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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.