Assertiveness training is one of the most important tools anyone can have in life, especially when standing up to difficult and toxic co-workers. Rid yourself of childhood restrictions, fear, hesitation, and social misinformation. Know the difference between being aggressive – which includes bullying, yelling, screaming, intimidation – versus being assertive – which consists of being diplomatic, strong, factual, clear, and firm, which can successfully solve interpersonal difficulties in your life. Stop being a martyr, a victim, and a doormat. Avoid blaming other people for your situation. Believe that there is a workable resolution. Take responsibility and stand up for yourself to get what you need and want from others in a caring, direct way. Good co-workers know how to be positive, identify the faulty behavior, and focus quickly on a win/win solution.
Here are the steps of assertiveness:
1) State the Problem — Use “The Sandwich Technique” – Start out with a positive compliment about the person. Then go directly to the problem and give clear feedback. Give examples of the toxic or faulty behavior and how you want it to change, and then end on a positive note of what you’d like to have happen.. Use the word “and” which is inclusive, and makes both statements true, and not the word, “but,” which negates what precedes it. Example:
Bob: “Jack, I enjoy working with you, and we’ve been working together for five years so I know what a good job you do. I’ve noticed your work isn’t in on time and I’m wondering what’s wrong. It’s unlike you. Is there anything I or any of us or even the company or our boss can do to help you meet your deadlines? We like you and want to empower you to meet your deadlines.”
2) State Your Feelings — Say how the person’s behavior makes you feel. Use words like frustrated, angry, and annoyed. Be specific. Avoid accusations, blame, or finger-pointing. Stay away from words like “never” or “always.” A phrase like, “When you do ___, I feel ___” is more specific and helpful. End on a positive note.
Bob: “When your work isn’t completed on time, it slows up the whole department because we all depend on your reports. When you don’t give me advance notice, I can’t make arrangements with the others. I need to know what’s wrong so we can correct it. When you don’t tell me what’s happening, I feel cut out of the loop, powerless, and frustrated. And because I like working with you I really would like to solve this so I can get my report in on time and everyone in the department can to since it’s like a domino effect here.”
3) Offer Solutions — Give the person various options for their behavior and how much better it would be when behavior changes, ending on a positive note again.
Bob: “What can I do to help you to get the reports in on time? Do you need my help or should we ask the boss if we can hire another administrative assistant for a few days? Do you need to partner up with someone to share the workload? Should we all split an assignment to make it completed faster? Are there any problems at work I can take care of? Let me know so we can fix it and you can make your deadlines because we like working with you and hope that we can solve this quickly.”
4) Give an Ultimatum — If the situation doesn’t improve, you’ll have to issue an ultimatum. Some people like to include it with the first conversation so the other person knows where they stand. State what you intend to do if compliance isn’t achieved, like reporting it to the boss or HR.
Bob: “If you can’t get the reports in on time, let me know immediately. If your work continues to be late, you are jeopardizing my job, other people’s jobs, as well as your position at the company. You may be demoted or fired. If it continues, I may have to report it to our boss or to HR if it’s not corrected and I’d rather not have to do that, so please get the reports in on time.”
5) Look and Listen — Hear the person’s response and their feedback. Be quiet and listen to what the person is saying and how they’re saying it. Observe their body language and what it conveys. Know what they are saying between the lines. Use Active Listening techniques formulated by Dr. Carl Rogers, founder of client-centered therapy, to establish rapport by paraphrasing what you hear, so both parties are in agreement in the communication. End on a positive note.
Bob: “I understand that you thought you could get it done without coming to me, and now you see you couldn’t do it. I know how hard you’re working and what pressure you must feel. You’re looking down and having trouble looking me in the eye, so it seems like you’re ashamed and know you should have come to me sooner. I understand. Let’s correct it.”
6) Dialogue — Have an honest discussion, listen, don’t interrupt each other, and comment on each thing the person says–be prepared to hear them respond to each thing you have said. Make notes to remember what points to reply to, especially when the person is talking to you and you don’t want to interrupt.
Bob: “I’m not here to blame you, I’m here to find a win/win solution that works for all of us. Let’s see how we can remedy this. Perhaps an assistant will be the solution and we should go to the boss to ask for one or to HR. And if they say no, we’ll have to divide the workload. You’ll also have to use better time management skills to get your work in on time because I don’t know if other people will want to divide your work load again. Let’s see what our options are.”
7) Resolution — Decide what the action plan will be and agree on it, perhaps in writing. Do the research, ask the questions, and make it happen to solve the challenging situation.
Bob: “So, Jack, since our boss and HR won’t approve an assistant, I’ve talked to the people in the office and we’ll have to divide your work load. They’re not happy about this. They’ve agreed to do it just this one time. They’re not being paid extra for it, so it shouldn’t happen again. You’ve got to learn better time management techniques. We all like working with you and you’re part of the team and we want to empower you to come up to speed here because we need this to be a win/win solution.. I’m sure you understand.”
8 ) Follow Up — Send a letter and/or email summarizing the discussion and what the decision was. Bob should email it and cc it to whoever might also be affected – co-workers in the office, the boss, HR, etc., to cover himself, Jack, and others. I recommend hand delivering a copy directly to Jack as well so Jack can’t say, “I never got it.” According to one tech consultant, approximately 5%-7% of all emails never reach their intended place. Add a sentence at the end, like, “If you have any questions about or additions to this memo, please respond in writing.” This allows the co-worker recourse to respond, and ensures that you have covered your back, which is crucial in any company, whether you are the co-worker, boss, or owner. People can say, “I never said that,” or “I didn’t agree to that,” but if you put it in writing, then you’re covered. Ask them to send a reply email, agreeing to the solution. If they don’t, ask them if they are in accord and get them to sign a paper that they are. Then proceed with the solution. If they refuse, then it’s time to go to your boss and/or HR. You’ve done as much as you can.
These steps of assertiveness can assist and empower you no matter your position in a company when you are dealing with toxic situations. Be clear, firm, and compassionate. Stay focused, communicate honestly and openly, and cooperate for a win/win solution. It works!
Linnda Durré, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist, business consultant, corporate trainer, national speaker, and columnist. She has hosted and co-produced two live call-in TV shows, including “Ask The Family Therapist” on America’s Health Network, which was associated with Mayo Clinic. She is the author of “Surviving The Toxic Workplace: Protect Yourself Against the Co-Workers, Bosses, and Work Environments That Poison Your Day” (2010 – McGraw-Hill). She has been interviewed on Oprah, 60 Minutes, The Today Show, Good Morning America, and O’Reilly, and the national and/or local news on ABC, CBS, NBC, NPR, PBS, Fox and CW. She has written for Forbes, Orlando Business Journal, and American Cities Business Journals. For more information about her consulting or speaking, contact her at [email protected] and 407-739-8620.