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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An Alternative to ‘New Year, New You!’

There are so many things I’m excited about entering into 2019. I can’t wait to be meeting and working with amazing clientele who are full of potential and I’m totally looking forward to the ways in which my business will be an opportunity for many others. But one thing I want to do differently right now is suggest an alternative to ‘New Year, New You!’ – a notion that serves as a popular up-sell strategy for life coaches around this time of year. The idea of ‘new year, new you’ is to start anew, with a fresh outlook and fresh new ways of doing things, or even a brand new way of ‘being’. Life coaches support clients to come up with new year’s resolutions, targets, and promises which they make both to themselves and where appropriate, to loved ones. We also support them to follow through with the resolution by holding them accountable. Often however, no matter who we are, or what our experiences of the past have been, we can potentially set ourselves unrealistic objectives that we not only become disillusioned by, but even become rebellious toward after a certain time. The thing is, I don’t often find an issue with the resolution itself. More often, it’s the approach to the resolution that is badly managed, and sometimes life coaches can fall into the trap of promoting an unsustainable approach to human behavioural change over the new year period. Here’s a solution to the folly of the ‘New Year, New You’ ideal, which proposes an altogether healthier approach to ‘A Transformed You’. The solution is itself, transformation. The approach: to enact three fundamentally healthy actions that drive and sustain the transformation.

 

Action #1: Don’t ignore your past – use it to your advantage!

Yesterday, Disney’s The Lion King was on the TV, and I was struck by this particular scene. It presents a very healthy life lesson for all of humanity. Our past, no matter what it was like for us, became a promise of increased knowledge and learning at the very moment that it became a reality of a present moment for us. That learning extends as much to ourselves – our intellects and inner world from where our behaviour and responses stem, as to our external world – our environments and circumstances that influence, inform and evoke our behaviour and responses.

As Rafiki the baboon says, “we can either run from the past, or learn from it”. The former does not help us to grow or to transform into freer human beings. People who run from the past tend to use it as an excuse for behaviour that is not conducive to transformation into a more mature being. A refusal to confront the past imprisons them to a moment of the past that shaped their attitude, behaviour and responses, resulting in present decisions formed by experiences that hold them captive. This prevents progress in maturity. It is easy enough to make plans and set goals, but when we are triggered by negative emotion, attitude, or experiences associated with the past, the person who runs from the past will refuse to overcome the barrier. This same barrier will return time and again if it is not addressed.

The person who learns from their past and brings it with them into the present moment from a reconciled position is liberated from the captivity of the past. Their decisions are formed and made with the future in mind. They are able to use their past to know ‘how to’ and ‘how not to’. They have been changed from a deeper place within themselves, that their actions are informed by this knowledge gained from their previous experiences.

The point here is that interior change caused as a result of our past is the safest way of sustaining the journey toward the end goal or resolution. The notion of ‘new year, new you’ tends toward an attitude of ignoring past experiences which configures and informs our current self-knowledge – a vital key to setting and achieving realistic goals. The folly of ‘new year, new you’ is that at the stroke of midnight on 01/01/2019, you didn’t become a whole new person, and your history was not voided as if some man in the cloud with a giant computer deleted your mental and emotional cache! We didn’t just enter into the new year a brand new person, no matter how much we might want that to be so. We bring with us into the new year all our old habits, fears, discouragements, resentments, as well as capacities and capabilities. Don’t forget to include your own ability to bring into 2019 all that was positive and successful from your past! Use your past as an advantage for the decisions you make along this journey of achieving your new year’s resolutions, and you’ll find yourself more encouraged and committed to the change you’re putting into action.

 

Action #2: Accept change as a journey and not as an immediate reaction

The purpose of you setting a resolution is because you want something to change in your life. What I have learned, however, in the many years that I have been journeying with people, is that the last thing many of us human beings want to change, is ourselves. We believe it’s much easier to change our external world – our circumstances, environments, states, the people in our lives – than our understanding, knowledge, attitudes and behaviours. As a change management practitioner, it’s my job and joy to bring to light the journey of change in every human being. The journey is often a difficult one, but is ultimately a very liberating one! In fact, the greatest joy of reaching our goals ought not be the goal itself, but how much we have grown and changed along the journey.

