

Interviewer: "What did you learn as an administrative assistant that would apply to an internal communications post at an environmental engineering firm?" I imagine the interviewer's eyebrows knit together as this question is asked.

Note: This question (and the possible body language with it) pulls for you to be defensive - it's not assertive to be defensive and will put a block between you and the interviewer. Instead you start by making a connection between you and the interviewer and then tailor the question to your advantage.
You: "I can imagine that it seems like a leap to you that I would want this job, but I've always wanted to write. I brought a folder with samples of my writing and in addition to the samples, I also made a mock-up of what might be a front page for a company newsletter here."

Note: The first statement is an empathic assertion - you try to imagine what it's like to be the interviewer and then make an assertive statement: "I've always wanted to write."

The interviewer takes your folder, thinks, "Wow, this person is really eager," reads your material, is impressed and you get the job!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Speaking Up to Doctors and Other Authority Figures

Speaking up to someone who is supposed to be an authority is often hard for people. Nowhere is this more evident than in the physician's office.

I work with a lot of infertility patients and I often have to walk them through how to ask questions of the doctor. Most patients have a list of questions they need to get answers to. But often in the face of a authority figure, we are worried that we will be "wasting their time." This may lead to unneeded apologies, "I'm sorry to take up your time, but I wanted to ask you....."

In the first place, apologizing and the rest of the above sentence does take up the physician's time. If you simply ask the question, time will be more effectively used.

There's an article in today's Wall Street Journal about this very issue. The Journal article focuses on the patient who is concerned about cleanliness and public health. The patient quoted in the first paragraph, screwed his courage to the sticking place when he heard his doctor sneeze outside his examining room door and asked, "Are you going to wash your hands before you examine me?"

The patient used courage to ask the question. However, he could have made an even more effective comment by making an assertive statement rather than asking a question. If you ask, "Are you going to wash your hands, etc?" in reality you have put the ball in the physician's court. He could say, "No, my hands are clean."

As a matter of fact, later in this same article another patient said to her doctor: "I have to ask you to wash your hands, according to that sign right there." The doctor, who cursorily washed her hands, responded defensively to that request, stating that she washes her hands at least 15 times a day.

Whenever you ask someone to do something, you give them the power to refuse. If you make a statement claiming your own agenda in the statement, it is much more powerful and takes away the sense that the receiver has a choice.

Example #1:
"I'd feel much more comfortable if you would wash your hands before examining me."

In this example, you make your assertiveness about you rather than the physician. This direct assertive statement expresses your concerns without implying wrong-doing on the part of the physician. In other words, you are taking responsibility for your own worry rather than pointing a potentially shaming finger at the doctor.

Example #2:
"I imagine you have had a overwhelming morning with all those patients in the waiting room, but I would feel much more secure about my own health if you would wash your hands before we start my examination."

The above is an empathic assertive statement in which you connect with the physician by recognizing his/her personal stresses in the day (so that he/she feels more understood and thus more connected with you) before you make your assertive statement.

The Wall Street Journal article points to the Joint Hospital Commission's work entitled: "Speak Up" which is focused on patient advocacy. The web page is worth reading if you are in a physician's care or dealing with ongoing illness.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Speaking Up, Macy's and the Economy

Our famed consumer advocate in Atlanta, Clark Howard, is fond of calling customer service departments "Customer No-Service." However, as the economy declines or at least is in bad shape, I think we may see more and more attentive customer service.

It's a great time to practice speaking up for yourself.

In this endeavor to speak up to customer service, I had a great "rest of the story" experience with Macy's over the weekend.

I like to shop online. I was invited to a bridal shower on Sunday morning. Just as I was getting ready to purchase a present for the bride online, my power went out. A call to the power company confirmed that the outage would not be repaired until after 8 PM.

Well, I didn't want to sit in a dark, computer-less house (I do spend a lot of time on my computer), so I decided to go to Macy's and shop in person. I took the escalator to the linens department since this was a bed and bath shower. I printed out the bride's registry at 5:20 PM.

