Learn to Communicate Assertively
Many people internalize their thoughts and feelings. These thoughts may build up over time and cause pent-up frustration in the wrong circumstances. Some negative thoughts may gain momentum and may impact the future effectiveness of what you are trying to accomplish, and even impact a relationship that is being established because of a misunderstanding that needed clarification.
As stated previously, I have a tendency to be an introverted individual and have been known to internalize feelings. I have often said, to myself, “I wish they wouldn’t do that,” or, “I wish they would stop…,” or, “I wish (fill in the blank).” I have had to make a concerted effort to push myself through these types of random thoughts, and make it a point to have a conversation, especially if I want to ensure that all parties involved are on the same page.
I was flying across the country on a last minute red-eye flight from California to New York. My originally scheduled flight had been cancelled due to foul weather. I’ll even toss in the fact that I had been bumped up to first class before the other flight was cancelled. Since I had to switch airlines and make same-day arrangements, most of my normal preferences, such as window seat and front of the airplane, were not available. Unfortunately, I was given a middle seat on an airline that seemed to have smaller seats than I was used to. I was not in the most pleasant of moods as I boarded the plane.
A young woman approximately twenty-five years old was sitting next to me, to my right towards the aisle. On a flight that takes over five hours and flying through the night, I was ready to go to sleep. The airline was gracious enough to give us covers for our eyes and the seatbacks had televisions to watch when we were not sleeping. I began to warm up to the idea of this flight; until I closed my eyes for the first time. The young woman beside me was visibly nervous. She was jittery, shaking, twirling her hair, and constantly bumping into me, waking me up out of my light sleep. For two hours, I peered over her way to see her fixated on the Weather Channel. Each time the satellite picture showed the snow building up in New York, her body shook intensely. These weather updates came every twenty minutes. After being startled by her multiple times, and building up a frustration of, “Wait until I go home and tell my wife how miserable this flight was,” I stopped myself. I took my eye cover off and my headset out, and asked her if she was all right. She said that she was nervous (no kidding). She feared she would miss her connection and be stranded in New York.
I started to calm myself down in an attempt to empathize with her situation. I began to have a conversation with her by asking more questions about her situation. I didn’t want to spark a conversation for the sake of conversation. I had a purpose. I wanted to sleep and she looked like she needed a Plan B in New York. I had to be creative, but assertive enough to get there.
I used a level head to creatively determine what needed to occur to calm her down and create a game plan for her. I couldn’t scream at her because I had a few hours left of the flight and I think the close proximity might cause a slight issue. I asked more direct questions, such as, “What is your biggest worry?” She mentioned she wasn’t able to contact her parents in Virginia, who were going to pick her up after her connection. I asked her what I could do to help her, including assisting once we landed. We decided that we would go to the customer service desk to switch flights and I allowed her to use my cell phone to call her parents.
I started to think that I had a long time before I got home in order to complain to my wife about my terrible flight experience. I had a four hour layover until my next flight, so what did I have to lose by helping someone who obviously needed it? During my interaction with the young woman, I had to explain to her that worrying would not solve any of the issues, but actions would. I also realistically told her what I had coming up the next day, including a long drive after my final destination, and I needed the sleep. I was taking assertive steps that would have been difficult for me to take just a couple of years before.
She began to understand both sides. The young woman was gracious and appreciative of the advice and the assistance. I couldn’t tell you how she did for the next few hours, because I slept like a baby. We landed and took care of the things she had been worrying about.
Communicating assertively does not mean you have to communicate aggressively. The message is to say what is on your mind at the time it is on your mind. It does not mean go ahead and scream and shout when emotions are high. It does mean maintain a level head and state the facts, including what’s in it for you and what’s in it for them.
In another example, I took on a new position. I became the organizer of an important meeting and I wanted to impress my new co-workers by doing a good job. During the middle of the meeting, one of the leaders began to call me “Skippy.” I thought it was odd the first time I heard it, but chose to ignore it. The second time I heard it, she was asking me to do something for her. I stopped, and gave a look that got an interesting reaction. I told her my name was Tom. I professionally asked her to call me by my name. She unprofessionally called me “Skippy” for a third time, and this time asked for the rest of the group to join in. Striving to get beyond the immature nature of the action, I simply responded again with a level head and said, “You can call me Tom, and if you want me to respond back, you can call me by my given name.” This conversation was not pleasant, but it was needed if I wanted to establish myself appropriately with everyone there, including the one attempting to label me with a nickname.
Again, we both had something to gain. I needed early respect in my new role and she needed things from me to have the meeting run well. We both got what we wanted, including clear expectations and a real conversation.
I look back on the many times I allowed examples like this to fester and put me in a bad mood. All those times when I was swearing in my head and fuming at the person or situation, I could have been attempting to resolve the situation. I now realize there were times I allowed unnecessary things to go on in the workplace by simply internalizing my feelings of, “I wish it would stop…,” but chose to do nothing about it. We should all be assertive when the need arises and watch problems get resolved. You may be surprised at the positive reception you get from the receiver of your message and you will appreciate your own ease in tension.
Thomas B. Dowd III’s books available in softcover, eBook, and audiobook (From Fear to Success only):
- Now What? The Ultimate Graduation Gift for Professional Success
- Time Management Manifesto: Expert Strategies to Create an Effective Work/Life Balance
- Displacement Day: When My Job was Looking for a Job…A Reference Guide to Finding Work
- The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World
- From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide received the Gold Medal at the 2013 Axiom Business Book Awards in Business Reference
- The Unofficial Guide to Fatherhood
Do you know about Avanoo.com? Two-to-three minute eLearning programs that can change your life.
MP3 Downloads of “From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide” are available at Apple iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, Emusic, Nokia, Xbox Music, Spotify, Omnifone, Google Music Store, Rdio, Muve Music, Bloom.fm, Slacker Radio, MediaNet, 7digital, 24-7, Rumblefish, and Shazam “From Fear to Success” MP3 on CD Baby