We can’t escape change – it’s necessary for our survival and good for our human faculties (by this I mean body, soul and spirit). It happens not only outside ourselves, but the most precious place that change happens is within ourselves. Attitudinal and behavioural change doesn’t happen instantaneously – it is a process that requires self-knowledge (as addressed above) and time (addressed here). Due to many varying factors, we tend to want to speed things up and if possible, skip parts of the process required to achieve the goal. If I were to set a goal of praising God from the top of a mountain, the temptation is to imagine myself singing from the top of the mountain. However, a zoomed-in image of the goal ignores the rest of the picture, and I would then forget or ignore the reality that is the climb that would get me there. Embracing the bigger picture, and gaining knowledge from maps means that I can assess the valleys, mountains, deserts and oceans on the journey in between where I am at now, and that goal. They inform me of what needs to happen for me to get to the top of the mountain and to make decisions on whether that need must be met to achieve the goal. For example, I don’t need a good singing voice to get up to the top of the mountain, but I need a sturdy pair of legs that are fit for climbing, and I will need lots of courage! There’s lots of other things that would need to be added to this list. In essence, it would be folly to commit to the goal without perceiving the journey that will get us there a sustainably changed person without giving up. In other words, it’s not the things around me that ought to change, but my approach to change that takes into account the reality of my humanity.

The point here is that for the change in us to be sustainable, we have to undergo a journey of behavioural change to move us into the future, as painful or difficult that may at first seem. It’s the most foolproof way of tackling barriers and remaining committed to the goal. We need to let go of old ‘vicious’ habits, and form new ‘virtuous’ habits. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, back in 1969, upon observing the process of overcoming grief and bereavement, identified a characteristic pattern of responses that human beings needed to go through to ‘let go’ of the past and begin to embrace and engage with a different future. It is a model that applies as much to objects, circumstances and situations as to ourselves and other people in our lives. If practiced, the increase in the probability of a change being successful is really quite noticeable. Kübler-Ross’ 7 stages of the process of human change are: 1) shock; 2) denial; 3) anger or blame at others; 4) self-blame, bargaining or guilt; 5) depression or confusion; 6) deep acceptance; and 7) problem-solving. A graphical representation of the change curve can be found here. Undergoing this process is the most natural and harmless way of accepting the present moment and forming new habits and connections in our psyche and heart.

 

Action #3: Form new habits for your new beginnings

Once a change has taken root within ourselves, we’ll find that our lives begin to change, in huge and small ways. That’s partly because the change has cost us. A lot. We were so dissatisfied with the way things were, we found the benefit of the change outweighed the cost, and the long-term change is now here to stay. So what must a person do, if say for example, his or her approach to life has changed, but s/he misses the positive aspects of what s/he used to have and s/he discovers a longing in his/her heart for this aspect of his/her past? This re-visit or return to fond memories happens often, and my experiences with other people tend to show that the majority of these are relational (contact with certain persons of value in the heart or any subconscious establishment of a relationship to objects, circumstances, environment or states). A preventative measure to the ‘re-visit’ or ‘return’ lies in 3 important questions:

1)     Do I have an attachment of any kind (most especially emotional attachments as these are the hardest to detach from) to this person/object/circumstance/environment/state?

2)     What boundaries can I set to ensure that I go into the future avoiding old habits associated with this person/object/circumstance/environment/state?

3)     How can my own ability and capacity to live with this person/object/circumstance/environment/state be strengthened and improved?

Answering these questions once the initial change has happened but before one has reached that point of re-visit/return could be very useful to the next part of the process.

 

The pre-condition to transformation

The irony of finding freedom in these actions that focus your capacities on remaining committed to that journey will paradoxically invoke change in the life that is external to you, because the change will ultimately happen in you yourself. There is one pre-condition to this taking full effect. The three actions, to be successful together, require your readiness to change. I encourage starting 2019 and our new year resolution(s), not with ‘New Year, New You’ in mind, but with long-term sustainable transformation in mind. If you like, you can call it: ‘new year for new beginnings’. Only with readiness to change will we find ourselves:

a) letting go of the past’s bad habits, attitudes, behaviours and misunderstandings

b) living the present moment of transition by developing new habits, attitudes, behaviours and understandings.

c) putting a plan in place to ensure the sustainability of the changed ‘me’, having new habits, attitudes, behaviours and understanding embedded in my daily life for the future.

May the changes that are to happen in your life and your readiness for that change bring you to an encounter with the truth of who you are and what your mission in this world is to be for this year. I would love to hear how this has been helpful for you! Likewise, please do share it – especially if you find someone you know is encountering disillusionment and difficulty progressing toward their goal or new year’s resolutions further down the line!

 

Every blessing!

C.

Copyright © 2018 Claz Gomez.

Photo credit to Vlad Bagacian on Unsplash