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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Where is your stress coming from and what is the impact on you? A piece on systematic stress management

Stress is a really interesting topic to me as I consider the hugely challenging circumstances currently being experienced all over the world during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The aim of this blogpost isn’t to give you 10 top tips to short-term stress relief. As it’s mental health awareness week, you will find this kind of material in every other post you scroll through. Rather, the point of this post is to give you a deeper physiological understanding of stress, and to point you in the right direction in implementing long-term changes so that you are in a better position to manage stress for the long haul. I’m coming at this as someone who treats bodily stress through massage therapy, and as a life, career and wellbeing coach whose clients are coping with various stressors (more about what this is later). I would also really like to thank Jaromir Myslivecek from the Institute of Physiology of Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic for his research into this topic. His article The Basis of the Stress Reaction has provided the main scientific foundation for this blogpost.

 

What is stress, from a physiological point of view?

Understanding what stress is helps us to navigate it, deal with it, give it its right place in our lives. So what is stress? There are many definitions for stress, as Myslivecek alludes to. In his view, ‘stress is the body’s response to strain (inner or outer). This response is characterised by stress response elements that could have both positive/beneficial impact (eustress) or a negative/detrimental impact (distress) on the body’. I will pick up on this more because human beings (as with all living creatures) have been designed to cope with stress. Myslivecek describes stress as ‘the body’s response to strain (inner or outer). It is not a nervous tension, as it can occur in lower animals and even in plants, which have no nervous system. Stress is not a reaction to a specific thing. It should be considered a reaction that helps the organism cope with different situations and, therefore, stress cannot and should not be avoided.’

Let’s look briefly into human histology – bone ossification (growth) in particular, since it will explore Myslivecek’s point more. Our bones grow under enormous stress. Is it necessary? Yes, it is – as the pressure is part of the process of the strengthening of bone tissue. Our bones never stop growing since bone cells in the body continue to reproduce to replace those that die. Broken bones knit together and heal by growth. As we get older, our bones are still renewing, but the rate of deterioration of cells in the bone may be faster than the renewal process. This kind of stress is eustress.

So… our bodies were designed and built to handle eustress. From the moment we were conceived, our bodies have remained in some form of eustress – the stress of growing. They will continue to handle growth stresses until the moment we take our last breath. Where we are physically, emotionally, socially and psychologically distressed for prolonged periods of time – well, this is something that our bodies are not naturally designed or built for.

We can think about it this way: Eustress leads to positive outcomes and impacts, in so far as the end goal is not a negative one, or does not transform into a distress. Distress leads to negative outcomes and impacts. In BOTH of these, we will find: STRESS. This is enough overview with which to begin from. I welcome medical experts to comment or even correct me if needed.

 

Is it manageable?

Stress is an overused word these days, and I believe that is partly because of a genuine lack of understanding of the two different types of stresses, and how we ought to relate to them. Stress can also increase or decrease to different degrees as well. It’s very easy to believe that our stress is one thing, but it is actually another. There is quite a lot of chaos and confusion if the stress is distressful or if the stress is chronic (no longer manageable). Only eustress will recollect you, bring you some peace, order and direction in the context of stress itself. Stress is manageable, and even when you think you’ve lost all control, not all hope is lost.

To navigate through the stress, to put together your action plan for managing it, and to see the light at the end of the tunnel,  two of the most important things to look at are the cause of the stresses, and the impact the stress is having on you.

 

How can the cause (aka the stressor) be identified?

‘Stressors can influence the organism acutely (acute/single stress) or chronically (chronic/repeated/long-lasting stress)’ says Myslivecek. ‘The repeated influence of a stressor can have great significance in the context of allostasis, which is defined as the ability to maintain stability through change’. As a change management practitioner, you can imagine my delight in the science of this statement… but that’s a topic for another day!

400x400 8 Wellbeing KeysTo determine the cause of the stress (the stressor / the stimulus / the trigger), I run a wellbeing self-assessment with my clients. This report is an analysis of the eight wellbeing keys to the right. I help my clients come to crystal clarity on what their stressors are, so that the root can either be nourished or dug up. Nourished when the stressor leads to eustress. Dug up (I’m sorry, this is usually quite a painful process) when the stressor leads to distress. Although Myslivecek says that ‘in humans, the majority of stressors are psychological and social’, the other areas of wellbeing could be greatly impacted. So I offer this assessment as part of a wellbeing coaching package, OR people are welcome to simply complete a questionnaire then purchase their unique report from me for only £19.95 to see their results.

You can take your wellbeing self-assessment here: http://bit.ly/ToC-WSA.

You could also complete this explorative task on your own and without any aid. All you need to do is look at each wellbeing key, and write down what is discomforting, not quite at right balance, stress-invoking or is unsatisfactory to you in your life.

Here’s an example exploring the social key: a) Tension in the relationship between my boss and myself. b) My kids are complaining that I am not spending enough time with them. c) At the moment I feel like I have so few friends. d) Business networking gives me the sweats. Which ones are distressful? Which ones are a form of eustress? Which ones are acute and which ones are chronic? What degree of importance on a scale of 1-10 do you give them (1 being low and 10 being high)?

Then repeat this process for the other 7 wellbeing keys, and see what comes up for you.

 

How can the impact of that stress be measured? Indeed, what is the impact of all that stress?

