There are a series of specific personal skills that are useful in managing conflict in the workplace (and elsewhere). Some of these are useful in particular situations; others are more general in their application. These skills are now dealt with below.
Well exercised assertiveness skills not only help us to be more positive and direct in asking for our needs to be met, they can also play an invaluable role in protecting our self-worth and confidence. When we are being assertive, we feel, and look, cool, calm and collected. Even if we do not get what we want, we emerge from situations with our self-respect intact, knowing that we have behaved honorably and with dignity. If we happen to be disappointed with the outcome, we do not come away kicking ourselves for being a ‘wimp’ or ‘bully’, we admire ourselves for having the courage to try and the dignity to remain in control. Furthermore, people who are witness to our assertive behavior are usually similarly impressed and much more likely to treat us with respect and consideration.
Assertiveness is trying to get your own needs met, whilst having consideration for the needs of others. Assertive people use the following behaviors and ways of communicating:
- Looking assured, caring and understanding
- Using good listening skills
- Keeping direct, but not constant, eye contact
- Using a firm and relaxed voice
- Standing upright and balanced
- Using empathetic phrases
- Not being judgmental
- Using co-operative phrases
- Using ‘I’ statements
- Be clear, about what you want, what you want to say and your purpose, e. to prevent escalation
- Be direct, don’t pussyfoot around.
- Be precise, use short, clear sentences
- Be specific, address the aggression before other issues
- Be positive, in word and If you don’t know – ind out
- Be confident, in your skills, in your ability to communicate
Assertiveness is not easy if you are not used to it, and many of us need to practice the skills in a non- threatening situation before trying them out in ‘real life’. It is also very helpful, when you anticipate a situation when you will need to be assertive, to plan exactly what you are going to say. Perhaps write down the form of words you are going to use, or at least mentally rehearse what you will say. (See ‘Scripting’ below.)
Before trying your new skills make sure you are calm and your body language is assertive.
There Are a Few Specific Techniques That Can Be Used In Particular Situations.
- Broken Record
- Negative Assertion
- Negative Enquiry
This may be used when:
- You wish to preserve your time or energy and do not want to be sidetracked into argument
- You want to refuse to do something that is unfairly being asked of you
- You want to delay dealing with a problem because it is not your current priority
- You need to emphasize an important point and are not being listened to attentively
- Something requires urgent attention or immediate action and you cannot afford to be ‘fobbed of ’.
You state directly and concisely either:
- What you want or need or feel
- What you are prepared to do, or not to do
- What you would like the other person to do, or stop doing
Continually repeat a one-sentence summary of this message over and over again until the person concerned either ‘gives in’ or you both agree on a reasonable compromise. You also need to add an empathetic statement from time to time to show you understand their position and reduce the negative impact of your repeated message. Do not respond to any remarks designed to make you feel guilty, or to personal attacks or threats. Just repeating your message makes argument impossible.
Could you stay on and get this job done tonight?
Sandy: I’m sorry, I can’t work overtime tonight, I’m doing something important.
Mani: Well, it has to get done and you usually do these things.
Sandy: I appreciate that it’s going to be difficult but I can’t work overtime tonight. It wouldn’t take you all that long.
Mani: I can’t work overtime tonight, I have an important commitment. But I can’t do it and I did do you a favour last week.
Sandy: I can see it is difficult for you, but I can’t work overtime tonight.
Many: I suppose it will have to wait then.
Beryl: I’d prefer it if you called me Beryl not ‘love’.
Colin: What’s up with you - got out of the wrong side of the bed? Beryl:
Beryl. I just said I’d like you to call me
Colin: It’s just being friendly - I’m not trying to be rude or anything, it’s just the way I talk.
Beryl: I appreciate that it’s your usual way of talking to people, but I’d like you to call me Beryl.
Colin: Oh, OK, have it your way. Beryl, would you mind...
