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Asserting Yourself at Work

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Asserting Yourself at Work
Constance Zimmerman
with Richard Luecke
Neither the writers nor the American Management Association guarantees the results of the information, guidelines, and tech-
niques presented in this work.
Copyright 2010 American Management Association. All rights reserved.
This material may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in whole or in part, in any form or by any means,
electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
ISBN-10: 0-7612-1436-4
ISBN-13: 978-0-7612-1436-6
Printed in the United States of America.
AMACOM Self Study Program
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
About This Course xi
How to Take This Course xiii
Introduction xv
Pre-Test xvii
1 AssertivenessWhat It Is and Why It Matters 1
Assertiveness Defined
The Assertive Mode
Assertiveness and the New Workplace
Assertiveness as a Signaling Mechanism
Assertiveness as a Learned Behavior
Review Questions
2 Progress Begins with Self-Awareness 11
Benchmarking Your Motivations
Your Assertiveness Profile
Your Score
Interpreting Your Score
What Influences Your Assertiveness Mode?
Childhood Experiences
The Transference Trap
The Role of Attitude
Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence
Review Questions
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3 Building Your Assertiveness 31
Your Needs, Wants, Interests, Values, and Goals
Your Goals
Short-Term Goals
Intermediate Goals
Long-Term Goals
Legacy Goals
Speaking Up for What Matters to You at Work
Engage in a Positive Internal Dialogue
Verbally Communicate in Assertive Ways
Use the Most Effective Communication Channel
Practice Good Timing
Assertive Written Communication
Have a Clear Purpose
Make Your Message Clear and Crisp
Use the Most Effective and Appropriate Mode
Review Questions
4 Assertive Nonverbal Communication 59
The Power of Nonverbal Communication
Six Dimensions of Nonverbal Communication
Body Movement
Body Contact
Eye Contact
Interpersonal Space
Putting Together the Dimensions for Assertive Nonverbal Communi-
cation (ANC)
Make Proper Use of Space
Maintain a Professional Appearance
Give a Firm Handshake
Use Direct Eye Contact
Use Good Posture
Purposeful Gestures
Control Your Facial Expressions
Effective Vocal Delivery
A Nonverbal Communication Journal
Align Your Verbal and Nonverbal Communication
Review Questions
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5 Assertiveness Opportunities at Work 87
Developing Positive Visibility at Work
Action #1: Speak Up and Share Your Views
Action #2: Participate Actively in Meetings
Action #3: Disagree Agreeably
Action #4: Be Your Own Best Champion
Action #5: Handle Compliments with Grace
Action #6: Look at Constructive Criticism as a Self-Improvement Opportunity
Action #7: Create a Daily Assertiveness Plan
Take Responsibility for Your Performance at Work
Take Credit for Your Successes
Dont Take Responsibility If Its Not Yours
Review Questions
6 Addressing the Needs and Interests of Others 103
Evaluating Your Listening Skills: A Self-Assessment
Totaling Your Score
Interpreting Your Score
Moving Toward Assertive Listening
Three Levels of Listening
Level 1: Listening to Be Aware
Level 2: Listening to Learn
Level 3: Listening to Engage
Exploring the Needs and Interests of Others
Create a Safe Environment
Ask Probing Questions
Avoid Questions that Provoke a Defensive Response
Be Proactive
Cultural Barriers to Communicating Needs and Interests
Time and Trust Building
Cultural Dimensions
Responding to the Needs and Interests of Others
Think It Over
Focus on the Issue, Not the Person
Use Collaborative Language
Expand the Options
Find Common Ground
Aim for Win-Win
Win Graciously
Review Questions
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7 Identifying and Maintaining Assertive 139
Boundaries at Work
Identifying Boundaries at Work
Boundaries of Respect
Boundaries of Ethics
Boundaries of Time
Boundaries of Heath and Safety
Boundaries of Discrimination and Sexual Harassment
Maintaining Assertive Boundaries at Work
Say No Literally
No in Other Words
Say No Right Away to Sexual Harassment
Review Questions
8 Assertiveness and Dealing with Difficult 157
Four Techniques for Dealing with Difficult People
The Screaming Rant Defense
The Broken Record Technique
Negative Inquiry
Disarming the Workplace Bully
Understand the Bullys Goal
Determine If Youre a Target
Protect Your Self
Blow the Whistle
Get Yourself Out of the Bulls-eye
Review Questions
9 From Assertiveness to Influence 169
What Is Influence?
The Role of Influence in the Workplace
Three Building Blocks of Influence
Review Questions
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Appendix: Your Assertiveness Checksheet 181
Bibliography 183
Recommended Resources 187
Web Sites 189
Glossary 191
Post-Test 195
Index 201
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Asserting Yourself at Work provides business professionals with the communi-
cation tools and psychological foundation they need to perform more as-
sertively on the job. Designed for front-line managers, supervisors, team
leaders, team members, employees, and life-long learners, this course pro-
motes the use of direct, inclusive communication as a powerful tool for achiev-
ing targeted goals and building lasting relationships.
Asserting Yourself at Work teaches students the skills they need to behave
and communicate more assertivelyand therefore more effectivelyin the
workplace. Students learn to address their needs and interests at work, and,
at the same time, consider the needs and interests of others. Beginning with
the foundation of self-awareness, the course builds these skills step by step.
Students learn about and practice assertive verbal and nonverbal communi-
cation techniques, learn how to set proper boundaries in workplace relation-
ships, and analyze how assertiveness plays out in other cultures. The
interactive format includes self-assessment tools, worksheets, sidebars, exer-
cises, and quizzes that prompt students all along the way.
Constance Zimmerman served as an adjunct professor with the Center
for Management Communication at the Marshall School of Business at the
University of Southern California. She was a nonfiction writer and producer
of television, film, and corporate media, and the instructional designer of in-
teractive training programs. She was a producer of the PBS telecourse, Intro-
duction to Business Communication: Tools for Leadership, which won the 1998
