Five Steps to Being Assertive Without Being Aggressive

Dr. Purushothaman
October 1, 2013

She looked at me and said, "I'll do whatever it takes to make it right. What do you want me to do?" The right words but her hands were on her hips, her legs were spread apart and she was looking down her nose at me. Everything screamed, "Lady, you really are the problem. Just tell me what it takes to get rid of you." And everything in my body tightened for battle.

There is a distinct difference between being assertive and being aggressive. One can move you up the corporate ladder while the other can alienate you. Let's start by defining the two words. Assertive is putting forward positively and with confidence even in the face of adversity. Aggressive is putting forward in a combative readiness. Both are forceful only one does it by breaking you the other by working with you.

In the example above, the sales women's words were positive but her body language was combative and aggressive. Aggressive behavior will push people away or cause people to be defensive with you. You only want to resort to this behavior when you are pushed to the brink and you are willing to handle the consequences for that behavior.

The difficulty becomes in learning how to say what you mean and mean what you say without being mean. There will be times you will need to buck heads with people and times your point will not be the most favorable opinion in town. But it doesn't mean that those times need to be full armored confrontations. Instead you just need to learn how to assertively speak so people WANT to listen to you.

Follow these five quick steps to ensure that you get your point across without pain:

1. Know the outcome/result you want from this communication. This is the framework you want the listener to think in and it sets the tone for how you will phrase questions and present your ideas. This tells the other person exactly what you want from them and what they need to focus on during your discussion. Are you looking for an answer? Ideas? For them to buy? Think deeper. In a memo, this should be your headline. 90% of all people I work with never stop to think about what they really want from a discussion, they just assume the other person will think the same way they do.
2. Think about what objections or concerns others might have and address those upfront. You had better address these upfront. Trying to ignore them or breeze over them causes the other person to think, "yeah, but…" and you never get 100% of their attention. On top of that, their energy gets spent on refuting what you are saying instead of on helping you discover solutions. If you don't shatter those objections you will not shatter their resistance.
3. State the bottom line and address the concerns/objections you think might come up. What is the outcome you want? Give it straight out. This again helps them focus their attention.
4. Give supporting data/facts. You need to be able to support what you are saying with the whys.
5. Summary/call to action. Rephrase your original question and drive toward the outcome desired.

Here's is how it looks in action:
Situation: You have a new idea of how to turn call-in requests for bank CD rates into new customers. You believe this new system; although it will take extra time can generate 30% of new business for the bank.

Taking the situation through all five steps:
1. Outcome you want from this communication: You want the bank to take action on your idea of how to generate new business from call-ins.
2. What objections/concerns might they have? It is too difficult, it requires us to have more face to face appointments, it might cost us too much in people's time while it gets up and going, we have too much change already.
3. State the bottom line and answer objections: You say: "I have an idea of how we can generate some new business from our call in requests for CD pricing. My question is, what is the best way to get this idea implemented so people are excited about it? As you listen to this business idea you may be thinking, "we all have a lot on our plates right now, it sounds like work, will it really drive new business or how will it fit with all the change we have going on. I will address all of these issues and show how it can add an additional 30% to our bottom line."
4. Give supporting facts/data. Here you would explain the procedure that is followed right now for a call in, what you propose happens instead and how that will generate new business. For example, you might say, "Right now when a person calls in for a CD we quote them the rate, thank them for the call or maybe, ask if they want to talk with a bank officer. I recommend we have them immediately transfer the person to a loan officer who will say, "in order to make sure that we recommend the best option for you, can you please share with me the following information." And he/she will ask the following three questions…
5. Summary/call to action. So based on what you heard, what is the best way for us to implement this new strategy and get everyone on board?

Pay attention to your last question because it sets the tone for the next discussion. If I had ended the presentation with "Based on what you heard, can we get this up and going?" I would be openly asking for people to agree or disagree with what I said and I would have moved myself to a defensive position rather than an offensive position.

Take Action: Try these steps next time you have to present an idea or thought to someone. They also work great when you have to deal with a difficult situation or troublesome person since it gets you both on the same page. You don't have to put on your combat gear to get your idea across and you don't have to be agreeable to everyone. You do have to state your thoughts and ideas in a nonjudgmental manner so others put their armor down and you focus on the outcome. Remember, it is what you say AND how you say it that counts!

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