For most of us, being assertive, or delivering bad news, or confronting authority, are things we struggle with. Left to ourselves, we’d rather avoid confronting the boss, or that overbearing colleague or relative. It’s not that we’re happy doing this; it’s just less of a hassle- or is it ?
A lot of the people I work with struggle with assertiveness and confrontation; sometimes I do too. There are a host of reasons we all struggle in these areas; today’s blog post is about the role identity can plays in moving from anxiety and diffidence in these situations to impact and influence. To put it simply- Who am I ?
I was coaching a successful sales head at a manufacturing company, who talked about how he had a Grandee from global headquarters who was to visit him the next week, and how every time he thought about the visit he broke out into a cold sweat. I asked him why the Big Man was visiting- he said he had implemented a particularly successful sales program in his market, and this visit was to appraise the boss on the program. When I asked my coachee what exactly he was worried about, he said ‘The boss is a senior person from Headquarters; he’s run businesses across the world; he now sits on the main board of our company. Obviously I will be nervous- look where he is and look where I am !’
We talked a bit more about this, and focussed on the presentation itself. I asked my coachee to look at who was the “boss” in the context of the presentation. My coachee agreed that in terms of the content of this presentation, he( the coachee) was the expert.
I bring this story in to make a point. My coachee was worrying himself sick because he had to present to a senior leader in his organisation. His worry was how he would look in front of the boss, and what that might do to his career. Had he stopped to think about the content of the meeting, and specifically his role in it, he would have understood that in this context he was the teacher, and the boss was the learner. Would this have made him less nervous ? Certainly. Would it have improved his impact and the impression he wanted to make on the boss ? Probably.
So what’s the lesson here? Quite simply, in any situation, once you understand who you are and what your role is, difficult becomes easier- and more effective too !
Understanding who you are
As you prepare for that presentation or meeting or discussion, think about this. Understanding who you are makes the difference between coming across as sheepish and unsure versus coming across as confident and assertive. And of course, this has a direct bearing on your ability to influence.
So in a presentation, are you the giver of information, or are you the one who helps course correct for better performance. (As an aside, if you see yourself as the latter, you will automatically talk from a point of greater ownership).
In a performance appraisal, are you the one delivering bad news about a performance, or are you the one helping the other person to grow and succeed ?
And in an argument, are you the one trying to prove your point, or trying to help the other person see the bigger picture ?
How you see yourself will determine how you act. Remember, the courage of your convictions is derived from how strong your convictions are, and your convictions are derived from how you see yourself.
From my own experience, I can tell you that client conversations in which I see myself as the relationship manager, versus those where I see myself as the coach and adviser, go very differently. My impact and ability to influence (and my client relationships) are vastly better in the second case above- I operate from a role of saying things that I believe will truly help my coachee or client be more effective; I am not held back by the need to maintain a business relationship, and hence the need to say only ‘nice’ things. I can give the other person honest feedback- something that is welcomed, since its usually in short supply.
Understanding what you’re doing
Understanding what you’re doing goes hand in hand with understanding who you are. Just as understanding who you are has a direct impact on what you say, understanding what you’re doing has a direct impact on how you say it.
There’s the old story that the Managing Director of the first company I worked for liked to tell us. There was a security guard in the company office, who was, as most guards are, an employee of a security agency on deputation to our office. He used to help the receptionist manage the front office, and to man the phones once she left for the day. One day, the company head came back late in the evening from a meeting and found the security guard manning the front office, and asked him what he was doing. The guard answered “Sir, I’m protecting the honour of the company”. Intrigued, the boss asked him how he was doing this. The guard said “I’m sitting here, and only allowing those people in who have legitimate work inside. I’m not letting anyone else in. I’m protecting the company’s honour !” As you can see, there is a world of difference between manning the phone after office hours, and protecting the company’s honour.
How you see what you do defines how you do it.
And so it is in communication.
Do you see your job as just to present facts, or to convince the other ?
Do you see your job as to tell the other that his performance is not up to mark, or to help craft a way for the other to improve his effectiveness (and his career prospects !).
Do you see your job as just saying what you have to say, or working with the other to build a jointly acceptable path towards the goal you are both working towards?
While it’s clear that my impact and influence are clearly correlated to how I see myself and my message, how do I operationalise this ? Here are some things you might want to do:
- To reinforce who you are in a situation, ask yourself “Why have I been chosen to do this? What special value can I add? How do I need to see myself to be able to truly add that value?”
- To understand what you can do, go beyond the task at hand, and think about the purpose of what you’re doing. Think about how you can help fulfill that purpose, and what you need to do (and not to do!) to make that happen
So the next time you’ve got a challenging conversation to have, or indeed any conversation where you want to influence someone, think about who you are, and what you’re doing. The clarity of your role and your purpose will go a long way in reducing the diffidence and anxiety and in increasing your impact, your influence, and your satisfaction !
A note on humility
While its good to think of yourself and your role in a situation from the point of view of a higher purpose, and to thus think and behave accordingly, I want to stress the importance of humility. Too often those of us with a higher purpose tend to look down on those who do not operate from this standpoint, or do not see the need to. That is wrong. We’re all entitled to our point of view; if the other doesn’t want to change the world, thats ok. Don’t look down on it, or on the person. Accept it, and carry on on your path of influence.