She had told me that she hoped someone would give her a duvet cover for which she had registered, but she didn't think anyone would because it was too expensive. There it was on list at half price! I was so excited.

I found someone to help, but she couldn't find the item. A second salesperson took me to a quilt, but not the duvet cover. I asked a third person who said, "Oh, we never have the duvet covers in the store. You can only buy them online." She assured me that it would be the same price online.

Discouraged, I left, finished another errand and returned home. The power was back on - it was 6:20 PM. I went online to order the duvet cover. There it was on Macy' but the price was only 1/4 off rather than half price.

I called customer service to find out what the deal was and although the webpage said they were available until 9 PM, the phone message said they had closed at 6 PM and wouldn't be available until Monday morning.

By then, I gave up and bought the duvet cover for 1/4 off.

This morning (Monday) I called Macy's customer service expecting little. I explained what had happened to the very friendly customer service agent. I ended by saying, "I don't think it's right to say the half price is available online but to charge 1/4 off instead. Especially when the only place you can buy the duvet is online."

He put me on hold for a long time.

He returned and in a pleasant voice told me that they would change my charge to be reflective of the half price sale and he was very, very sorry about the inconvenience!

My usual experience is that "Customer no-service" puts many obstacles in the way of helping you to get what you want. Macy' gave me such a different experience. I'm glad I called because even two days after the transaction they were willing to give me the credit.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Assertiveness and Open-Mindedness

"My way or the highway." Everyone has heard someone say that. Just like Gottman's principle of stonewalling, this approach does not promote either good relationships or good communication.

In a respectful assertive relationship, a basic aspect of the approach is to stay open to possibilities. If you respect the other person, then by definition, you respect how he/she thinks. In a discussion, if your approach is "my way or the highway," then you are not staying open to other ways of thinking.

Power struggles never end well. Generally the "my way" approach is the first sign of a power struggle. If you can only see one way to do something or to address a problem, then you are on your way to a stand-off rather than a good assertive outcome.

In the current movie, "Slumdog Millionaire," the young boy wants to get the autograph of a famous actor who is in India. His "friend" locks him in the outhouse so that he can't get out to get the autograph. The boy in the outhouse can choose to see it only one way - in which case he is stuck in the outhouse without a hope to get the autograph, or to be open to possibilities.

The possibility he thinks up is to get out of the latrine by dropping into the gross accumulation below the latrine. Since the latrine is positioned up on a platform, this gives him a way out. So, covered with latrine slime, he runs up to the star and does get the autograph - both because he smells and looks so disgusting that the way parts for him to get close to the star and because he thought literally outside the box in order to assert himself!

I often think of the child's story by Leo Lionni called Little Blue and Little Yellow. In the story two colors go out to play: blue and yellow. As they play together, they blend who they are and become (you guessed it!) GREEN! In other words, they created something completely different by putting the best of themselves together.

Now whenever I feel stuck in trying to work something out assertively with someone else, I try to listen to what they are saying to see what ideas they are contributing to blend with mine so that we can create our own version of GREEN.

{Note: "Slumdog Millionaire" is full of examples of the assertiveness of the main character - and is a fabulous movie, aside from the assertiveness throughout!}

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Weight of Your Words: Empowerment through Voice Tone

Speaking assertively is an art. Essential to that art is the use of voice tone.

I tell my students that your voice, in an assertive statement, should end with your tone going down at the end of your sentence. If you do not, then you will sound uncertain, less powerful, questioning your own stand.

A political year is a great time to observe this. I'm including in this post two videos - one of former President Bush and the second of President Obama. Both men are in press conferences dealing with difficult subjects. Listen to their voice tone through the taped conference.

Former President Bush was an interesting figure to listen to because he presented himself quite differently in voice tone in speeches than he did in press conferences. He had practiced speeches and had been coached. In speeches he generally sounded more confident. Why? Because in a speech he had practiced bringing his voice down at the end of the sentence.

He is asked hard questions in this press conference, which I believe took place in April 2007. Without the safety net of the practiced speech, you'll notice that his voice goes up at the end of the sentence. This makes him sound less sure of himself, somewhat defensive and does not make his audience feel confident in what he is saying.