Excellence in Distance Learning Teaching Award from the U.S. Distance
Learning Association. She was also the lead instructional designer and co-
writer of the telecourses student and faculty guides issues, and writer of CRM
Films award-winning video Dealing with Conflict.
Ms. Zimmerman wrote leaders guides and training designs on a number
of topics, including leadership, non-defensive communication, verbal com-
munication, teamwork, and stress management. She earned M.F.A and B.A.
degrees from the University of California, Los Angeles.
About This Course
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
Richard Luecke has been a freelance business writer since 1992. His
books have been published by Oxford University Press, John Wiley & Sons,
Harvard Business School Press, and AMACOM. In addition to self-study
courses, he has developed many teaching cases for M.B.A. and executive ed-
ucation courses, and has collaborated with business school faculty, manage-
ment consultants, and corporate executives on dozens of publications.
Mr. Luecke earned an M.B.A. from the University of St. Thomas and a
B.A. in History from Shimer College.
AMACOM Self Study Program
This course consists of text material for you to read and three types of activ-
ities (the pre- and post-test, in-text exercises, and end-of-chapter review ques-
tions) for you to complete. These activities are designed to reinforce the
concepts introduced in the text portion of the course and to enable you to
evaluate your progress.
Both a pre-test and post-test are included in this course. Take the pre-test
before you study any of the course material to determine your existing knowl-
edge of the subject matter. Submit one of the scannable answer forms en-
closed with this course for grading. On return of the graded pre-test,
complete the course material. Take the post-test after you have completed all
the course material. By comparing results of the pre-test and the post-test,
you can measure how effective the course has been for you.
To have your pre-test and post-test graded, please mail your answer
forms to:
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hard copy of the course from or you can purchase an
online version of the course from
How to Take This Course
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THe TexT
The most important component of this course is the text, where the concepts
and methods are presented. Reading each chapter twice will increase the like-
lihood of your understanding the text fully.
We recommend that you work on this course in a systematic way. Reading
the text and working through the exercises at a regular and steady pace will help
ensure that you get the most out of this course and retain what you have learned.
In your first reading, concentrate on getting an overview of the chapter
content. Read the learning objectives at the beginning of the chapter first.
They will act as guidelines to the major topics of the chapter and identify the
skills you should master as you study the text. As you read the chapter, pay
attention to the headings and subheadings. Find the general theme of each
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ing and remembering the major themes.
In your second reading, look for the details that underlie the themes.
Read the entire chapter carefully and methodically, underlining key points,
working out the details of examples, and making marginal notes as you go.
Complete the activities.
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After reading a chapter and before going on to the next chapter, work through
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Welcome to the American Management Associations Self-Study course on
Asserting Yourself at Work. Assertiveness is a form of behavior and communica-
tion that individuals can use to stand up for their needs and interests, their
rights and values. It helps them to stand up to difficult people and stand out
from others in positive ways. Equally important, assertiveness puts them in a
position to exercise influence over their subordinates, peers, and bosses.
This course will give you the skills you need to be more assertive. By fol-
lowing its step-by-step instruction, and completing its self-assessment tools,
practical exercises, and review questions, youll learn to diagnose your current
level of assertiveness, then strengthen it.
Heres what youll learn in the chapters that follow:
Chapter Key Learnings
1 This chapter provides a working definition of assertiveness and contrasts it
with two other modes of behavior and communication: passivity and
aggression. The benefits of assertiveness for the individual and his or her
organization are spelled out and contrasted to the problems associated with
the other two modes.
2 This chapter helps readers explore their goals and motivation for becoming
more assertive and describe where they currently stand on the passive-
assertive-aggressive continuum. The key influences in a persons life that affect
assertiveness are explained and illustrated.
3 This chapter explores how to identify ones needs, wants, interests, and
values. These are examined in the context of short-, medium-, and long-term
goals. The chapter introduces skills and strategies to develop assertive verbal
and written communication.
Designed for frontline managers, supervisors, team members, and rank-
and-file employees, Asserting Yourself at Work promotes forms of behavior and
communication that will help you be more successful and more satisfied in
your working life.
Chapter Key Learnings
4 This chapter focuses on the importance of assertive nonverbal communication.
It explores the differences between passive, aggressive, and assertive
nonverbal cues. The six key dimensions of assertive nonverbal communication
(ANC) are introduced, with an explanation of how they can be combined to
strengthen nonverbal communication. Strategies for aligning verbal and
nonverbal communication are examined.
5 This chapter examines strategies and actions for creating a positive and visible
presence at work. Seven practical actions are listed, including one that involves
creating a daily action plan. The importance of taking ownership, or
responsibility, for ones successes and failures at work is also addressed.
6 This chapter explores the importance of listening in understanding the needs
and interests of others in the workplace. It identifies the three levels of listening
and examines techniques to explore others needs and interests. Multicultural
