Dear leader, use positive assertiveness at all times. When necessary, use ‘no’.

When I was 13 years old, I went on a retreat. At the start of the retreat, we were put into the same group and had to remain in that same group throughout. In our final group exercise, we had to come together with our group leaders. One person would be asked to leave the room so that the rest of the group could pick an animal that he or she could be compared with, and to explain why. Believe it or not, I still use this as a team-building exercise for already existing teams if I deem the individuals in the team to be mature enough to see the analogousness of it, because I appreciated what it did for my confidence and for my trust in my little group. It’s surprisingly effective! When it came time for me to be compared with an animal, I was not expecting the comparison I received! I was compared to a nightingale. The group listed many reasons for the comparison, but the one word that really stood out for me was ‘optimistic’. In some mystical way, that word has shaped my life; my beliefs, my attitudes, my behaviour. Until I first entered the corporate world, I was as liberated in my ‘yes-ness’ and optimism as I was in my creativity. And then… I learned all about risk.

About positive assertive communication and the ‘NO’

What has this story got to do with positive assertiveness or saying ‘no’? Let us first establish what they are. Assertive Communication is a style of communication in which a person stands up for and respects their own needs and wants, whilst also taking into consideration the needs and wants of others, without behaving passively or aggressively. Positive Assertive Communication is about framing your thinking in a way that inspires a movement of love in your heart – so that your ‘no’ doesn’t close you off, but opens and frees you up to something (or someone) else! When you look at all the definitions on the web for the word NO, you’ll find the key word that stands out is negative (e.g. a negative vote or decision; an act or instance of refusing or denying… etc). These acts essentially block and close up – not just the other person, but yourself as well. As a natural ‘yes’ person, I have had to learn how and more importantly when to say ‘no’. We find ‘no’ more so in the corporate sector than in the charity sector, where there is naturally more generosity and spirit to serve within the organisational culture, and desire to make a difference.

Positive assertiveness is now something that more and more people are looking to assimilate into their personal and working lives. That’s why I am launching my first positive assertiveness & boundary setting workshop on Saturday 27th June 2020 at 3pm on Zoom. It will be an interactive opportunity to explore practical ways of positive assertiveness, as well as the ‘why’ for it all. The purpose of this blog is to speak a little more about the ‘no’ in relation to leadership, and when it is necessary to use it. This is where I say: Dear leader, use positive assertiveness at all times. When necessary, use ‘no’.

When is it appropriate to use ‘no’, then?

The leadership styles (I won’t go into leadership or management styles in this blog post) in which we would most frequently see ‘no’ is in the authoritative and bureaucratic styles of leadership. The best leaders in the world know how to use all 5 styles of leadership to suit the situation and the people, and have nailed their communication styles in order to implement the best courses of action in their team. Of course, this isn’t a step-by-step formula that leaders learn. They learned this through experience and decent self-knowledge! In management training, managers identify the two most common ‘no’ styles of management in the ‘tell’ or ‘sell’ management styles. Again, the best managers in the world master all 5 styles of management to suit the situation and the stakeholders involved. So when ought the ‘no’ come into ones leadership or management? Here are 3 key moments when the invitation of positive assertiveness needs to be put aside and a ‘no’ steps up:

  1. When there is a high risk of danger or severe hurt to yourself or to others. So many people knock health and safety. But guys, it’s a no-brainer. This shouldn’t be classed as a ‘duty of care’ exercise at all. It should be built into our intrinsic nature to care for and protect each other from danger or hurt for the due reason that we are human beings. When I’m driving on the road, I seriously appreciate ‘no’ signage – because it’s a prevention and deterrent to me putting myself in danger. This ‘no’ is a crisis prevention or crisis management measure. If a leader/manager sees a catastrophe or a crisis impending (i.e. it will happen, and it’s not speculative), they will rightly start putting on the breaks. What’s important here is that the good leader/manager will brief their team, ensuring that the team are fully communicated with and feel a part of the crisis prevention.
  2. When positive assertiveness has been exhausted. I get it. Sometimes, there is only so much positive assertiveness that can be applied until a ‘no’ must kick in. Someone who has set a boundary and now needs to make sure the other person understands and respects that boundary must do so by communicating that with them. My workshop explores how to do that positively in more detail. But what happens if the recipient isn’t responding as you would like to the positive assertiveness? There are two further courses of action. The first course could be to use a slightly more aggressive assertiveness. At no stage should the assertiveness be passive. One ought always to be aware of and sensitised to their impact on the other person. To be passive assertive is to allow oneself to be indifferent to their impact on the other. This is neither caring nor emotionally intelligent! Slightly aggressive assertiveness pushes on the firmest edge of ‘firm’ and the most uncomfortable end of ‘comfort’. The second course could be to put in the strict ‘no’. Just remember two main things if this option is the last recourse to action: a) The ‘no’ must come from a place of goodwill for others and the main people involved, not from an abuse of manipulation, control and/or power, and; b) it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. It’s worth thinking how the other person would best respond before jumping into this last resort.
  3. Compliance. We touched on this briefly with health and safety in point 1. When it comes to compliance, there is no airy-fairy way of ensuring legislation is complied with, unless there is clarity on the boundary. These sets of rules are not optional. Most people will see the benefit of the rules quite naturally, but some people do like to consider themselves as ‘rule-breakers’, and get a kick out of pushing their limits. At some point, the ‘no’ kicks in here. If you are a parent, this balance is one you will already be familiar with. The only difference is that you’re not parenting a toddler, but managing/leading grown ups. Having said that, some of the best leaders and managers in the world are looked up to as ‘father-figures’ and ‘mother-figures’, and there is something very beautiful and life-giving about that.

