Magazine article Management Today

Don't Just Stand There Say Something

Magazine article Management Today

Don't Just Stand There Say Something

Article excerpt

Can you be taught how to get your own way? Yes, say the experts, although the journey to assertiveness seems to require self-revelation and some squirmy play-acting. Helen Kirwan-Taylor rolled with the punches, so will she be asking the editor for a pay rise?

When I told my husband that I was planning to attend a two-day assertiveness training course, he burst out laughing consensus among my fellow pupils wasn't that different. It was agreed -- not more than 30 minutes into the first day by all 10 present (teacher included) -- that the person least in need of assertiveness training in the room was me.

But as Jo Rawbone, former BT executive and our course leader, would soon explain, being assertive means 'standing up for your own rights in a way that does not violate the rights of others', it does not mean shouting, stamping your feet, threatening, sulking or crying until someone gives up and gives in.

Before we could move into definitions and explanations, though, we had to do some warm-ups. Each of us was asked to give our name, occupation and a brief account of a situation in which we found it hard to be assertive. Then we had to sum up our personalities in a T-shirt size slogan. The rather dishy Italian marketing executive sitting opposite me made his position clear -- 'don't waste my time' was his nominated slogan. The [pound]695 (plus VAT) course by management consultancy MaST was, from what I could gather, an alternative to taking two consecutive 'duvet' days.

Asking 10 total strangers to 'share' and admit to moments of vulnerability is not the fastest way to get things going (particularly as three participants worked for the same bank). There was a lot of staring at ceilings and bouncing of pencils on tables. After much deliberation, the pretty but rather fed-up looking member of amedia personnel department finally came up with 'drama queen'.

A formidable and very funny Mama Cass double, a bank employee who arrived cursing her company for having sent her (she viewed the course as a punishment), chose 'lack of confidence'. Her inassertiveness had to do with being overworked and having colleagues who annoyed her -- by drinking on the job, for example.

The least assertive member of the group, a shy accountant with an abusive boss, said: 'Projecting yourself in group meetings.' My problem, I told the bemused group, was asking for what I want. For my T-shirt slogan I chose 'I get mad (when I don't get my way)'. Then it was time for school.

With a big bold pen and a large flip-chart, Rawbone took down our various definitions of assertive: sticking up for yourself, making your position clear, boundaries, knowing what you want and asking for it, not getting pushed around, etc. Then we got to open our MaST course book to chapter one (Attitude), page five: Johari's Window. This model, invented by two American psychologists, is meant to chart how people reveal themselves. I can't say I understood a word of it, although I did scroll down to a bit about hidden and transparent areas (there was something about bad breath, a blind area), then, mercifully, it was time for coffee.

At this point, the missing member of our group, a bolshie funeral director who needs assertiveness training like I need a new pair of shoes, joined us. Here was a man currently in legal action against his union -- not someone who has a problem saying no.

After the break, we took a questionnaire on our 'driver' (the belief system that drives our behaviour). This consisted of 12 sections, each divided into five statements; for example, 'endurance is a valuable asset'. The more the statement applied to oneself, the higher the score. Unfortunately, it soon became evident that in order to calculate the score you had to have studied maths, so several of the bankers were called on to assist me. Most of the women were heavily BP (be perfect), TH (try hard) and PP (please people) drivers. …

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