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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Wellbeing tips for employees working in desk-based office jobs – Pt I

Today, I was at the Hounslow Chamber of Commerce’s Health & Wellbeing event, which was great. I left feeling really inspired by the speakers and the products/services on offer; but most of all it occurred to me that I’ve got so many tips to share about employee wellbeing in an office environment.

 

TOC - 8 Wellbeing Keys - White BackgroundAs a holistic massage therapist, healthy eating & wellbeing adviser, and a professional accredited life coach, I’ll unleash a multitude of tips to improve your wellbeing if you sit at a desk 5 days a week to keep a roof over your head and food on your table. My philosophy on wellbeing is very much centred on the 8 principles, or ‘keys’, featured in this picture: spiritual, social, emotional, intellectual/psychological, occupational, financial, environmental & physical. These make the sense of wellbeing holistic. But what is wellbeing?

 

I’ll be very honest and say that not much of what I’d learned in secondary school stuck. However, since I had the funniest Geography teacher, I happened to retain his teaching more than other subjects. I remember he taught us the difference between quality of life and standard of living. The definition of ‘quality of life’, which is complex when attempting to measure it in a scientific context, circumscribes a measure of the good-ness of multiple aspects of one’s life like (but not limited to) social, emotional, psychological state. Standard of living looks at the economic (financial) circumstances that may influence those aspects. The definition of ‘Wellbeing’ is very similar to that of ‘quality of life’ and could be considered as interchangeable in this day. When someone makes a personal assessment of their own life or of particular aspects of their life using measures of satisfaction, happiness, or other self-assessment scales, then solutions following the assessment are more often classed as ‘wellbeing’ than ‘quality of life’. So whilst wellbeing is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy.”, I would argue that wellbeing is simply, “the state of one’s being”, which can be self-measured using the 8 wellbeing keys/principles above.

Your wellbeing is part of you, and you bring that everywhere you go… including your workplace. So, here’s some tips to help improve your wellbeing in the office environment!!

 

SPIRITUAL

Spiritual wellbeing is the ability to experience and integrate meaning and purpose in life through a person’s connectedness with self, with God or other higher power, others, elements of creation or creativity.

Prayer / Meditation

Sadly, our workplaces are more often not very supportive of talking about ‘spirit’ or ‘spirituality’. I’m a big believer in prayer. By law, employees in the UK are entitled to work breaks, and I encourage you to read your contract if you don’t know your entitlement. There is no reason why part of that break can’t be allocated personally to prayer or meditation. Meditation, coming from the Latin meditatus means ““to think or reflect upon, consider, design, purpose, intend”.

Affirmation cards

Affirmation cards are a great thing to have in your drawer. You don’t even have to buy them… you can make them yourself! Picking up a card that says “I believe in me” or “I am grateful for…” or “You are enough” or “I won’t let fear hold me back today” when you’re going through a tough moment may uplift your spirits. As well as having them in your drawer, you can opt to make yourself a little vulnerable by handing some to the colleagues in your team so that when they notice that you are someone else is feeling downhearted, they can give you (or the other person) a card of their choice.

Retreat

Schedule a retreat into your diary at least once a year for at least 4 days. Make sure it has a spiritual element to it. I personally love the effects of 7 day silent retreats!

 

SOCIAL

If you’ve ever heard of Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs, the 3rd and 4th segments, which span psychological & self-fulfillment needs cover social wellbeing, which is the extent you feel a sense of belonging and social inclusion. A connected person is a supported person in the workplace. Lifestyles, ways of working together, value systems, traditions and beliefs are all important to our social well being and quality of life. We want to know that we are accepted for who we are within our daily workplace relationships.

Team volunteering at a local charity or community

Often, employers believe that it is essential for team-building to spend lots of money on the next team-building fad. I would like to let you know that whilst they may be fun, the context is usually lacking in authenticity and reality. If you want your team to bond, do it over something real, where other people can benefit from that time. There is no better way to bond than over voluntary work at your local charity or community. It may be a foodbank, it may be a tiny charity that need their garden cleared out (or a new one planted and maintained), it may be clearing rubbish or even establishing and promoting an environment-friendly campaign.

Opportunities to chat

I’m sure we’ve all experienced this… endless emails between co-workers who work just a few desks away through to a floor or two up! Would it be such a bad idea if the team ate one lunch-a-month together at a local cafe? After-work drinks are also an idea… but when I mean ‘after work’, I mean: if your normal working day finishes at 5pm, then stop working at 3:30, head to the pub, and pay them until 5pm.

 Employee Assistance Programmes

Whilst I do believe that all employees would benefit from an employee assistance programme, the public and third sector organisations would most benefit from such a programme. The fact that these programmes offer trained counsellors and legal experts on the other end of the phone means that an employee doesn’t have to go through personal or work-related problems alone. Having an employee assistance programme ensures that employees will always have someone independent to talk to confidentially.

 

EMOTIONAL

Not only does our working lives contribute a great deal to our emotional wellbeing, but that’s also the truth the other way round. Our emotional wellbeing contribute a great deal to our working lives – from how we handle pressure (resilience), to how well we perform. When we are not emotionally well, we may lack a sense of purpose and achievement. This then has a knock-on effect on self-esteem and confidence. A negative loop could then result from this. Although related to emotional wellbeing, stress will be covered under psychological/intellectual tips.

Praise & motivation

Anyone who has been through solid management training will know that praise and motivation is essential for the emotional wellbeing of their team. If you are a manager, please find creative ways of giving due recognition to your team and use the myriad of sites available on the internet to build creative motivation into your daily weekly work plan.

Bring the ocean to you

Very few people in the world would say that when they went to the beach, they had such a bad experience that just the thought of the sea provokes negative feelings and/or emotions. It may be too many miles away, but today’s technology can bring the sea to you! Stick your headphones on, open up youTube (if you can), type in ‘ocean sounds’, and pick from hundreds of videos of the ocean, listening to it whilst you close your eyes and imagine you are at the beach. LoungeV Films have a huge range of different nature sounds that you are bound to like one of! Our sense of hearing is extremely powerful… so give your ears a treat.

Find peace… through your nose

I absolutely love the private collection of home fragrances by the ethical Rituals company. I was in their flagship Covent Garden store the other day when a delightful young French sales assistant told me about their wonderful philosophy, which I absolutely connected with. Although it’s a home fragrance, as long as it doesn’t irritate neighbouring co-workers, you could spray one or two shots over your seat/desk. Choose a fragrance that you feel makes you feel positive and peaceful. It’ll be like bringing the spa to your workplace!


So here are the first set of tips for improved wellbeing for employees in a workplace, if the employees sit at a desk for the majority of their work day. There’s loads more tips to come!