barriers that may keep people from disclosing their needs, interests, and
concerns are examined, as well as techniques for responding to them.
7 This chapter defines assertive boundaries in the workplace. It examines
boundaries related to respect, ethics, time, health and safety, and
discrimination. Techniques for maintaining these boundaries are provided.
8 This chapter defines four techniques for dealing with difficult or hostile people
and strategies for implementation. Practical methods for dealing with
workplace bullies are also explored.
9 This chapter provides a definition of influence and explores how it works in
organizations. The three building blocks of influences are examined, and a
method for mapping the pattern of influence in your immediate workplace is
AMACOM Self Study Program
Asserting Yourself at Work
Course Code 97004
INSTRUCTIONS: Record your answers on one of the scannable forms enclosed. Please fol-
low the directions on the form carefully. Be sure to keep a copy of the completed answer
form for your records. No photocopies will be graded. When completed, mail your answer
form to:
educational Services
American Management Association
P.O. Box 133
Florida, NY 10921
If you are viewing the course digitally, the scannable forms enclosed in the hard copy of
AMA Self-Study titles are not available digitally. If you would like to take the course for
credit, you will need to either purchase a hard copy of the course from or you can purchase an online version of the course from
1. Which of the following is representative of a person with an assertive
mode of communicating and acting?
(a) Defends his or her personal boundaries against infringement
(b) Aims to dominate others
(c) Submits to the desires of others
(d) Avoids eye contact
Do you have questions? Comments? Need clarification?
Call Educational Services at 1-800-225-3215
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2. Research indicates that non-verbal elements of communication such as
voice tone, facial expression, and posture account for ____________
percent of what a listener perceives.
(a) 93
(b) 55
(c) 20
(d) 7
3. Voice tone, speaking rate, vocal inflection, volume, energy level, and
fluency are all aspects of:
(a) paralanguage.
(b) aggressive communication.
(c) a passive speaking style.
(d) assertiveness.
4. For a high school freshman, becoming a medical doctor would be a:
(a) short-term goal.
(b) intermediate goal.
(c) long-term goal.
(d) legacy goal.
5. Active listening:
(a) aims to exert psychological control over the speaker.
(b) involves detailed note-taking.
(c) goes beyond passive absorption of information to active
involvement in communication.
(d) requires a superior/subordinate relationship between two parties.
6. Which of the following best describes the behavior or communication
of a passive person?
(a) Displays hostile facial expressions when challenged
(b) Does not attempt to influence others
(c) Will explain his or her viewpoint without coaxing
(d) Is more thoughtful and observant than other people
7. A person can achieve positive visibility in an organization by:
(a) learning to disagree agreeably.
(b) tagging along with the boss whenever possible.
(c) playing up his or her accomplishments.
(d) avoiding conflict.
8. The boundary of time that must be assertively defended refers to a
persons right to:
(a) a healthy balance between workplace and personal needs.
(b) the efficient use of time spent at work.
(c) time management principles.
(d) reduce working hours as he or she approaches retirement.
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9. The abstract ideals we adhere to, and for which we wish to be
known are:
(a) legacy goals.
(b) needs.
(c) values.
(d) rights.
10. ________________, or the view that the glass is half full, gives us the
courage and incentive we need to pursue what we want.
(a) Deep-seated pessimism
(b) Strategic thinking
(c) Self-deception
(d) Positive thinking
11. In a high power distance culture, subordinates are likely to tell their
(a) exactly whats on their minds.
(b) what they think their superiors want to hear.
(c) as much as they are asked to tell.
(d) personal confidences that their superiors may not want to know.
12. Assertiveness:
(a) is a mode of behavior that people are born with, but which they
cannot develop.
(b) is only useful for people in supervisory or managerial positions.
(c) must be suppressed when dealing with senior people in the
(d) can be developed through learning and practice.
13. To come across as an assertive communicator, you should:
(a) avoid beginning your sentences with I think . . . .
(b) give all the details, then state your key message.
(c) always put it in writing.
(d) apologize first for the problem.
14. In confronting unsafe or unhealthy workplace conditions,
assertive people:
(a) whine to their bosses.
(b) complain among themselves.
(c) pose their concerns as problems that need to be solved.
(d) look for the companys point of view.
15. An assertive person will take credit for his or her accomplishments,
but will also:
(a) avoid actively taking responsibility for failures.
(b) take responsibility for mistakes made by others.
(c) remind people of his or her successes whenever possible.
(d) acknowledge the contributions of others.
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16. In Maslows hierarchy of needs, ___________________ is a high-level
(a) food
(b) safety
(c) shelter
(d) self-esteem
17. ____________ have trouble accepting their own mistakes and the
mistakes of others.
(a) Pragmatists
(b) Objectivists
(c) Perfectionists
(d) Career climbers
18. Which of the following countries has a collectivist culture?
(a) United States
(b) United kingdom
(c) Canada
(d) Japan
19. Constant criticism, diminishing or denying a persons achievements,
public humiliation, screaming, blaming, the silent treatment, and
making threats (of job loss) are indicators of:
(a) micromanagement.
(b) excessive supervision.
(c) bullying.
(d) multitasking.
20. A situation in which aggressiveness may be appropriate behavior is:
(a) giving feedback to a subordinate.
(b) establishing a relationship with a new co-worker.
(c) taking charge during an emergency.
(d) enlisting collaboration within your team.
21. The greatest test of assertiveness is:
(a) aligning verbal and nonverbal messages.
(b) dealing with hostile or difficult people.
(c) moving from a passive to a passive-aggressive state.
(d) scoring a job interview.
22. The building blocks of influence include:
(a) cunning.
(b) substantial formal power.
(c) credibility and self-confidence.
(d) a lofty goal.

