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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Speak Up Proactively - With a Smile

An opportunity for advocating for yourself by speaking up occurs every time you begin a new relationship with any type of salesperson, an attorney, a mechanic, or a physician.

Let's look at each of the above examples:

The Salesperson

How many of you have felt pressure from a salesperson?

It seems to happen most to me when I am looking at large appliances such as washer/dryers, dishwashers, refrigerators. And of course, it happens when you are attempting to purchase a car.

Plan the limits you will set ahead of the visit to the store or the car lot. Sometimes it helps to speak to the salesperson before he/she speaks to you. As the salesperson approaches, you smile and say, "I'm just looking."

If the salesperson says, "Let me show you the best features of this xxxxxxxx," then you can say, "I'd like to know about the best features, but then I want some time to look around by myself. I'm only looking and don't plan to buy anything today."

And then you smile again.

The Attorney

Every attorney with whom I have met has a vast amount of knowledge about how I should be protecting myself in my life. One of the difficulties of visiting an attorney is that often he/she has important information about other legal issues you may need to take care of, other than the one for which the appointment is made.

However, I can get overwhelmed by the possibilities of decisions to be made that were not on my agenda.

A proactive way to approach the attorney is to smile at the beginning of the appointment and say, "I really appreciate all the ways you look out for me.  I know your suggestions are usually ones I want to consider. However, today I would like to focus only on my will. If you have other areas in which you think you can be of help to me, I'll write them down here on this pad of paper and I can then make a later appointment to focus on them one at a time."

And of course, you smile, indicating that you feel pleasant about all of this.

The Auto Mechanic

When I take my car in for an oil change, the quick change place I go to is frequently interested in selling me more than the basic oil change. After I learned this, now I don't even allow them to start their speech to convince me.

As the salesperson approaches me with his/her head shaking, saying, "Ma'am, you should let us do the super luxurious deluxe oil change," I try to hear him as if he were simply making noise.

I smile and say, "All I need today is the basic oil change."

Usually he/she has evidence to support what I should do to my car - a fluid stick with a certain color that means nothing to me, an air filter that has varying degrees of darkness in different areas. I don't know enough for any of it to mean anything to me, so occasionally I may
actually need what the mechanic is pushing. 

However, if I am clear that my budget today only supports an oil change, then I continue to smile pleasantly, and say, "All I need today is the basic oil change." 

(I also make a mental note to check with my car dealer to see if what the mechanic is suggesting is something I should do in the future.)

The Physician

On the first visit to a new physician, we each have a wonderful opportunity to state directly what we are needing. It's a time to consider exactly what would make you comfortable in
the doctor's office.

One of my private practice clients does not want to be pressured about weight. She explained on the first visit that she would prefer to weigh facing away from the numbers on the scale. She also requested that her weight not be mentioned unless her health were in some way threatened.

Another of my clients asked the physician on her first visit if he would please explain his findings after she was fully dressed. She felt demeaned to talk to the doctor about her health while sitting naked under the paper gown on an examining table.

Everyone doesn't need to make these two requests, but both of these are examples of advocating for yourself with a physician. 

Even if it is not your first visit to the physician, if you are uncomfortable about something in the way your doctor's visits are handled, there is no time like the present to bring it up with your physician.

Again as you make these requests, you smile as you speak because you are making a positive proactive request.

Speaking up to your salesperson, your attorney, your mechanic or your physician are all moments to practice self-advocating skills.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

An Assertive Person is not an Adversary

Speaking up for oneself in an assertive manner often brings to mind the image of two people warily circling each other, fists raised, prepared to strike.  Each person wants to get his/her way.

In fact, the most effective assertiveness is not adversarial at all.  The most effective way of speaking up involves connecting with or joining the other person.

Without engaging in connecting, a person may use perfect assertive language and still be deeply involved in a power struggle.  In the book, Getting to Yes, Fisher and Ury call this "positional bargaining."   

Imagine two people engaged in a tug of war.  If they are equally strong, then neither of them will move as they pull against one another and both of them will grow very tired!  Getting into a power struggles uses up a lot of energy and generally does not go anywhere.  

