Better Said Newsletter 004
Read time: 7 min
Topics covered: Assertive Communication, Setting Boundaries, Soft Skills
*Important note: If you feel you are a passive communicator, don’t feel like you should skip this edition. Humans are dynamic which means in some situations we can naturally be more aggressive and in others we are more passive or assertive. We can learn from all sides!
Welcome back to another edition of Better Said, where we continue our journey of self-improvement and effective communication. If this is your first time joining us, feel free to check out our previous newsletters for a comprehensive experience.
Before we dive into today's topic, let's reflect on the last challenge.
How does being more conscious of the factors that lead you to be passive affect how you act today?
Last week, we discussed blockers in changing behavior mindsets, and this week, the focus is on transitioning from an aggressive to an assertive mindset. Acknowledging shared difficulties, the article compares passive and aggressive communication styles. Passive communicators tend to trust others' judgment, while aggressive ones are proactive but struggle with feedback receptiveness.
The challenge is to maintain an open mind and consider personal applicability. The article then delves into blockers for aggressive communicators, touching on cultural influences, fear of losing control, and prioritizing results over emotions. Real-life examples emphasize the importance of balance.
This week’s challenge (60 min)
Slowing down decision-making
Asking three open-ended questions
Navigating Mindset Shifts
Last week, we talked about blockers that come into play when changing mindsets related to behavior. Today, we're going to focus on the opposite of those blockers that accompany the shift from an aggressive mindset to an assertive one. Much of what I mentioned last week holds true for this week. Your problems are not unique; others also experience these issues and difficulties. Acknowledging this fact does not diminish what you are facing.
One caveat I'd like to add for this week is that, when I compare my clients who are passive to those who tend to be more aggressive in their communication, there is one distinction between the two. My passive clients are generally more receptive to feedback and changing the ways that are suggested. Usually, if someone is more passive in their communication, it also means that they are more passive when it comes to identifying areas of improvement within themselves. They tend to trust other people's judgment more.
On the other hand, my more aggressive clients tend to be very proactive and are accustomed to identifying issues before everyone else. They trust their judgment more than they trust others, which means taking feedback can be a bit more challenging. The difficulty lies in not getting defensive when hearing feedback that they aren't immediately convinced of. Staying open and curious can be counterintuitive for someone who is strong-minded and strong-willed.
As you read through this, whether you are more passive or more aggressive, keep an open mind. Not everything in this article will apply to you, but considering the possibility and wondering if this could be stretched into something more tailored to yourself can be a good way to open up and soften into a more assertive mindset. This mindset includes being curious and making a concerted effort to see the other side.
Now that we've addressed that, let's delve into some of the blockers in our mindsets as aggressive communicators.
1. Cultural Influences
It's no surprise that adaptability is something beneficial in the animal kingdom as well as in human society. When we discover something that works or try a successful approach, we tend to stick with it and develop a habit or style that continues to benefit us. Aggressive behaviour can manifest in various settings, such as at home, on the playground, or later in life in the workplace.
At home, you may have had a parent or sibling who was more dominant, whether they spoke louder, faster, or were physically dominant. You might observe them 'winning out,' where their wants and needs take precedence over others. Witnessing this behaviour can lead you to mimic it, whether in your home or in other situations with a power differential.
On the playground or in sports, where competition encourages being faster and better than others, you may also encounter more aggressive behaviours. This can include playing the mental game and getting into other people's heads, ultimately helping you become a better competitor.
In my experience working with people in the tech industry, there is a consistent hierarchy despite the typically flat structure of the tech industry. Proactive individuals who speak out in meetings, ask questions, and, in general, are more assertive and aggressive are often rewarded. Those who speak up, effectively highlight their successes, and build relationships with influential figures tend to succeed. This creates a cycle where individuals with these personality traits become role models, and others tend to mimic them. Over time, these behaviours may be reinforced through hiring practices or unconscious training, suggesting that these traits contribute to success.
It can be hard to remember why you are trying to change when everyone around you seems to be displaying this behaviour and are doing just fine. It’s important to look around those people as well. A good leader has a team around them that are also confident and engaged, not because they have to or because someone said it was a safe space but because they feel valued and trusted. That is the key distinction between aggressive and assertive.
2. Fear of Losing Control
This is one that hits close to home for me.