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23. A person who comes to meetings prepared and who participates
actively is likely to create _________________________
in the organization.
(a) charisma
(b) conflict
(c) enemies
(d) positive visibility
24. An assertive technique for diffusing another persons criticism of you is:
(a) negative inquiry.
(b) ranting.
(c) becoming aggressive.
(d) denial.
25. The ability to change the thinking or behavior of others without
applying force, threats, or formal orders refers to:
(a) assertiveness.
(b) influence.
(c) behavior modification.
(d) motivation.
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AssertivenessWhat it is
and Why it Matters
Learning Objectives
By the end of this chapter, you should be able

Define passivity, assertiveness, and aggres-


Explain how organizations that depend on

employee empowerment and team-based
work benefit from assertive employees.
What do we mean by assertiveness? Why should it matter to you and to your
organization? How does it different from other modes of behavior and com-
munication? This chapter defines what is meant by assertiveness and how it
contrasts with passive and aggressive modes, which can reduce a persons
workplace effectiveness and career success.
Assertiveness DefineD
Assertiveness is a mode of personal behavior and communication characterized
by a willingness to stand up for ones needs and interests in an open and direct
way. The assertive person stands up for things that matter to him or her while
at the same time respecting the things that matter to others. Youve probably
known people who live this definition: the boss who is open to your ideas, but
who reserves the right to make final decisions; the co-worker who isnt afraid
to speak up during meetings and to defend her viewpoints.
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
the Assertive Mode
People who function in the assertive mode look after their own needs and in-
terests and recognize the needs and interests of others. They do this in the
proper balance. Assertive people have a strong sense of self-esteem that allows
them to protect their rights. They use open, direct, and honest communication
with others. When they feel angry or upset, they confront the source of their
anger immediately in an objective way. They make themselves visible in or-
ganizations and work collaboratively with others. They take responsibility for
their decisions and behavior, and own up to their mistakes. They are calculated
some assertive people were raised in affirmative, nurturing environments
that provided role models for career success. others did not have the advan-
tage of positive childhoods or role models. They chose to overcome obstacles
and become assertive, seeing that mode of behavior and communication as
the best way to operate and to reach their goals.
Assertiveness is best understood in relation to two very different and op-
posing forms of personal behavior and communication: passivity and aggression.
Passivity is an unassertive condition characterized by submissiveness and a fear
or unwillingness to stand up for ones needs and interests. The passive person
holds back from attempting to influence others, and instead allows others to
influence him or her and disrespect his or her rights and boundaries. Because
the passive person does not assert his or her views or argue on their behalf,
his or her views are generally unclear or unknown to others, making dialogue
and idea sharing difficult.
People who function in the passive (or non-assertive) mode often address
the needs and concerns of others before they address their own. They will be
quick to apologize, sometimes for things they didnt do. Theyre inclined to
be quiet, soft-spoken, and even timid. They prefer to be invisible, rather than
visible in organizations. They find it difficult to speak up in meetings or speak
out about things that upset them. They have trouble accepting compliments.
rather than confronting a person or situation directly, they will hold their
feelings inside or complain about the problem to someone else. When they
feel angry, theyre apt to suppress it.
Passive people find it hard to stand up for their rights and may allow peo-
ple to violate their boundaries. These individuals may come from nurturing
cultures that foster personal relationships over individual achievement. They
may have spent their formative years in collectivist rather than in competitive
situations. in general, more women than men are non-assertive, but thats been
changing as women take on higher positions in the workplaceand new gen-
erations of women graduate from professional education programs.
What does a passive person sound like? Consider this example:
rachel was given a project i deserved to get. i have more experi-
ence and, i believe, am better qualified. i even suggested ideas on
how to get the project going. now rachel will use my ideas and
2 AssErTing YoursElf AT Work
AMACOM Self Study Program
get the credit. ill admit, she lobbied Mr. Cullen pretty hard for
the assignment. i didnt. i just didnt feel comfortable promoting
myself like that.
Are you a passive person at workeither out of disinterest, fear, or lack
of confidence? Do you know others who demonstrate the characteristics of
passivity: a colleague who seldom speaks up during meetings or when deci-
sions that affect him are being made; a subordinate who is reluctant to share
her ideas with you?
As a form of personal behavior or communication, aggression is the opposite
of passivity. The aggressive person has no reluctance in imposing his or her
views on others, or harming their interests in the pursuit of his or her own.
rather than collaborate with others, the aggressive person prefers to domi-
nate, using threats, organizational authority, or bullying when necessary. He
or she tends to micromanage the work of subordinates; things must be done
his or her way. This person resists the influence of those seen as less powerful.
in many cases, the aggressive person is unaware of his or her effect on oth-
ersthis person thinks that he or she is simply being assertive. Consider this
i just got a 360-degree performance review from my staff, boss, and
peers. They said that i seem obsessed with micromanaging the de-
partment. My direct reports claim they have little input into deci-
sions and that i look for someone to blame when things go wrong.
They claim that i use my power to belittle them. someone even used
the word toxic to describe me. Toxic! Where did that come from?
i dont see myself that way. i push my staff to perform at a peak level,
as any good manager would. Even so, our numbers have been down
for the last two quarters. My boss thinks theres a link between my
style and those disappointing results.
People who function in the aggressive mode look after their own needs
and interests first. The needs and interests of others are always secondary.
reminiscent of the old soviet line that Whats mine is mine, whats yours is
negotiable, they stand up for their rights, but often at the expense of others.
Aggressive people have little trouble accepting compliments and may
take credit for other peoples work. Theyre often loud and visible in organi-
zations. They have difficulty controlling their anger and may humiliate others