This may be used whenever you are being criticized:
- By someone whom you consider has no right to criticize you
- At an inconvenient time or in an inappropriate setting (and where you may want to postpone dealing with the criticism)
- Before you have had time to calm down and think through an assertive reply
- By someone whose good opinion isn’t needed by you and you want to preserve your energy and time
- Your critic is loading you with insults and put-downs which are so ‘irrational’ that it is pointless for you to engage in serious debate
- By someone who is angry and you want to wait until he or she is calmer before tackling the criticism
- You feel yourself getting tearful or angry and want to postpone discussion until you feel more in control of your feelings
You respond to unwanted criticism by using a reply that implies that there may be a probability that the critic could be right, even though inwardly you may know or think he or she is completely wrong. he critic is usually taken aback because he or she does not get the response intended and is not sure what is going on (hence the name ‘fogging’).
You continue to ‘fog’ each additional criticism until the critic gives up when he or she realizes that there is no satisfaction to be had in attacking this victim!
- At first glance this technique may look more like a people-pleasing habit rather than a self-esteem boosting skill, but it is an appropriate self-defense mechanism and an invaluable boost to your personal power.
Rocky: You stupid idiot - what the hell did you do that for? You can’t be trusted with anything. You’re a...
Mike: Perhaps it wasn’t the best thing to do.
Rocky: If I were in charge here, I’d have you sacked immediately! People like you just cause trouble - wherever you are there’s chaos.
Mike: Maybe I’m not the easiest person to work with.
Rocky: I don’t know why that idiot thinks people with a load of paper qualifications are it to run a warehouse.
Mike: You could be right; perhaps I haven’t enough practical experience.
Rocky: Well, let’s forget it this time but I hope you’ll think before you act next time. Mike: I will.
This may be used when:
- You are being criticized for a fault or mistake that you have already taken on board and are working on to correct
- You are hearing the same old story and do not want to have to waste energy justifying yourself again and again
- Your critic has chosen an inopportune or insensitive time to remind you of your faults or mistakes
- You are too busy or tried to deal with your critic and would prefer to discuss the matter later
- Your critic (however right) is not the kind of person with whom you want to explore your weakn
You respond to the critic by calmly agreeing with the truth, or element of truth, in what he or she is saying, without adding a defensive justification which could fuel an argument. You use the strategy until the other person gives up the ‘attack’.
In the following examples note how using this technique helps to keep the scenes from escalating into unwanted arguments.
Mother: You’re always too busy. You never seem to have time to talk to me when I ring. Jill: Yes it’s true; I don’t often have time to talk to you when you ring these days. Mother: You ought to take better care of yourself - you work too many evenings.
Jill: Yes, you’re right; I am working too many evenings at the moment. Mother: he children must get fed up as well - they can’t be seeing enough of you. Jill: I know they are not seeing enough of me at the moment.
Mother: Well I hope things will be different next week. I’ll ring you again then. Jill: hanks - I’ll look forward to a long chat then.
Simon: You’re late again.
Jackie: Yes, I’m late.
Simon: It’s getting to be a really bad habit. Jackie: It is a bad habit.
Simon: You’re full of bad habits you are. Jackie: Yes. I’m certainly not perfect.
Simon: You ought to sort yourself out - you’ll never get on in this place if you don’t. Jackie: It’s true; I do need to change in several ways.
Simon: Women are all the same - they never take their work seriously enough. Home is where their heart is, they’ll never change.
Jackie: I do put a high value on my personal life.
Simon: Well I suppose it’s your life - if you want it that way. But don’t moan about not having enough money.
Jackie: No I won’t.
You can use this strategy when:
- You are puzzled by a remark or ‘look’ and think that it may indicate an unwarranted, unfair or ill-timed criticis
- You are not sure whether the critic is well-intentioned and is simply asking for information/ trying to give you helpful feedback or is in fact trying to ‘bait’ you (because perhaps you’re seen as an easy target, or because your critic is simply bored).
- You think someone might be ‘backbiting’ or gossiping about you, and you want to expose and stop the sour
You respond to the critic’s verbal or non-verbal indication of disapproval by asking for clariication or directly inviting criticism. If the critic should then launch into unwanted criticism you can stop his or her low by using Fogging or Negative Assertion as above. If the criticism is valid and useful, you can (if you have the time and energy) continue to use the strategy to gain more speciic information.