Connecting in the process of assertiveness involves three skills:

1.  Expressing yourself with empathy
2.  Looking for areas of agreement
3.  Staying open to different options for mutual gain

Expressing yourself with empathy

If my friend and I are working on a project together and we reach a point at which we need to negotiate about putting outside of work hours on the project, I might say:  "We both have so many responsibilities outside of work.  I know it must be hard for you to imagine our working past regular hours with children as young as yours."

When I say this, I am trying to put myself in the other person's shoes.  He or she will feel more understood when I am empathic with his/her situation The chances are higher that we will come to an agreement about how to manage the extra work when empathy is expressed.  

When each of us is thinking about how the other feels, we are connecting to the other person and his/her life situation.

Looking for areas of agreement
We go farther in negotiation when we can determine what we agree on rather than get stuck in our disagreements.  
Listening well to the other person is the key to finding areas of agreement.

"It sounds like both of us agree that this is a high priority project."

Another way to find areas of agreement is to ask defining questions:

"So do you agree with me that there is so much work here that we will have to find a way to do it outside of regular business hours?"  

Every time you find an area of agreement, an added bonus happens.  The other person feels more connected to you and then is more willing to work with you!

Staying open to options for mutual gain

If you can see the other person as a resource and see ways that you can each help the other get to his/her goals, then you have the beginning of a good team.  The process of determining mutual gain starts the minute this type of negotiation begins.

The key to finding as many possible options for solving a problem is brainstorming.  In brainstorming, each of you throws out ideas.  Some may work and some may not be possible.  The very act of brainstorming says that there are many options.  

Once options are suggested, then the task is to sort out what options will lead to mutual gain.  If you can join each other in this decision, then the negotiation has become a Win/Win situation and everyone goes away feeling good.

Leo Lionni wrote a children's book called Little Blue and Little Yellow.  The book is the story of two colors, Little Blue and Little Yellow.  When they each come out to play together, they discover that they play best when they are connected.  In the joining they are no longer Little Blue and Little Yellow.  Instead, their connected part, the part where they are mutually blended is a whole new color:  Green!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Every Word Counts

”This is probably stupid, but....”
“I know I should have understood this, but....”
“Could I interrupt you.....”
“Well, I was just wondering if.......”
“Do you mind if I ask you a question?.....”

For twenty-five years I have been teaching people to speak up for themselves.  In addition both in my life as a psychologist and in my life as a Master Beekeeper, I give talks and workshops very frequently throughout any given year.

Those five ways of starting a question occur over and over in my audiences and in my classes.

When you start the contact with the other person in a weak or uncertain way, you lose ground and lose power.  The above phrases either put down the person asking the question or give all the power to the person answering the question.

Putting yourself down as you ask the question

”This is probably stupid, but....”
“I know I should have understood this, but....”

Beginning with a self put-down tells the listener that he/she shouldn’t bother to hear what you have to say.  You have already labeled yourself negatively and thus set an image in the listener’s mind.

If you start with a self-blaming statement (“I know I should have understood this...”) you let the person you address off of the hook too easily.  If a teacher or a lecturer has not made something perfectly clear to you, then it is possible that the explanation or the speech was lacking enough specificity rather than that you “should have understood.”

Asking for permission to ask

“Could I interrupt you.....”
“Well, I was just wondering if.......”
“Do you mind if I ask you a question?.....”

First, this is a waste of everyone’s time.  If you ask out loud if it’s OK for you to interrupt, you have already interrupted.

In addition these beginning phrases are just fillers that don’t add to the effectiveness of what you have to say.  The listener has to
  • Wait until you are through with the question about whether you can ask a question
  • Answer yes to the question about asking the question
  • Keep listening to find out what the real question is
Valuable time is lost and often the person whom you are addressing will feel frustrated, and will wonder, “Will he/she ever get to the point?”

Listening and answering questions well is an art.  If we want to get the best from the person we are questioning, the most effective way is to get right to the real question.

Second, when you are asking permission to ask, you are taking away from your power.  From the beginning you are putting the ball in the other person’s court.  You are saying, “I think you are so powerful that I even have to give you the power to tell me whether or not I can speak.”  You lose the respect of the listener by having not enough respect for yourself.