in public. They violate other peoples boundaries. indirect forms of aggression,
such as sarcasm, are used to put down or control others.
some aggressive people come from achieving cultures that value indi-
vidual success more than personal relationships. They may have spent their
formative years in competitive rather than in nurturing social structures. in
general, more men than women are aggressive, although thats changing, es-
pecially in highly competitive fields.
AssErTivEnEssWHAT iT is AnD WHY iT MATTErs 3
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The attributes of passivity, assertiveness, and aggression are summarized in
Exhibit 1-1.
You can probably see the superiority of the assertive mode of behavior
and communication over passivity and aggressionboth from a personal ca-
reer and organizational effectiveness perspective. By being open to influence,
assertive people are able to influence others in return. By defending their
views and rights from infringement, assertive people maintain their position.
A Mixed Mode: Passive-Aggressive Behavior
A subset of the passive mode is worth mentioning herepassive-aggressive
behavior. As weve discussed, people who are passive often have trouble
confronting situations that upset them in open and direct ways. instead,
they are inclined to stifle their anger, and then complain about the person
or situation to someone elseor unleash their anger down the road at
someone who had nothing to do with the problem. in short, people who
behave in a passive-aggressive way are passive when a troubling situation
arises, but aggressive in venting their anger.
4 AssErTing YoursElf AT Work
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xhibit 1-1
The Passive-Assertive-Aggressive Continuum
Passivity Assertiveness Aggression
Does not stand up for
his/her interests and
viewpoints, but submits
to those of others
Does not share his/her
views on whats
Allows others to
disrespect his/her
opinions and rights
Does not try to influence
Demonstrates a lack of
confidence in dealing
with more assertive
More inclined to react
than to act
Speaks his/her mind
Makes his/her agenda
Not afraid to attempt to
influence others
Respects the views and
rights of others
Defends his/her views,
rights, and boundaries
against infringement
Controls anger
Uses aggressive
behavior defensively
Is open to influence even
as he/she seeks to
influence others
Aims for dominance over
Imposes his/her views on
Does not respect views
or boundaries of others
Resistant to influence by
May lose control of
his/her anger
Uses threats to get
his/her way
Is in your face
Aims to be highly visible
Aggressive co-workers recognize that assertive people must be taken seriously
and approached with respect. When assertive people speak their mind on is-
sues that matter to them and to the organization, they contribute to important
decisionsthereby shaping the organization and influencing its direction.
Higher management, peers, and subordinates alike see assertive individuals
as people to be reckoned withpeople with something to contribute. This
often translates into greater career opportunities.
in contrast, passive people are like leaves floating in a stream, drawn
along by the current, but making no impact on the direction or speed of the
flow. They will have few opportunities for advancement. Aggressive people,
on the other hand, may create problems for the organization and for those
around them. While aggression may get them what they want in many cases,
their behavior will prove costly in the long run. Co-workers whose views and
insights are not respected will stop offering help. Peers whose rights are in-
fringed will become enemies and may actively undermine the aggressors.
When office bullies make serious mistakes or get into tough situations, no one
wants to come to their aid.
Assertiveness AnDthe neW
The typical workplace has been transformedfrom a very controlled and
stratified environment to one that is more open and dependent on the initia-
tive of employees at all levels. This new workplace benefits from employee
until a few decades ago, most organizations followed a command-and-
control model in which information about customers and operations flowed
upward through the chain of command to the top. Workers communicated
with their supervisors. Those supervisors decided what information was rel-
evant to pass up to the next level, and so on. Based on that information, deci-
sions were made at the top level and then communicated downward through
the same chain of command. The people at or near the top did all the thinking,
deciding, and ordering; the people below followed their orders.
That command-and-control form of management has largely given way
to a new world of employee empowerment and team-based work, both of
which depend on the initiative and collaboration of employees at all levels.
Employee empowerment refers to a management style that gives subordinates sub-
stantial discretion in how they accomplish their objectives. Managers explain
what needs to be done, but leave it up to subordinates to find the best way to
do it. These same managers look to their employeeswho are much closer
to the actionfor the ideas and data on which their decisions will be made.
Empowered employees are also given greater authority over company re-
sources. for example, an employee who deals directly with customers may be
authorizedwithout first checking with his or her bossto give rebates, dis-
counts, refunds, or other services in order to resolve problems or correct er-
rors. research suggests that empowerment contributes to greater employee
motivation, productivity, and workplace satisfaction.
AssErTivEnEssWHAT iT is AnD WHY iT MATTErs 5
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
Team-based work is work performed in a coordinated manner by a set of
employees, often individuals with very different skills. Many important cus-
tomer accounts are now handled by teams that include, for example, a sales-
person, a technical support specialist, and a customer service representative.
These team members share information and ideas, and work together to get
and keep the account. likewise, new products are often developed by cross-
functional teams that include engineers, marketing and manufacturing per-
sonnel, and financial specialists.
Passivity and aggression are destructive of both employee empowerment
and team-based work. Employee empowerment depends on people taking
charge and speaking up; assertiveness on behalf of operational improvement
is required. And because empowered employees are held responsible for re-
sults, they must have the confidence and backbone to protect their ability to
think and act. Teams also depend upon their success on the assertiveness of
their members. Even when there is a formal leader, team members must have
the confidence to share ideas and information, and make a strong case for new
and better ways of doing the work. When team decisions are made, each mem-
bers voice matters. An aggressive, self-aggrandizing individual is toxic to a
smoothly functioning team. Theres no room for a person with a drill ser-
geant personality. likewise, a passive team member is unlikely to contribute
as much as he or she should.