Warning! Be careful only to use Negative Enquiry when your self-esteem feels relatively resilient and you feel confident enough to use either Fogging or Negative Assertion to block further criticism.
Sheila: When I came in the room, the conversation went dead. Were you talking about me? As this has happened several times this week I was wondering whether I am doing anything you don’t like or may disapprove of?
Robert: Well, yes, we do think you’ve become a bit bossy lately. Sheila: In what ways? Can you give me an example?
Robert: It’s just your attitude.
Sheila: Do you think that I don’t care about your feelings?
Robert: No, it isn’t that. It’s just that since you’ve been promoted you’re no fun any more.
Sheila: Perhaps I am a bit serious, but in future if you want to make comments about my style of management I would prefer you to do so to my face, and not choose a time when we are trying to prepare for an important meeting.
You can use this strategy when you want to make almost any request or a justified complaint, but it is particularly useful when:
- You know that you are likely to be more passive or aggressive than you would like to be
- Your feelings of anxiety or frustration may need to be kept under good control
- You know you will be speaking to someone who may not give you the attention you deserve because he or she is busy or very preoccupied
- he person you will be talking to is intimidating or might pre-judge you as ‘wimpish’ or your needs as unimportant
- You want to follow up a criticism which you had previously blocked with Fogging or Negative Assertion
- You want to set a positive, upbeat tone to a negotiation process (especially useful when the other party is highly defensive or pessimistic).
Although Scripting is most commonly used to prepare for verbal encounters, it can also be used as an invaluable guide for composing punchy, concise letters or short reports or requisitions.
You use a set structure and strict guidelines to help you prepare a concise assertive opening ‘speech’ and then thoroughly rehearse it (in your head, out loud or in role play). Your prepared script helps you to sound so authoritative and confident that you are usually listened to with attention and respect; and your chances of getting what you want or need are therefore greatly increased.
How to Prepare a Script
- Explain the situation objectively and concisely, using only one sentence whenever possib
- Do not include justifications or theories about the ‘whys’ and ‘wherefores’ of the situati
- Share your own feelings accurately, using an assertive ‘I feel...’ statement rather than an accusatory ‘You (or it) make(s) me feel...’
- Briefly indicate that you have considered the other person’s feelings or predicament (your empathy statement).
Say directly and concisely what it is you want or do not want, but ensure your requests are realistic. If your requests number more than one or two or are quite complicated to explain, make a general request at this stage such as asking for a further discussion or that your written report be given priority attention. If a compromise is appropriate, include a statement which suggests that you are willing to negotiate.
Spell out the ‘pay-of’ there will be for the other person should he or she comply with your wishes or listen to your ‘case’ sympathetically and attentively.
In brackets after writing your script, note down the negative consequences you could use to ‘threaten’ or ‘punish’ the other person should he or she not respond to your request.
Then decide whether the carrot (positive consequences) or stick (negative consequences) is more justified. Although you may never have to resort to using your ‘negative consequences’ (Scripting is so effective!), just noting them down boosts your sense of personal power.
‘Yesterday you began to criticize me when we were standing in the queue at the station (Explanation). I felt embarrassed and cross with you (Your feelings), and although I know that you had good grounds for complaint (Empathy with their feelings), I would like you to choose a less public place in which to confront me (Your needs) - that way I’ll be much more likely to take on board what you are trying to tell me (Positive consequences), or otherwise I will not feel like doing what you want and will be far less likely to change (Negative consequences).’
‘I have only let the office once on time over the last three weeks, and now at the last minute you have again presented me with urgent work in spite of my request to leave on time today (Explanation).
I am beginning to feel quite annoyed (Feelings), and though I know that this is a very special order for you (Empathy) I would like you, on this occasion, to give it to someone else to do or leave it until the morning (Needs) as a) it will be done much more efficiently if it is not a rushed job, and b) you will not feel guilty for causing me to miss my train again tonight! (Positive consequences)’
‘...a) I will feel less and less willing to do overtime and
I will start job-hunting! (Negative consequences)’