He says things that should sound solid and confidential and instead his voice rises at the end of his sentences. In talking about the Iraq war, listen for him to say "We're going to succeed." with his voice going up as he says it. Then a few sentences later, voice rising again, he says, "I'm going to develop a plan that will help us achieve our objectives." But with that rise at the end, why should anyone believe that he believes he can do so. And so his approval ratings would decrease.

The press conference with President Obama took place in April 2008 when he had to disconnect with Reverend Wright. Obama is a polished speaker and speaks in general in a measured way. His voice often ends sentences down in a firm place. In this press conference at the beginning, his voice rises at the end of sentences. I imagine he was feeling a little defensive and less sure.

Suddenly he regains his voice and says, "...they certainly don't portray accurately my values and beliefs." With that phrase he asserts himself and his voice marches solidly down. This self confidence remains evident through the rest of the press conference.

Listening to the news media is another way to observe the power of voice tone. Most of our TV reporters have been trained to do this and as you listen observantly, you'll notice that they bring their voices down at the end of sentences.

While public figures give us ample opportunity for observation of voice tone, where it counts for each of us is in being aware of how we each employ the empowerment of our voice tone.

When you let your voice go up at the end of the sentence, you sound uncertain. If a person frequently ends on an up note, that person may be characterized as "whiny." A tiny child whines because he/she doesn't believe he/she can get what they want. By the same token a grownup who doesn't believe he/she can get what he/she wants, will sound whiny if their voice goes up at the end.

Get someone to listen when you are under pressure and give you feedback about your use of voice tone.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Gottman's Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as Communication Barriers

In speaking up for yourself, the key element as I have frequently mentioned is RESPECT. If the communication between people is lacking respect, then the assertive connection will not happen.

John Gottman in Seattle, WA, has done extensive research on couples' relationships and has determined that there are four very destructive elements that can wreak havoc in a relationship. These he calls the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, in a Biblical reference. In the Bible the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are the precursors of destruction to come. In a relationship, Gottman says his four horsemen also are precursors of relationship destruction to come.

The Four Horsemen are: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. Because each of these "horsemen" are ways to react to your partner without respect either for yourself or the other person, they also apply to being assertive.

When you criticize the other person, you attack the other person's character, usually with the goal of pointing out how the other person is wrong in some way. This is usually experienced as demeaning and disrespectful.

When you use contempt, the word by definition means that you are looking down on the other person. If you are employing such disregard for the other person, you are not acting out of respect. Respect requires that you assume that the other person is worth knowing, and if you remove the respect and look down on the other person, the assertive connection is lost.

When you are defensive, the communication is broken because you are focused on convincing the other person that you are too right or that you did NOT make a bad decision, etc. When you move into defensiveness, you in effect erect a wall between yourself and the other person, disrupting the possibility of connection. In essence, the defensive person pulls for the other person to take care of him/her, disregarding the issue at hand.

When you are stonewalling, you are not open to any other view than your own. Again, this is not respectful because you are not allowing the possibility that the other person may have something to contribute that is of value. Usually stonewalling includes withdrawing from the relationship in a passive pull to get the other person to come over to your way of thinking. Stonewalling may also be used to avoid conflict.

Note: these four horsemen may be present nonverbally as well as verbally.
  • Criticism can be demonstrated non-verbally by shaking one's head "No" as the other person is speaking.
  • A prime demonstration of contempt is to roll one's eyes. Eye rolling implies that you have disdain for the other person.
  • Defensiveness can be read non-verbally if a person looks as if he/she is backing away or mentally warding off a blow
  • Stonewalling can occur non-verbally by leaving the room, refusing to speak to the other person, or muttering under your breath.
So in order to have an effective assertive connection, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, as described by Gottman, cannot be present, either in how you act or what you say.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A List of the Qualities of an Effective Assertive Statement

The January 2009 issue of Real Simple is devoted to lists. I imagine they chose this as a nod to the many life-changing types of lists people make in January - New Year's Resolutions, to-do lists, etc.