Do you work in a team-based workplace? If you do, reflect for a moment on the behaviors and
communication styles of both you and your teammates. Would any fit our description of passivity?
If they do, briefly describe the impact of that passivity on the effective functioning of your team.
Does anyone on your team display aggressive behavior? Describe how that behavior affects the
work of your team and its operational results.
Think About It . . .
6 AssErTing YoursElf AT Work
AMACOM Self Study Program
Assertiveness as a signaling Mechanism
The new workplace depends on people being able to articulate their concerns
and respond appropriately to others. Do you communicate with an appropri-
ate level of assertiveness?
Assertiveness has a situational component because we view some things
as more important than others. Were naturally more willing to speak up for
some things than for others; we let go of things that arent worth the effort so
that we can commit our full energy to those that are. in this sense, assertive
communication sends a signal about what we value and consider important.
for example, you may not care where your company holds its annual holiday
party, but you do care about the companys formula for determining its annual
bonus. or perhaps its the other way around. You may care greatly about the
former because a more elaborate affair sends a message about how much the
company values you and your team. in any event, youre the only one who
has the right to decide these things. Being assertive on issues like these lets
other people know where you stand and what you view as important. A passive
person who never stands up or speaks out also sends a signal to othersoften
the wrong one: Whatever you decide is okay with me, or i dont care one
way or the other. What signals do these statements send?
Assertiveness as learned Behavior
Are you passive in your communications at work and frustrated by how its hold-
ing you back? Do you have an habitually aggressive approach to dealing with
othersan approach youd like to change? if you answered yes to either ques-
tion, theres good news. its possible to change. You can learn to be assertive
whatever your experiences and emotional makeupand no matter how anxious
you might feel about giving it a try. You can change patterns of behavior that
prevent you from becoming the assertive person you want to be. its similar to
the question, Are leaders made or born? some people have natural leadership
skills, while others must work to acquire those skills through learning and prac-
tice. And so it will be with your quest to become more assertive. The knowledge
you gain in this course, combined with regular practice, will make assertive be-
havior and communication second nature to you. The first step toward that goal
is self-understanding, the subject of the next chapter.

Read the following scenario, then answer the questions.
The monthly sales meeting followed its usual pattern. Rolf, the district sales manager, chaired the
meeting from his seat at the head of the conference table. He glared at his subordinates over the
rim of his glasses and said, Well, you have last months results in front of you. Theyre pathetic.
Then raising his voice, he yelled, They stink!
Except for Ellen, the five salespeople at the table and Rolfs secretary all avoided eye contact
with their boss. They found it safer to look down at the report in front of them. Unlike Rolf, the report
wouldnt bite them.
Exercise 1-1
Identify the Mode
AssErTivEnEssWHAT iT is AnD WHY iT MATTErs 7
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
Exercise 1-1 continues on next page.
Then Ellen spoke up. Yes, weve had a bad month overall, she said directly to Rolf. Then di-
verting her gaze in turn to each of the others, she continued. Each of us can certainly do better.
And we have a number of opportunities to do so. Let me list them briefly, starting with the Acme
account, where an order decision is pending.
Ellens confidence in speaking about several opportunities to bring in sales relieved some of the
tension and fear that Rolf had cast over the group. Nevertheless, the others remained silent, speaking
only to answer questions put to them directly by Rolf or Ellen. When the meeting ended, Ellen stayed
behind to talk with Rolf; the rest quickly exited the conference room and scurried back to their cubicles.
Later that day, Jim and Suzanne, two of Rolfs sales people, encountered each other in the
coffee room. That meeting was appalling. Rolf is such a jerk, Jim opined. If I didnt need the com-
mission income so badly, Id let my sales go to pot next month just to make him look bad as sales
manager. If we all did that, do you think theyd fire him? This was dangerous talk. Suzanne finished
pouring her coffee and quickly left the room.
1. Which of the characters in this scenario would you describe as aggressive? Explain.
2. Which character demonstrated assertive behavior and communication? Explain.
3. Which character displayed passive-aggressive behavior? Explain.
4. What passive behavior did you see in the scenario?
8 AssErTing YoursElf AT Work
AMACOM Self Study Program
Exercise 1-1 continued from previous page.
Assertiveness is a mode of personal behavior and communi-
cation characterized by a willingness to stand up for ones
needs, concerns, and interests in an open and direct way. As-
sertiveness stands in contrast with two other modes: passivity
and aggression. Passivity is an unassertive condition charac-
terized by submissiveness, and a fear or unwillingness to stand
up for ones needs and interests. The passive person holds back
from attempting to influence others, and instead allows others
to influence him or her and disrespect his or her rights and boundaries. on
the opposite end of the behavior continuum is aggression. The aggressive per-
son has no reluctance in imposing his or her views on others, or harming their
interests in the pursuit of his or her own. This person prefers to dominate oth-
ers than to collaborate with them. Threats, micromanaging, and bullying are
used to get his or her way.
Because the assertive mode of behavior and communication is more com-
patible with workplaces that embrace employee empowerment and team-
based work, it has career and organizational benefits that passivity and
aggression lack. Assertiveness also acts as a signaling mechanism, telling others
what the assertive person considers important. A persons natural mode of be-
havior and communication may be a product of his or her upbringing. How-
ever, that natural mode can be changed through learning and practice.
AssErTivEnEssWHAT iT is AnD WHY iT MATTErs 9
American Management Association. All rights reserved.

