“Yes” was my favorite word at my first, post-college career job. When you’re young and eager it is in your best interest to be a “yes” person.
I thought it would help me get ahead, so I said yes to every reasonable request from my boss and the absurd ones too.
I was in the high-end, luxury hotel business, so “yes” was expected. That is because the customer is always right. And yes, I did acquiesce to every client request as well.
“The customer is always right” has likely led throngs of “people pleasers” like me to forego the respect and power that one should start to amass in their career and for which you reap the rewards down the road.
It truly does matter how we show up and communicate in competitive situations — and by competitive I’m referring to everyday business life. Let’s look at that through the lens of assertiveness.
If you’ve been working or running a company for any length of time, you know that we buy into people or their personalities, and not always their credentials alone.
Wherever we go, whatever we do, we are generally not the only person who can do a particular job or perform a specific task. We have to face it that business is competitive, and it’s absolutely in our best interest to show up like the sharpest, polished, candidate for the job or manager ready to lead.
My role in this world is as a trainer and speaker to global companies and I coach their teams and executives to have good and productive human relations. Within that niche, I’ve also become known as The Quiet Coach to introverted, shy, reserved, and sometimes, self-conscious professionals and entrepreneurs who are tired of holding back and not speaking up and advocating for themselves.
For most of my adult and professional life, I was frequently the quietest person in any room, and when you don’t speak up people make assumptions about you.
It’s true that you cannot see the eye of the storm when you’re at the center. And I didn’t see how subservient I was being while it was a major part of my personality. Being submerged in the industry where the customer is always right may not be the best place for a person who is not assertive.
"You thought always acquiescing would be the thing that would help you stand out and be a star in your organization or your field."
In my management training program and for years to come I was a total yes person. The drill was a cycle of unreasonable request, followed by my saying “yes”, followed by my inwardly cringing, followed by another unreasonable request. I seemingly existed in a continuous series of repeating loops.
Can you relate to a similar situation where you knew you were being taken advantage of and you felt powerless to do anything about it? Maybe you thought always acquiescing would be the thing that would help you stand out and be a star in your organization or your field –– that never happened. Let me guess — that never came to fruition, right?
To make matters worse, I carried my lack of assertiveness from my hotel management job to the first company I founded.
Because I didn’t know better, or perhaps because I still thought kowtowing to client requests would somehow serve me or the business well, I continued to not speak up, even when it affected my bottom line.
Looking back on those years I was miserable and stressed. If I told you some of the requests that were made of me and my staff and how I always gave in to clearly unreasonable requests you might be shocked.
There’s a big difference between requests and demands, and I chose to hear requests as demands. That’s an important distinction to note because as adults and professionals, no one can make us do anything.
I seemingly had no ability or training to either flat-out decline requests, or find a way to soften the “no” and make it sound like a “yes”.
I was innately generous, accommodating, and kind and that is what people came to expect from me. One thing for sure is once you give someone the upper hand, they generally don’t relinquish that power, and it can be difficult to reclaim your self-esteem and find remnants of the happy and confident person you used to be.
Have you engaged in this behavior because you want to be liked? Acquiescing promotes a lack of respect. Particularly if a person chooses to see your people-pleasing as weak or subservient behavior.
Lacking assertiveness is wholly disempowering. It is a slippery slope where you will have difficulty getting traction to emerge unmuddied.
When you make the decision to reclaim your power, you start standing up for yourself. You’ll be able to express your thoughts and feelings and opinions respectfully and firmly and feel good.
That good feeling will come from your changing your behavior. It’s definitely not going to come from your changing someone else’s behavior because that’s not the point, but they will see you differently, and when you do it well you will notice an immediate change.
I like to think of assertiveness as holding firm to your desires and/or your values, while respectfully acknowledging the other party, and working toward an outcome that’s for the highest good of all involved.
There are no hard and fast rules. What this really comes down to is how you’re perceived at the start and close of an interaction — and we’re naturally attracted to confident, strong personalities.
Asserting or holding firm to your position, not wavering, and still allowing the other person to feel grateful to have gone toe-to-toe with you is a bonus.
Exercising assertiveness can be very difficult for adults who are generally introverted or quiet because the interaction itself can be more conversation than you want to have. Then add to your lack of desire to engage in conversation the need to defend your position and you just end up avoiding it altogether.
Regardless of where you are on the social scale and your desire to advocate for yourself, the most important thing to know at the outset is that assertiveness can be learned!
And like anything it will take time, patience, and practice, and you can start today to work toward the micro-wins that will very soon add up to significant progress and will allow you to quickly shed that pushover persona.
That’s why I’ve compiled some tips for you in episode #24 of The Soft Power Podcast. You’ll find the tips listed at the 8-minute, 20-second mark of the podcast.
If you would like to learn how to quickly claim your power and not be a pushover, you are invited to request access to my FREE Assertiveness Accelerator.
If you prefer a personal helping hand, you may benefit from high-performance social skills and human relations coaching.
I am living, breathing proof that you can go from meek to masterful in your communications, and it will be my pleasure to help you get there too. Please comment or feel free to email or direct message me if I may help you.