How To Have The Confidence To Deal With Assertive People
From time to time we all encounter assertive people. If you’re not an ‘assertive’ person yourself, getting your point across to these people can sometimes be challenging.
Really assertive people might even make you feel inferior, down trodden or just uncomfortable so you end up avoiding them.
So how do you stand up for yourself and put your point of view across confidently with assertive people?
To help explain this, I’d like to tell you about one of my students, Jacinta.
Jacinta hated any type of confrontation. She’d do her best to avoid people she found assertive or aggressive.
She worked as one of the managers at a 24 hour Call Centre. She worked shifts and shared her managerial role with her colleague Annie. She had to speak to Annie during sales meetings and for a short time each day while their shifts changed over.
Jacinta found Annie to be domineering. Annie would control the conversation, talk over her and not listen. Jacinta felt intimidated by Annie.
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As a result, Jacinta struggled to put her point across. This had become a problem; she felt the team as a whole was suffering because of Annie’s insistence on shaping the way it operated.
Jacinta would regularly come into work and find that Annie had introduced a new procedure without telling her. Not alone did Jacinta feel this was unprofessional because they were supposed to be managing the team jointly, she also felt that some of these new procedures were wrong and inefficient.
She needed to confront Annie and get her point across. We therefore developed a 3 step strategy to help her to do this.
The first thing she did was to arrange a meeting with Annie. This took courage because it meant going completely against her instinct. She explained to Annie beforehand that the reason for the meeting was to talk about the most recent new procedure Annie had introduced.
Jacinta then put these 3 simple steps into action at the meeting –
Step 1 Suss out the situation
If the person wants to speak (even if they are super-assertive), let them. Be quiet and don’t rush in; control yourself and wait it out. Let them get it off their chest. Try not to interrupt them. Actively listen, look alert and don’t get distracted. Control your body language – don’t let your body speak for you instead of your mouth. Don’t fidget, shrug your shoulders, use submissive facial expressions or body language. All of these traits signal that you lack self-confidence and could make you look apologetic. Just stand or sit still, face the person and look them in the eye while they’re talking.
Have the self-discipline to keep the person and the problem separate. No matter how much their behaviour frustrates you or winds you up, try to keep an open mind; the person might not actually be being difficult; it could be that they have a valid and good point.
When they’ve finished speaking, try to hold the silence. This might put them off their guard. They’re expecting you to say something – so you’ve got the initiative now. Make sure that when your chance to respond comes, you insist that the person doesn’t interrupt you. This shouldn’t be a problem if you had the self-control not to interrupt them. If you are interrupted, politely remind the person that you deserve to be heard – it’s your turn now.
Step 1 was relatively easy for Jacinta – all she had to do was look Annie in the eye, listen and take in exactly what she said. She didn’t even have to invite Annie to speak because Annie immediately just launched into justifying why she’d introduced the new procedure. Jacinta also made a point of taking some notes while Annie was speaking. They were sitting just far enough away from each other so that Annie couldn’t read these notes. Jacinta noticed her looking down at them every now and then. This made her feel more confident; she was sure she detected a sense of unease in Annie’s behaviour.
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Step 2 Deliver your point of view
Make sure you know what you want to achieve from the discussion. If you don’t know this, you’re not ready – so find more time to prepare. If you don’t know it, how can the other person be expected to understand your point of view?
Take control by setting out the facts. There’s no harm in repeating the other person’s point of view back to them. This way they’ll know you’ve listened. Repeating it back to them also gives you more chance to think about it.
Speak assertively; try not to mumble. Remember to breathe! This will help you to think and speak at a measured pace. Be positive throughout the conversation and don’t be frightened to encourage discussion about the issue.
Step 2 was harder for Jacinta. She had to deliver her thoughts confidently; this was against her natural inclinations. She waited until Annie had finished. Then she made a point of finishing the written note she was taking and looked up. She let the silence extend. Just as she sensed Annie was about to start talking again, she spoke up. She started by summarising what Annie had said (she found her notes very helpful for this). She explained clearly why she felt the procedure wasn’t working and suggested another solution. At one point Annie tried to interrupt. Jacinta said very assertively ‘I’ve listened carefully to your points – I would like to finish explaining mine please’. Annie stopped talking immediately.
Jacinta didn’t let Annie interrupt until she’d finished. Then they had a discussion. Jacinta was clear in her mind right from the start that she wouldn’t give in. She’d thoroughly researched her points and was prepared to stand up for herself. She was surprised to see that after a while, Annie backed down and believe it or not accepted her point of view.
Step 3 Take the initiative at the end
Take control of the discussion by being the one to conclude it. Try to have the moral courage and confidence to offer an ultimatum if you think it’s warranted. Try to end the conversation on your terms but be prepared to compromise if you judge it to be fair and necessary.
Step 3 went well too – Jacinta kept the initiative by explaining she didn’t feel it was in the best interests of the team for Annie to make decisions without involving her. She proposed that from now on they meet once a week so that they could manage the team more effectively together. Annie seemed a little wary of this idea but agreed to it in the interests of the team.
Jacinta found that subsequently, over time, her working relationship with Annie improved. It was never fantastic but the change in her approach to dealing with Annie made a huge difference. Annie started to get used to this and in time even admitted privately that she respected Jacinta more for it and found it easier to work with her because in Annie’s words she ‘knew where she stood with her’.
So the next time you find yourself in a position where you need to deal with assertive people – remember these 3 steps. Suss out the situation, deliver your point of view, take the initiative at the end.
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