My aggressive and prickly side emerges when something important to me is not being done correctly. Call it perfectionism or micromanaging—whatever the name, it's a fear of losing control. It's a concern that if something isn't done in a certain way or on a specific timeline, the entire thing will blow up, and it will be unfixable. I still struggle with this during times when I am stressed out or have a lot going on. I may revert to these more aggressive behaviors, shooting down ideas before fully hearing and understanding what they are.
For those of you who resonate with this, you've probably had a time in your life where you were forced to take on responsibilities that were beyond your capabilities. Whether it was in the home, where a parent was unable to provide the necessary care for the family unit to function, at school where you were given an opportunity for leadership, or a friend who needed you to step in to help them out and ensure their safety, the fear of losing control is usually rooted in wanting to protect yourself or the people around you. However, acting out of fear doesn't result in the clearest thinking. You should not let fear rule your actions because it will cause you to narrow your focus and reduce the amount of creativity you put into problem-solving.
3. Everything Over Emotions
I grew up with the notion that emotions have no place in the workplace. In today's modern world, this idea seems outdated, and most people can acknowledge its impracticality. The concept that humans should function like robots in a professional setting is unrealistic; humans have emotions, and not acknowledging or suppressing them does not make them disappear. Much like acting out of fear, ignoring emotions can lead to actions and choices that may not accurately reflect the entire situation.
If you, like me, were raised with the belief that emotions have no place in the workplace, finding a new balance can be challenging. Determining how much emotion is acceptable, when it is appropriate to express it, and when it is not can be a complex task. As someone who used to deny myself feelings and prioritize efficiency, productivity, and the final product results over the feelings of my coworkers, confronting this directly was quite an eye-opener.
I recall a specific incident when a coworker, after spending the last 15 hours without sleep, presented a solution to a problem that had been plaguing us for months. As we sat down as a team of about six people to listen to her presentation, I realized within the first two slides of her 40-page presentation that she had overlooked some crucial issues, rendering her solution irrelevant. I directly communicated this to her, not waiting until slide 40 to express my concerns. Unsurprisingly, she did not react well.
I believed my critique was justified, listing the reasons why, but another coworker pulled me aside for a conversation on how the situation could have been handled differently. He pointed out that she had not slept, invested 15 hours of work, and that I assumed her solution's direction without asking questions. Instead of shutting her down immediately, I could have approached the situation more collaboratively.
Reflecting on that perspective, I realized that, in a similar situation, where I had put in a significant amount of work and sacrificed sleep, being immediately shut down would have felt disheartening and non-collaborative. Denying her the opportunity to discuss potential pivots, next steps, and considerations for her solution was a missed chance for constructive conversation. It was a humbling experience that highlighted how prioritizing results and efficiency over my teammate could be counterproductive and detrimental to what I valued. In essence, the short-term gains I sought were not worth it. Allocating an extra 20 minutes to let her explain, ask questions, and share her perspective would have resulted in a more constructive conversation, building her confidence and knowledge base.
This Week’s Challenge (60 min)
This week we are going to practise slowing down. We are going to expand our minds before we make a decision.
When you are about to make a decision, you are going to ask 3 additional open-ended questions. It can be at work, at home, or by yourself, it can be as big as choosing to sign the papers for buying a house or as small as which dish soap to buy.
You will ask 3 additional questions to understand you and those around you.
It is going to be hard in the beginning but it gets easier with practice.
Decision Example: If I want to throw a board games night this week.
Immediate answer: NO
Q1: Why don’t you want to throw a games night?
I just went to one last week and we have plans on Wednesday night already. I am worried I’ll be socially drained and that it will go late into the night and ruin my sleep.
Q2: Is there any part of you that wants to have a games night?
Yes, my friend who has been out of town for a while wants to meet up and it would be fun to get a small group together.
Q3: Is there anything you can do to have an activity that checks all the boxes?
I could arrange for a meal or activity that starts earlier in the day so I can get to bed on time and if I feel socially drained, I give myself permission to leave even if it is before everyone else.
Thanks for reading issue 004 of my weekly Better Said newsletter. For those of you who are new to my newsletter, Better Said, discusses the following three goals: (1) Elevating crucial soft skills, (2) Reaching career milestones, and (3) Creating ethical leadership.
Here’s how we can stay in touch:
1. You can find me on LinkedIn and on my website, bettersaid.org.
2. If you are curious about working with me, you can book a free consultation where I will help you outline your goals and co-create a growth action plan with you whether or not we decide to work together.