INSTRUCTIONS: Here is the first set of review questions in this course. Answering the questions fol-
lowing each chapter will give you a chance to check your comprehension of the concepts as they are presented
and will reinforce your understanding of them.
As you can see below, the answer to each numbered question is printed to the side of the question. Before
beginning, you should conceal the answers by placing a sheet of paper over the answers as you work down the
page. Then read and answer each question. Compare your answers with those given. For any questions you
answer incorrectly, make an effort to understand why the answer given is the correct one. You may find it
helpful to turn back to the appropriate section of the chapter and review the material of which you were unsure.
At any rate, be sure you understand all the review questions before going on to the next chapter.
1. Assertiveness can be a ________________ for letting other people 1. (a)
know what you think is important.
(a) signaling mechanism
(b) subterfuge
(c) proxy
(d) trailing indicator
2. A persons behavior and communication mode: 2. (c)
(a) is an unalterable consequence of socialization.
(b) is unrelated to upbringing and experience.
(c) can be changed through learning and practice.
(d) has no career consequences.
3. Which of the following types of workplaces depends on employee 3. (d)
assertiveness for success?
(a) A hierarchical workplace
(b) A command-and-control workplace
(c) A stratified workplace
(d) A team-based workplace
4. You are in the aggressive mode if you: 4. (b)
(a) listen to others and smooth things over to keep the peace.
(b) aim to dominate others.
(c) are quick to admit your mistakes.
(d) give balanced compliments and constructive criticism.
5. Being assertive means: 5. (b)
(a) putting other peoples needs and interests first.
(b) standing up for ones needs and interests in open and direct ways.
(c) always playing to win, no matter what the cost.
(d) combining features of both the passive and aggressive modes.
Review Questions
10 AssErTing YoursElf AT Work
Do you have questions? Comments? Need clarification?
Call Educational Services at 1-800-225-3215
or e-mail at
AMACOM Self Study Program
Progress Begins with
Learning Objectives
By the end of this chapter, you should be able

Articulate your goals and motivations for

being more assertive.

Describe where you now stand on the pas-

sive-assertive-aggressive continuum.

List key influences in your life that affect

your assertiveness.

Describe the roles of childhood experiences,

transference, and perfectionism in shaping
your assertiveness profile.

Describe the roles of attitude, self-esteem,

and self-confidence in shaping your as-
sertiveness profile.
The previous chapter defined assertiveness and identified its value to your ca-
reer and to the organization you work for. Here we shift the focus from the
subject of assertiveness to you, the reader. We aim to help you understand your
motivation for becoming more assertive and, through a self-test, provide a way
to measure where you are now on the passive-assertive-aggressive continuum.
Once you know where you stand, we will go further, probing the life influences
that have contributed to your current mode of behavior and communication.
The fact of recognizing these influences will help you control them.
BenchmarkingYour motivations
Before we get to your assertiveness profile, lets address your motivations.
What situations or concerns brought you to thinking of taking this course?
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
Were you tired of being a doormat for more aggressive people at work? if
youre an aggressive type, perhaps you wanted to tone it down after years
of alienating people with your impulse to always get the upper hand. Perhaps
you lost your job or the raise you wanted, or you were passed over for pro-
motion. Perhaps your subordinates cower when they see you or break down
when you reprimand themor even worse, shut down altogether. Perhaps
your boss, a colleague, or a loved one suggested you sign up for assertiveness
Whatever your motivation, take the time right now to think about it and
your situation. Write down your answers to the questions in exercise 2-1. An-
swer each question honestly and fully. use a separate sheet of paper if you
need more space. keep the worksheet handy so that you can mark your
progress as you move through this course.

Answer each of the following questions about your goals and motivations.
1.What situation or event prompted you to seek assertiveness training?
2. What do you expect to change or accomplish as a result of this course?
Exercise 2-1
Your Goals and Motivations
12 AsserTing YOurseLf AT WOrk
AMACOM Self Study Program
Exercise 2-1 continues on next page.
3. How do you visualize yourself once you have achieved your desired results?
How did you answer the questions in exercise 2-1? Perhaps losing a pro-
motion or important assignment to a more assertive co-worker is your moti-
vation for taking this course. Perhaps you anticipate a brighter career future
by becoming less aggressive and more assertive. Can you visualize yourself
managing people during difficult situations in ways that are respectful yet
firm? Whatever your responses, take a moment to process them and think
deeply about your style of behavior and communication, and how both could
be changed to make you more effective at work.
Your assertiveness Profile
The first step toward becoming assertive is to abide by that wise command to
know thyself. self-awareness is the foundation of self-improvement. To suc-
ceed in your quest to gain a more assertive attitude and behavior, you need a
clear idea of who you are, how you got to be what you are, and how you per-
ceive the world. While there are no easy answers to these questions, you may
experience some aha moments from time to timerevelations and insights
that spark your imagination and truly change your way of thinking. Yet, keep
in mind that many people spend years of soul-searching with professional
counselors in an effort to understand their inner selves and their outward ac-
tions. Your quest for self-awareness may continue long after you complete this
course. We encourage you to make it a lifelong journey.
The previous chapter identified a continuum of behaviors and commu-
nication, ranging from passivity on one end, with aggression on the other, and
assertiveness in the center. Before we go further, lets take stock of where you
currently stand on that continuum. is your natural inclination to be passive,
assertive, or aggressive? The self-assessment exercise presented in exercise
2-2 will help you answer that question. As you complete the exercise, be as
honest as you can. You will total and evaluate your score later.
PrOgress Begins WiTH seLf-AWAreness 13
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
Exercise 2-1 continued from previous page.

