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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!

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