I feel compelled to join in the theme with my list of the qualities of an effective assertive statement. If you think you've said something assertively, it should have these aspects:

  • The statement should convey respect for yourself as well as respect for the person to whom you are speaking.
  • The statement should be simple:

    Example: "I want this to happen...." or "I don't want to do ......" If you add too many details, you lose impact.
  • The statement should not be blaming.

    "You made me feel XXX," is not an effective assertive statement because it blames the other person. "When XXXX behavior happened, I felt upset," is effectively assertive because it describes problematic behavior paired with your own personal feelings and therefore does not point fingers.

  • An effective assertive statement invites the other person to connect with you to work on the issue. An assertive statement is not designed to push the other person away.
  • An effective assertive statement is fact-based. This by definition usually precludes the use of absolutes in an assertive statement such as "You always...." or "You never...."

    "You always leave your coffee cup on the desk for me to pick up," is both blaming and absolute. A fact-based statement is: "When you leave your coffee cup on the desk, I feel angry."
Happy New Year!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Water break

I own a house in North Georgia and went there over Christmas. The temperatures were low - about 27 degrees - and when we woke on the Monday before Christmas, we found that a water pipe out in the yard had burst. The scene was a frozen spray - looked lovely but represented a lot of wasted water.

My neighbor recognized the problem before I did and called the homeowner's association. They were anxious to determine if the problem were on my side of the meter or on the neighborhood side of the meter. Naturally they determined that the problem was mine.

My homeowner's association up there consists mostly of retired traditional couples. By traditional I mean that the man is the bread winner and the woman generally has had a less significant job, if she has worked outside the home. This is certainly true of the president of the homeowner's association.

Every time something has gone wrong on the mountain, all of the male homeowners confer, but I am not included. When the water pipe broke, long before I was contacted, several of the men had already decided what was to be done.

They called the plumber that the neighborhood association had used for some other events. The president of the homeowner's association who lives in south Georgia, called to inform me of this and to tell me that he and the other guys had decided that the problem was in my part of the pipe.

Oh, and by the way, he had already arranged for this plumber to come fix my pipe the next day and he hoped it would be OK with me. He actually said, "He can't come today because he's out on the golf course, (Ha Ha) - really he's fixing a broken pipe on a golf course." He encouraged me to figure out how to manage without water for the night.

At this point it was 3 PM and I had my family with me at the house, including a 2 year old. We didn't especially want to do without water for the night to accommodate a golf course and the wishes of the homeowner's association to line the pockets of the plumber they liked.

I've had a number of plumbing issues at my house and have a relationship established with a different plumber in the county. At 3:05, I called the plumber that I use and asked if anyone were available to do this repair. Here's what I said:

"We have a break in the water line at my house. The home owner's association has made arrangements with someone named D.S. to come in the morning, but I have a small grandson up here and wondered, given that I've had a long standing relationship with your company, if you could get someone up here to fix the pipe before nighttime. I'd really appreciate it."

The woman I spoke to remembered me and said, "One of our crews is coming in the door right now. I'll send them right up to your house."

The plumber was there within 30 minutes and the pipe was repaired by dark.

I talked to the president of the homeowner's association and told him I had gotten my own plumber who could come that night. He offered to cancel the one he was sending the next morning - fine by me.

Although I obviously feel some resentment that the men homeowners never include me in the decisions and talk to me as if they are patting me on the head, they have been of great help to me. If they notice a shingle has blown off the roof, they call me; if there's a storm on the mountain and a tree falls on my property, they call me. Most of the homeowners on the mountain don't live there full time, so their vigilance about my house is quite helpful to me. I am grateful for their help, and I did not in any way in this assertive interaction, say anything to damage my relationship with any of them.

In addition, I was respectful to the plumbing company that I did call. I really appreciated their getting right up to my house and while the men were working on the repair, I took hot chocolate out to them in the 27 degree weather.

As my son-in-law would say, "Everybody wins."

And at the end of an effective assertive interaction, that is how everyone should feel.