I ran assertiveness training at the end of last year that really made me think.
The manager I was coaching was struggling to cope with the demands of a jaded workforce.
He told me performance and output and were way down.
Yet everyone had a legitimate reason for being off the pace.
In forgiving the underperformance of some colleagues due to circumstances, he was contributing to the reduced productivity.
On other occasions, he reflected on being “cold and unfeeling” towards his peers.
Many of whom were experiencing tough situations at home.
How could he use his assertiveness skills to make it clear that the performance needed to improve while empathising with people’s personal situations?
Many are in the same position right now.
Typically one of two things happens.
One: we empathise to the point we put the relationship over the performance, and we cut some slack in what’s expected.
Two: we assert our authority to the point we come across as uncaring.
So how do we achieve both?
We have to empathise first to build a human connection.
If we’re being told of a husband being made redundant, a child that’s unwell, or a family bereavement, there’s only one way to go.
“I’m sorry to hear that – it sounds like you’re having a really tough time.”
“That’s dreadful – I’m so sorry to hear you’re in that position.”
Avoid putting any conditions on the empathy.
“I’m sorry to hear that, but you have a job to do.”
“That sounds really difficult, however we’re all struggling right now.”
If anything, lip-service empathy makes things worse.
Empathy has to be genuine and unconditional.
Ask open questions. Find out the root of the issue if you can. Signpost any services that can help.
The next step is to remind the other person of the job that needs to be done.
“We’re only going to achieve success if we have you on-board and 100% focused.”
“I know how seriously you take your work – I’m asking you to bring that dedication and commitment into this project.”
“It’s crucial that you’re able to perform to a high standard in the coming months.”
Now everyone knows where they stand.
A direct question demands a direct answer.
This keeps the relationship transactional.
“Can I complete the project from home?”
“Absolutely – as long as it’s done on time and to the high standards you’re used to producing.”
“Can I work from home for the rest of the summer?”
“No – the decision has been made that we’ll be trialling office working from mid-June, so we’ll need you back in then.”
“When will we know our long-term position on home working?”
“It’s too early to say – that’s a decision the Board’s working on right now – the most important thing to focus on right now is this project.”
Answering the question directly gives you control back, so you can now focus on collective goals.
And on all of them, we’ll talk about principled communication.
That means treating people as equals, rather than friends or enemies.
Transacting based on mutual interests, rather than focusing only on the human relationship or the short-term goal.
Using assertive language, rather than passive or aggressive.
Being willing to make concessions for the long-term benefit, but making sure you get what you want from the conversation too.
These are the difficult conversations that separate great leaders from good managers.
And as always, you can learn more by coming along to one of our assertiveness courses, resuming again face-to-face this June.
Or email us to arrange a virtual assertiveness session.
Some media trainers knock you down…and leave you down. Our media coaches show you how to deal with each knock…and still win through. So you have the presentation skills to perform – with confidence.