Taking the wellbeing self-assessment is only part one of this stress-identification journey. The second part of the journey is nailing down the exact impact the stress is having on you. For example, you may be distressed by your next door neighbour who is repeatedly playing their music on full blast until 5am keeping you awake. Not only is the outcome of physical tiredness going to have an impact on you, but you could also be greatly impacted by short-temperedness in your family relationships, or an unkept living environment, or poor performance in your workplace. To help clients determine this, I give my clients a Stress Impact Assessment (again, based on the above wellbeing keys) to complete.

A comprehensive Stress Impact Assessment is a part of my wellbeing coaching package, OR people are welcome to attend one of my Radical Self-Care Workshops to go through a mini version (4 wellbeing keys) of this Stress Impact Assessment. You’ll find all my upcoming workshops on Radical Self-Care on my Eventbrite channel.

If you wanted to assess the impacts of your stress without my aid, you could draw a 3 columned table. The first column contains your stressor. The second column contains at least 1 (but likely to be multiple) outcomes of the stressor. The third column contains the impact. This is a very important piece of work, because this will actually help you determine which stresses need addressing.

Once you understand your stressors and the impacts of that stress, you can really begin to map out a plan for stress management. Otherwise, you’re just trialling and erring without really understanding your fight-fright-flight capacities. You could be throwing away a lot of money for something that you stumble onto by accident. Approaching your stress management systematically will help combat the chaos that comes with negative stress.

 

Why work with a Wellbeing Coach

Wellbeing coaches who have a good overall knowledge of the body (I would recommend level 3 qualifications in bodywork as a minimum since they show some level of competency in the hormonal and nervous systems). They will also have a greater understanding of healthy eating, psychology, in fact –  a good holistic understanding of all 8 wellbeing keys altogether. Such a coach would be in a good position to support you in managing your stress. They can also help you in your stress prevention strategy. They:

  • Take into account your physical wellbeing, through understanding and analysis of symptoms showing up as outcomes resulting from chronic stress or distress.
  • Will help you look at your life as a whole, as no one area of your life can be isolated unto itself.
  • Work with you to implement stress management strategy – forming action plans to prevention systems.
  • Look at your dietary intake, and can recommend dietary plans (but not subscribe vitamins or supplements unless they are a registered nutritionist).
  • Go through, in overview style, your financial as well as your environmental and occupational situations.
  • Recommend physical exercises and signpost you to helpful resources.
  • Think outside the box to help you with your career progression and development, without losing or selling your soul!

 

Of course, there is so much more that could be said about this topic, even from a physiological perspective – but I hope I have achieved what I set out to according to the second paragraph. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions about the above material, or would like to embark on a bespoke 3 month wellbeing coaching programme with me. I offer a free 30 minute consultation call.

 


I’m preparing to open up a 1 year Career & Wellbeing programme to 6 keen hi-potential job hunters or career chasers to escalate their performance as individuals, and to work as a team to achieve their unique life & career visions. Do you want to be someone who receives unlimited access and support from me, who will be championing you throughout your journey of growth and self-actualisation?

 

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.

 

 

academicresearch phd study humanbeings humanbehaviour crisismanagement crisisresponse behaviourchange panicbuying psychology sociology research researchers researchproject researchanddevelopment government coronavirus covid19

My Screenless Weekend

Here’s what happened when I turned off all my devices for an extended weekend…

In 2016, I managed a web-app project targeted at 14-18 year olds. As part of our direct field research, I interviewed target audience members on their device usage and their time online. Here were some interesting statistics on the device usage and online habits of our 14-18 year olds during a typical school day:

  • 60% spent up to one hour on a PC
  • 66% spent between two and four hours on their phones
  • Online usage averaged at just over three and a half hours
  • 13% spent between nine and twelve hours on devices

During the weekend, the largest majority, which was one third, of the target audience spent between nine and twelve hours online in one day.

At the time, these statistics shocked me. However, recently, I have noticed how stressed my eyes were feeling. The major symptom of this was when my eyes struggled to focus between looking at my phone close up, and then looking up to a television three metres ahead of me. I decided to review my own device usage and online habits.

On a work day, I often spend between eight and twelve hours a day on a device, with nearly all of it being online. I’m a first wave millennial and grew up enjoying the outdoors as well as console gaming on a Nintendo SNES and Gameboy. It was definitely a better balance than the one I have now. It’s clear that I’ve lost that balance, so I set myself a challenge to turn off all devices for a good eighty hours between a Thursday night and a Monday mid-morning, away from home, to kick-start a more balanced screen routine. I had a great appreciation for what happened.

My screenless weekend became an unexpected wake-up call… literally. At home, my Lumie wakes me up. I didn’t have this whilst away. I would have used my phone as my alarm clock, but hadn’t thought about this when packing. Neither had I thought about how I’m going to tell the time! This revealed to me how much I rely on my phone for keeping schedule and to a degree, dictate my actions of the day. I was at the mercy of a friend to wake me up on time, and either had to measure the time by looking at the daylight outside the window, or finding a clock in the house. I found this to be an incredibly liberating experience. It reminded me that there is only so much in my life that I’m in control of, and that it has been a long time since I could simply ‘BE’ for a period of time longer than one hour, as opposed to ‘DO!’. It connected me to a deeper freedom that opened up the door to a beautiful perspective of life. Disciplining myself to turn phone, laptop, iPad and TV off restored an essence of clarity and openness to the world outside of myself, not to mention clarity of sight. So by the third day, not only had my physical eyes freshened up, but it appeared that my interior sense of sight (my perspective) had also received a ‘screenwash’. It’s something I’ll assess when putting together my personal 2020 goals during the month of December!

 

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