Importance of nonverbals

When you ask a question, remember to be aware of how you handle yourself nonverbally.  Your voice should be firm and your speech should be easy to hear.  Your voice tone should go down at the end of your sentences, symbolically anchoring your words.

Setting the tone for the relationship

When you ask a question in a public place, you are setting an image of yourself for everyone in the room.  If you ask a question in a one on one setting, you are creating an impression for the person answering that will color any future dealings you have with this person.

I once taught a class in the Evening at Emory community education program called: “Dating: An Adventure for Grown-ups.”  In this class the students learned that every single thing that happens on a first date is important.  Every word that is spoken tells you something about the speaker.  Every nonverbal act teaches you something about the other person’s way of being in the world.

In the movie When Harry Met Sally, we learned about Sally’s character from the way she ordered food in a restaurant.  She was very specific, “I want my apple pie heated with ice cream on the side, but if you can’t heat it, I don’t want the ice cream at all.”

Note:  She doesn’t say, “Would it be OK if my pie is heated?  And I was wondering if you would mind putting the ice cream on the side?”

Harry, the waiter, and the audience all learn from her manner in the restaurant that Sally is a strong person with particular ways of doing things.  We learn from her nonverbals (she looks the waiter in the eye and makes strong hand gestures as she speaks) that she will be “a person to be reckoned with,” as the old saying goes.

The same idea applies in a business setting.  When you interact with another person, as one does when one asks a question, you are entering into a relationship with the other person for that moment.  

If you begin the relationship by speaking in a deferent way, giving all the power to the other person, you indicate to him/her that you will put his/her wishes ahead of yours.  This sets you up to be dominated.

If you begin the relationship with mutual respect, the scene is set for each of you to be considered a valuable part of the interaction.

Practice so that the next time you ask a question, there can be no doubt that you feel as much respect for yourself as you do for the other person.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Using Assertiveness to Build Your Business

Atlantans call a taxi for two reasons:  to get to the airport or to have a designated driver for an evening out.  We don’t use taxis as a basic mode of transportation like people do in other big cities like New York or Washington, DC.  So we usually call, rather than hail, taxis when we need them.  

I like my house to look occupied by leaving my car parked in the driveway when I go out of town.  I also don’t like paying the $8 a day parking fee charged by MARTA (the rail/bus service here) or the high parking fees at the airport.  

So when I went to Santa Fe for a professional conference a couple of weeks ago, I called a taxi to take me to the MARTA station (to go to the airport).  I had a cab company I used a lot when I lived on the northside of the city, Su Taxi, but now I live in Virginia Highlands in Midtown Atlanta and needed a different cab company.  I googled cabs for my area and called Atlanta Lenox Cab company.

The nicest man picked me up in his clean-as-a-whistle van with seat belts that worked.  His name was Keiros and we had a lovely conversation about NPR on the way to the Midtown MARTA station.

As he pulled up to the station, he told me the fare and handed me his business card.  “When you come back on Sunday, call me from the airport MARTA station and I’ll be here when you get to Midtown to take you home,” he said.  I was impressed with his assertiveness; I had his number in my cell phone from his call to let me know he was outside my house; I liked his basic approach.  

He was clearly an assertive person, building his business.

So at the end of the week when I arrived at the Atlanta airport on Sunday, I called him from the MARTA train.  “I can’t meet you today because I have a client right now,” he said, “but I have a friend who will be there.”  

Indeed, when I stepped out of the MARTA station, a nice man with his cab was there, walking toward me, saying “Miss Leenda???” as I approached him.  He told me that Keiros has a large number of people who call him regularly and if he can’t pick them up, he passes them on to his friends who are also cab drivers.  

Last weekend I went to DC to visit my daughter.  Again, I called Keiros who was at my house with his van right at 6:30 AM to pick me up.  We had a nice conversation about Ethiopian restaurants in Atlanta.  Again he assertively said, “Call me when you return on Sunday, and I’ll pick you up or send someone else, if I can’t”

I called when I got home to Atlanta, and he was waiting for me when I stepped out of the midtown MARTA station.  

