One of my clients wants to increase self-assertiveness in the workplace.
Her most significant challenge was that when some people verbalize judgments against her or her work, she is shellshocked, and can’t say much to her defense at that moment. Digging deeper we found out that such confrontation at work was triggering natural fight or flight response in her. She is a genuinely friendly and kind person and therefore tends to repress her fight response. However, that keeps her up at night, playing the event at work in her head and imagining what she should have said to fight back.
So I worked with her to come up self-assertion strategy that will help her speak up effectively at the workplace. She has a sharp analytical mind, so we decided to build the strategy on that.
Here is my letter to her summarizing our approach. I call it “The Vulcan approach to self-assertion.”
As you go out in the world, go out with full confidence.
Know that there will be jerks out there or even some friends who can suddenly turn into jerks without any warning. When people have their “jerk episode,” they will surprise you by making judgments on you or what you did or doubt your intentions.
Though you know for a fact that truth is something entirely different than what they are portraying. Sometimes people do this merely to provoke you emotionally, and sometimes there is a genuine misunderstanding. We can not live our lives trying to avoid such confrontations. Such avoidance places limits on our spontaneity, trust, and enthusiasm and makes it hard if not impossible to thrive in a workplace. So we have to live fearlessly with a practical approach to deal with confrontations. And we have an excellent strategy for you.
When provoked emotionally, respond rationally. Become a Sherlock Holmes, an Einstein or a Vulcan like Mr. Spock.
Emotional triggers make it hard for us to activate and engage our rational mind. However, it is very much possible. When we triggered emotionally, our heart skips a beat and then beats faster. Our face tends to get warm, and the body gets tense. See what happens to you physically and make that your clue to summon the inner Vulcan: your rational mind. Take a deep breath, say “Hmm.. interesting..” (pause and take two more deep breaths) ..”help me understand what you just said…” and then go to logical inquiry.
Instead of defending your position passionately or keeping quiet, ask them logical questions. “How did you come to that conclusion? Help me understand why you would think that? What facts did you consider? “
Keep them focused on constructing their full story logically around the facts. Manage your impulse to tell your perspective or story until later. Reflect what they told you to them. “So, you are saying that..such and such thing lead you to this conclusion”. When they seem in agreement that you got their story right, then you can tell your story. Focus on facts and with an intention to solve the issue like solving a puzzle.
Following outcomes are possible:
1. A genuine misunderstanding gets cleared.
2. You two partner up to dig deeper into the issue and resolve it.
3. The person gets more and more agitated. If the person was trying to provoke you for his/her emotional reasons, he/she will get progressively upset with such logical inquiry and can start blowing up. In such case, calmly get out of there, knowing fully that this is not your problem. It is theirs! And regardless of whether they own it or not, you no longer need to wonder if their initial judgment about you had any truth in it. Your conscience is clear, and you will be sleeping well tonight knowing that you stood up for yourself and tried to resolve the matter rationally.
It takes some practice before this becomes a habit, but people are generous enough to provide many opportunities to practice.
Make this a habit and see how things change. People whose emotional needs depend on provoking others will start avoiding you and complaining that you are “too cold, not empathetic..” etc. Let them. You know you are emotionally healthy and empathetic by being emotionally open to trusted few friends. You will slowly start making new friends who have healthy emotional boundaries and will respect yours.
And this is when my dear, you will attract people who resonate with your vision, are inspiring, and nurturing to you and your contribution. With the rest of the people, you will be able to deal with rationally.
Go, achieve your work goals with enthusiasm and full confidence. Nothing can stop you when you can summon the inner Vulcan at will.
Live long and prosper!