Good morning and happy Monday!
I meet a lot of amazing people as I train and speak in Belize and across the region. When I read the story below it resonated so well as I once was the character “cousin Mel” and I meet so many cousin Mel’s in my line of work that I thought it was necessary to share and help others break out of their proverbial shells, so here goes.
My cousin Mel used to be a “Yes Woman” for the longest time. Ever since we were kids, she was the sweetest person in my family.
She’d always go out of her way to accommodate people even if it meant getting taken advantage of.
For instance, I was usually the one to speak up whenever the other kids were cheating at hopscotch (or whatever game we were playing).
But then Mel would always give them a pass just to avoid squabbling with them.
And this attitude continued into our teen and early adult years. It was frustrating to see her getting pushed around by pretty much everyone in her life.
Over the years, Mel and I lost touch. But she emailed me recently, saying that she was going to be in town for a work-related event that happened to be nearby.
So, we met up for coffee to catch up, and boy, was I surprised the moment she walked in!
It wasn’t just Mel’s confident stride or the sharp power outfit she was wearing. There was just something different about the way she carried herself and talked.
She even made it clear in no uncertain terms how the slacking barista had mixed up her order with another customer’s drink.
I was floored!
The old Mel would have kept her mouth shut and suffered drinking that other guy’s decaf soy latte with extra cream in silence.
Whoever this brand-new woman was, she certainly wasn’t the mouse of a girl I knew years ago.
As shocked as I was, I managed to slip in a joke.
“Who are you and what did you do with the real Mel?” I quipped.
Judging by the half-flattered, half-smug look on her face, I knew she was waiting for me to ask her that.
And so, for the next hour and a half, we talked about how she pulled a complete 180 and finally came out of her timid shell…
Are You a “Mousy Mel”?
Have you ever had trouble speaking up, putting your foot down, drawing the line in the sand or giving someone a straight-up NO?
Maybe thought of the other person’s disapproval (or hostility) petrifies you. Or perhaps you find it almost physically painful turn down even the most outrageous request.
If you can relate to my former predicament, I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to keep up this compliant, spineless version of yourself…
…nor do you need to turn into a rageaholic out for blood over the slightest offense.
You can live in the happy middle ground called assertiveness where you can stop putting yourself in the backseat and get your feelings and opinions across.
With These 5 Easy Steps to Grow an Assertive Backbone, you can stop being the office and family doormat:
#1: Drive the point home – gently
“One of the first things I learned about standing up for myself is simply stating the obvious…over and over again,”
This approach isn’t just elegant for its simplicity, but an effective one, too.
The key is to express how you feel about something and refusing to do it multiple times in a conversation.
For example, you could tell someone in a cool-headed manner, “No I can’t go with you this weekend, I’ve already made plans,” a few times throughout until they get the point.
It’s important not to raise your voice. Otherwise, it defeats the purpose of being diplomatically assertive (i.e. saying “no” without being a jerk).
I know this is easier said than done, but the only thing keeping from you from asserting yourself is good old-fashioned PRACTICE.
If you’re feeling unsure of this approach, Manuel J. Smith, author of “When I Say No I Feel Guilty”, says:
“One of the most important aspects of being verbally assertive is to be persistent and to keep saying what you want over and over again without getting angry, irritated, or loud.”
Like any skill, you’ll need to hone this one a little before getting better at it. But don’t worry, we’ll get to that in a while…
#2: Hold your tongue (at first)
Another technique in resisting the urge to “let the other person have it” and hearing them out first.
She said, “I was too quiet before, and I didn’t want to go the opposite extreme just to be assertive.” So, she learned the subtle skill of understanding the other party to form a rational, measured reaction.
Remember, being assertive and turning people down isn’t about going gung-ho on them. Instead, calmly acknowledge the point they’re trying to make, and then issue your own statement based on their input.
For example, you could say at work, “Yes, I can see that getting this project done is important to you and that’s a fair point…However, I’m caught up in an urgent task myself and need to prioritize this one before I can work on your request. I hope you understand my own situation.”
#3: Say “no” … then let them deal with it
It’s also vital to understand that you really can’t do anything about someone’s reactions. If they throw a fit or stomp their feet over your “no”, then that’s on them.
This is uncomfortable to deal with at first, but the fact that their feelings are ultimately beyond your control is liberating when you embrace it.
“Is it selfish to let people deal with the fallout after I refuse? Maybe. But if You are polite and diplomatic about it, then your conscience is clear,”
#4: Give them options
Maybe giving an outright “no” is just too much for your kind soul to bear. I get that.
One alternative is to consider the other person’s request over a period of time, get back to them and give them a counteroffer.
Mel said, “One time a guy I just started dating was forcing me via text to meet up at his place at an unreasonable hour.”
Then she continued: “He was being borderline rude about it, so I told him I’d think about it first. Then I finally replied, ‘Sweetie, that won’t work for me…how about we meet up tomorrow or the day after instead?’”
He stopped seeing Mel after shortly after that. It didn’t work out, but Mel says she “dodged a bullet” by gently putting her foot down.
So, if the other person STILL insists on what they want after you tried to meet them halfway, don’t lose any sleep over turning them down.
This way, you don’t always have to dig in your heels and flat-out refuse someone. You can save the straightforward no for non-negotiable situations that you feel strongly about.
#5: Get your “NO” game together
Like I mentioned, you’ll need to LEARN how to deliver your “no” if you’re not feeling 100% confident about doing it.
To do that, it helps to make a mental note of what exactly doesn’t work for you.
The better you can cite the specific reasons you’re saying no and why you’re uncomfortable with the whole thing, you’re less likely to turn it into a confrontation. Don’t say no for the sake of it. It’s not about being negative it is about putting your needs in priority, so you don’t feel like the office doormat.
You can concentrate on articulating your feelings about the matter in order to avoid throwing out negative labels against the other person.
Then this will give you the leverage to make a request of your own ASIDE from saying no (e.g. “Could you not do that?”, “I’d appreciate it if you ________”).
With this kind of framework, you can refine your diplomatic approach by acting it out with someone. In Mel’s case, she went as far as hiring an assertiveness coach to get over her lifelong fears of turning people down.
If your case isn’t as extreme as hers, rehearsing your lines with a trusted friend or relative will do. You can run through several scenarios with their own set of possible outcomes for each.
I know it feels kind of awkward at first to do this, but you’ll be doing yourself a huge favour.
This is an effective way to purge those toxic, pushy people from your life and help you let go of that heavy burden.
Once you’ve practiced all the things you’re going to say, you can slowly build your confidence in the real world. Look for opportunities to assert yourself, even if it doesn’t necessarily warrant you telling them “no”.
The important thing is that you’re building your social muscles. This will definitely come in handy when it’s time to stand your ground and say “no” especially if you are a proverbial people pleaser. Be kind but don’t sacrifice your personal value.
Sometimes, you need to push back when the situation calls for it. Maybe life’s challenges will try to move you one way, and you’ll have to dig deep and push in the opposite direction.
There’s virtue in getting what you want by holding your own against the tide. I learned this myself a few years ago when I was spreadsheets big myself too thin and feeling used and abused by others who never made me their priority.
I had put everyone first even those who put me last and I had to force my way out of it.
By using a scientific set of basic principles, I harnessed my inner energy to FORCE the universe to give me what I truly desired.
Are you a doormat? Do you need to strengthen you and get your own spine back? Tell me what you do to stand up for you ……, respectfully. I sometimes have to regrow a few missing bones, I need your guidance.
Have an awesome week!
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All the best,
Dionne Chamberlain Miranda