He clearly knows how to build his business using assertiveness.  As he drove me to my house this time, I apologetically noted that I would not be going out of town again until early December.  “Oh, call me for any reason,” he said.  “I’ll drive you to restaurants, the theater, any time you’d like not to take your car.”  

As a bonus, nothing to do with driving a cab, he also said to call him when I got ready to go to Desta Kitchen, his favorite Atlanta Ethiopian restaurant and he would tell me what to order!

Keiros is a great example of someone using assertiveness to build their business.  I don’t like too much uncertainty in my life and it feels great to know I have a responsible (and very assertive) cab driver available for me when I need him.  And all because he was assertive about building his business and provided a high quality service in what he does.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Depression and The Impact of Choices

One way we demonstrate assertiveness is to make a choice for ourselves.  Dr. Barry Schwartz on the TED talks makes the point that we are so overwhelmed with choices that we can not feel good about any choice we make.

Because choices in today's world may seem infinite in so many categories, even when one makes a "good" choice, there remains the doubt that another of the myriad of "good" choices might have been a better one.

This makes people depressed about themselves and their self-confidence and sends them to my office for therapy.

When my children were little, Captain Kangaroo used to read a book by Nancy Willard (illustrated by Tomie dePaola) called Simple Pictures are Best.  It's a story about a farmer and his wife who were trying to get a picture taken by a photographer.  By the time they put everything in the picture that they wanted to include (the dog, the cow, the mouse, the horse, etc.), the photographer was so far away from his subjects that they were tiny dots on the hill.  The farmer and his wife were afraid to choose to leave anything or anyone out of the picture.

Narrowing down choices can be threatening and depressing.

I invite you to listen to Barry Schwartz's delightful and insightful talk on choices and depression.  He has also written a book about this.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Assertive Letter to Department of Revenue

The various tax collecting agencies can easily send me in an assertive letter writing direction.  This year my correspondence came from the Georgia Department of Revenue.

Their letter, complete with columns of numbers comparing what my tax return said I paid, what they show that they received, and the difference, is designed to demonstrate to me how I have made an egregious accounting error.

My check to them was for $1.00 less than my accountant reported on my tax forms, so rather than confuse the process for next year, I sent $1.00 to the state of Georgia, leaving my overpay from 2010 to apply to 2011.

What I wonder is how they could have $XX,XXX dollars floating around and not recognize an accounting problem on their part?

I feel angry that I have to take my time to ask the bank for a copy of the check front and back (it's done by email but still takes time); that I have to write this letter; and that I have to recognize how poorly accounting may be handled by my state.  However, it will do me no good to be angry in my response to the state.

In many assertive opportunities, it's more important to be assertive respectfully than it is worth it to be angry.

So I wrote them an assertive letter simply reporting the facts to correct their error.  The key word here is SIMPLE - when you are writing government agencies about money, always simply list facts and then what you would like to occur as a result of the facts you are reporting:


To Whom it My Concern:

I am in receipt of your letter dated 10/17/2011.  Your letter fails to include the taxes I paid on April 15 in anticipation of an extension.  I am enclosing a copy front and back of my check for $XXXXX which was cashed by you on April 25, 2011. 

I apparently owe you $1.00 which I am enclosing a check to cover.

Because my taxes were paid on time and in a timely way with an excess overpaid to apply to next year, I do not owe you the penalty and interest which you have assessed. 

Please find enclosed a check for $1.00 and a copy of my check cashed by you for $XXXXX.

Thank you for clearing up this matter,

Linda D Tillman, PhD

If you write the IRS or your state department of revenue, you always enclose your SSN, which I did, but that is not apparent in my copy for you of this letter.  Also because I moved in 2011, I put my old and new address below my signature in case that is the source of their error (although my SSN stayed the same????).

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Agreement: A Key Element in Negotiating in Couples' Relationships and in Everyday Life

Power struggles derail many assertive negotiations.  In such a struggle, the two negotiators each try to win.  

As in a child's tug of war, no one wins a power struggle.

You remember tug of war, I'm sure.  Usually the loser is pulled into the mud as the winner tugs him/her over the line.  And how does the winner fare?  The winner usually also falls flat on his/her back with the effort.  Everyone ends up hurt in some way or another.