Risk management plays a big part in the ‘no’ word or action. Good leaders and managers have superhero risk mitigation and management skills – either learned through study, experience or naturally developed whilst growing up. It is for this reason that ‘no’ can and should be used, when necessary.

What if I’m the person used to being told ‘no’, and it really gets to me?

Flip the other side of the coin… if you are the recipient of the ‘no’, then the method I use to give the other person the benefit of the doubt as to whether his/her ‘no’ was personal (on either side) or not, is to think about all the risks that the ‘no’ was preventing. Undertaking this small analysis tells you much more about the priorities of the leader and any underlying issues than most outward communication from the leader would. That is, unless your leader or manager is very open and very honest (I appreciate these leaders very much!). The reason why I brought up the ‘no’ as a personal affront or defence, is because in some cases, a manager might feel threatened in some way by their direct report, and so they develop a habit of saying ‘no’ to their direct report; even if the direct report’s suggestion or action is actually good for the team and the organisational mission. This is personal. On the other extreme, the direct report is constantly being told ‘no’ without any clear business justification. This is likely to be personal. A key example of this latter one would be racism or any other form of discrimination in a team. If any of these are you, then I recommend coaching to address those issues and to help you make the right decisions for yourself moving forward.

 


I’m Claz, a Professional Career Coach based in West London, accredited in the UK. I am also a Life & Wellbeing Coach, working with individuals as well as organisations. You can contact me through my website www.touchofclarity.com. Sign up to my first positive assertiveness & boundary-setting workshop on Saturday 27th June 2020 at 15:00 on Zoom to learn more about the fundamentals alluded to in this post.

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Communication framework for micro & small business impacted by Coronavirus

Many businesses are being forced to make severe and drastic changes as the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic begin to show its impact on the economy and on people. For many of us, it’s not looking good. Leaders now need to remain strong and communicate well and transparently with their stakeholders – in particular their staff.

This framework is a helpful tool for micro & small businesses to aid in communicating the strategy and plan for the necessary business changes that will take place to weather this particular storm.

Communication framework for business change

 

How I’d love to write a PhD on human behaviour right now…

I don’t consider myself an #academic… but I’m just so fascinated by #human #behaviour at the moment!

I agree with the UK Government’s current standpoint on the Coronavirus. Why? Well… because they have taken into serious consideration human behaviour.

In my 30+ years of life, I have observed how much we as human beings have changed in terms of our behaviour. I’m sure that many of you who are older, will see an even starker contrast in human behaviour from when you were younger, to today. We have become more impatient. We need things to be done faster and better. And, we have become so much more focused on ourselves (this is an iCulture, remember) and insular. We no longer connect with the dimension of time – and it’s going to hit us BIG TIME.

I’m not a scientist, nor am I a medical expert. I’m not a human behaviour expert neither. However, I do care very much about people. I care very much about the vulnerable in society – the disadvantaged, the marginalised, the isolated. I do this out of choice – not just because it’s inspired by my faith but also because it’s an intrinsic part of who I am. I was very pleased to have been able to watch the entire press briefing on BBC News on Thursday 12th March and I really have to say that it made entire sense to me.

If we go into lockdown too soon, people will become frustrated and lonely (depending how active or dependent you are on others). Perhaps I would never have heard myself saying this in the past, but it seems that on this occasion, the British Government appear to understand its peoples’ blind spots and weaknesses better than we do. Around a few months ago, I remember standing in a queue. I was only in the queue for around 10 minutes but the woman behind me spent 5 minutes constantly complaining at the fact that she’s in a queue. I mean, when we can’t even queue for 15 minutes without complaining, how are we conceivably going to remain on lockdown for an extended period of time? I know that not everyone behaves like this, but the truth is, the vast majority of us are extremely active – in our mindsets, our communications, our work, our lifestyles, etc.

Today, I was watching the movie ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ (LOVE that movie!) and every single time Brooks narrates the line “the world got itself in a big hurry”, I always think that this is even more true of today, than it was back then. Our human behaviour has changed from allowing things time to take its course, to wanting immediate results. I’m a coach – for sure this is something that I even experience in my line of work. It’s one of the reasons why I love the elderly, and spending time with them. They really teach me the value of patience and self-control, in ways that can’t be explained in textbooks.

It’s too late to kill the virus, so therefore we need to let it continue to run its course, whilst of course doing all we possibly can to develop immunity to it. The situation is going to get worse, and it makes most sense if the peak of impact was delayed, and risk mitigated as much as is possible. The Government’s recommendations are on-point if you think that what they’re asking people to do is to remain indoors for a week should symptoms of the virus make an appearance. This is to prevent the spread. It’s very sensible advice. Eventually, the lockdowns will have to happen… but they shouldn’t happen before their time.

In terms of my business, I’m here to be of service, not to be of risk! Unfortunately, I’m someone who is currently showing symptoms of the virus although I don’t know if I actually have it or not. I’m stopping all my volunteering activities and I’ve also cancelled my Career Strategy workshop that was due to take place on Thursday 19th March, for the reason that it will be my 7th day of self-isolation.

What I’d be most interested in now is having a good conversation with experts in the arena of human behaviour during times of panic such as the time we are experiencing now. If there is anyone out there who reads this and who can point me in the right direction, or connect me, I’d be delighted to speak to them and learn more. So much to learn… always! I’m so glad that I have a love of learning.

 

 

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