Finding an Area of Agreement:

The most effective way to avoid the power struggle is to find an area of agreement.

Here is a typical marital power struggle:

Susan:   "Sam, are you going to wash the dishes?"
Sam: "I did them last night and I want to watch the Braves game."
Susan: "I really had a hard day and I'm exhausted.  I don't want to do the
            dishes.  I just want to sit down and put my feet up."
Sam: "Well, I'm not going to wash all those dishes."
Susan: "Well, I'm not either, so there."

These two are in a power struggle, each trying not to "lose."  At this point, you are probably wondering, "Can this marriage be saved?"

If these two had the agenda of arriving at an area of agreement, then the whole discussion could have been simpler and would not have turned into a power struggle.

Susan:   "Sam, there sure are a lot of dirty dishes tonight."
Sam: "There really are and I don't want to do them....I want to watch the
Braves game."
Susan:    "Sounds like neither one of us wants to do them."
Sam: "I sure can agree with that."
Susan:   "Well, since we both agree that neither of us wants to do the dishes, how can we get this awful task over with so you can watch the game and I can sit down and put my feet up?"
Sam: "Maybe we could load the dishwasher together and then do the pots and pans tomorrow."
Susan: "That would work for me - let's get started."

In the above version, Susan and Sam work for an agreement rather than trying to win a power struggle.

Walk around the first roadblock to reach agreement

If finding an area of agreement seems difficult, see if you can go around the roadblock and start the search for agreement several steps into the argument.

Years ago in my hometown of Natchez, Mississippi, the library board and my father, Dr. Clifford Tillman, a member of the board, decided that Natchez needed a new library.  When the idea of a new library was proposed to the citizens, a power struggle ensued: did the town need a new library or not?  

The idea of building of a new library "lost" the power struggle.

My father waited several months for the furor to die down.  Then he wrote a letter to the editor of the Natchez Democrat, proposing that the new library for Natchez should be built behind what was then St. Mary's Cathedral (a building over 100 years old) in Confederate Memorial Park.  All of the ancient trees in the park would have to be cut down to accomplish this.

A huge discussion began among the citizens as to where the new library should be built - certainly the trees should not be cut down!  So the process began of reaching an agreement about WHERE the new library should be built and the issue of SHOULD Natchez have a new library never resurfaced.  
A Natchez citizen donated land and Natchez now has a lovely library.

My father effectively skipped the step of whether Natchez should have a new library and thus avoided the power struggle.  The discussion he began centered on finding an area of agreement about the location of the new library.

Work toward agreement instead of working toward winning and your negotiations will go much better whether in your couple's relationship or in your work with others.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Assumptions in Couples' Communication

In a marriage where the two people have divided the household tasks and one of his tasks is to take out the garbage:

She says:  “Honey, would you take out the trash?”
He says, “Sure, I’ll get it done in a couple of minutes.” 

An hour later she notices that the trash is still spilling out of the trashcan and she feels angry.  

She criticizes him for his lack of cooperation.  He is amazed.  He was going to take out the trash.  She didn’t give him half a chance.

What is the problem here?  
Communication, of course.  

When he said, “A couple of minutes,” she assumed 2 minutes.  He meant he would do it in a little while when he got a break.

Clarification of assumptions can make all the difference in the world. Asking for clarification is an assertive act.
How the scene could have gone differently:

She says,  “Honey, would you take out the trash?”
He says, “Sure, I’ll get it done in a couple of minutes.”

She says, “It’s falling out of the trash can and I’m really frustrated.  When you say “a couple of minutes” do you mean two minutes or do you mean something else?”

He says, “Actually I meant I’d get around to it when I’m through with what I’m working on, but if it’s bothering you that much, I’ll take it out right now.”  

No anger, no fight, and all was resolved because she took the time to be assertive and to clarify the assumption she was making.
Many times when couples come into my office the basis of their struggle is communication.

Listen for assumptions in your conversations and strive to clarify the assumptions you are making.  

Even if you take these issues to therapy, you’ll be steps ahead by gaining awareness of the assumptions you each may be making.

Let me know what assumptions you find yourself making and how it works out for you when you clarify.