Read each statement carefully. Fill in the most appropriate answer according to the way you
typically behave in your work or office environment.
Rarely Sometimes Most of
(or Never) the Time
1. When someone says something that upsets me, _____ _____ _____
hold my feelings in or complain about it later to others.
2. When Im angry, I fly off the handle. _____ _____ _____
3. I stand up for my needs and interests at work and _____ _____ _____
acknowledge the needs and interests of others.
4. Its a competitive world, so I strive to get mine while I can. _____ _____ _____
5. I take calculated risks and view my mistakes as a _____ _____ _____
learning experience.
6. I smooth things over to keep the peace. _____ _____ _____
7. When someone says something that upsets me, _____ _____ _____
I inform him or her of my feelings right away.
8. When I criticize someone, I start with the word _____ _____ _____
you, as in, You never come to meetings on time.
9. I replay upsetting conversations or situations _____ _____ _____
over and over in my mind.
10. When a subordinate or co-worker expresses dissent, _____ _____ _____
I view it as a challenge to my authority.
11. I take responsibility for my decisions and actions at _____ _____ _____
work without blaming others.
12. When someone compliments me, I brush it off. _____ _____ _____
13. I dont admit my mistakes to others. _____ _____ _____
14. Im reluctant to give negative feedback to my teammates, _____ _____ _____
subordinates, or boss.
15. My subordinates and co-workers appear to be afraid of me. _____ _____ _____
16. I give advice to others when they havent asked for it. _____ _____ _____
17. When someone compliments me, I accept it _____ _____ _____
and say, Thank you.
18. I find it difficult to ask for feedback on my job performance. _____ _____ _____
19. In meetings, I express my ideas and listen carefully _____ _____ _____
to the ideas of others.
20. I hesitate to take risks on my job. _____ _____ _____
21. I put my needs and interests before the needs and _____ _____ _____
interests of others.
22. I welcome constructive criticism and use it to improve _____ _____ _____
my job performance.
Exercise 2-2
Your Assertiveness Profile
14 AsserTing YOurseLf AT WOrk
AMACOM Self Study Program
Exercise 2-2 continues on next page.
23. When someone strongly opposes my viewpoint, _____ _____ _____
I back down.
24. When someone says something that upsets me, _____ _____ _____
I respond with sarcasm or a put-down.
25. I respect the opinions of others, even when they _____ _____ _____
disagree with me.
26. In meetings, I keep my ideas to myself. _____ _____ _____
27. When I do something that hurts someone else, _____ _____ _____
I acknowledge it and apologize, then move on
without dwelling on it.
28. I feel uncomfortable expressing disagreement with my _____ _____ _____
boss or other authority figures.
29. If someone shouts at me during a disagreement, _____ _____ _____
I shout back.
30. I focus on objective behavior when giving _____ _____ _____
negative feedback.
Your score
now that youve completed exercise 2-2, youre ready to identify your
assertiveness profile at work. You may have gotten a sense of that profile as
you completed the exercise. But youll only know for sure by tallying your
score. Are you a little nervous about this? if you are, just bite the bullet and
follow the instructions below.
first, give yourself 10 points for each Most of the Time you marked.
Award 5 points for each sometimes; and give yourself a 0 for each rarely
(or never). next, total your score as follows:
(a) Add up your points for statements # 1, 6, 9, 12, 14, 18, 20, 23, 26, and
28. These represent the passive mode. Your highest possible total
score is 100.
record your passive score here: ______
(b) Add up your points for statements # 2, 4, 8, 10, 13, 15, 16, 21, 24, and
29. These represent the aggressive mode. Your highest possible score
is 100.
record your aggressive score here: ______
(c) now add your points for statements # 3, 5, 7, 11, 17, 19, 22, 25, 27,
and 30. These represent the assertive mode. Your highest possible
total is 100.
record your assertive score here: ______
PrOgress Begins WiTH seLf-AWAreness 15
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
Exercise 2-2 continued from previous page.
Rarely Sometimes Most of
(or Never) the Time
interpreting Your score
use the following table to interpret your score, beginning with the passive
How did you score? if you scored in the high range for the passive mode
or the aggressive mode, look at the statements you marked Most of the Time
and sometimes. These describe behaviors and attitudes you need to change or
avoid if you want to be more assertive.
next, study the statements that indicate the assertive mode (# 3, 5, 7, 11,
17, 19, 22, 25, 27, and 30). These describe behaviors and attitudes you should
actively develop into habits. if you scored in the high range for the assertive
mode (80 or higher), you already have excellent assertiveness skills in many
areas. You may want to use this course to enhance those skills, which include
verbal, nonverbal, and multicultural assertiveness. if you scored 70 or less for
the assertive mode, look at statements you marked sometimes or rarely.
These represent opportunities for improvement.
Mode Points Profile
Passive 90-100 Extremely high passive
80-89 Highly passive
70-79 Moderately high passive
55-69 Moderately passive
40-54 Low-moderate passive
Less than 40 Mildly passive
Aggressive 90-100 Extremely high aggressive
80-89 Highly aggressive
70-79 Moderately high aggressive
55-69 Moderately aggressive
40-54 Low-moderate aggressive
Less than 40 Mildly aggressive
Assertive 90-100 Extremely high assertive
80-89 Highly assertive
70-79 Moderately high assertive
55-69 Moderately assertive
40-54 Low-moderate assertive
Less than 40 Mildly assertive
16 AsserTing YOurseLf AT WOrk
AMACOM Self Study Program

Now that youve determined you own assertiveness profile, think about the profiles of at least three
of your subordinates. How do you think they would score (moderately assertive, mildly passive,
aggressive) on the same self-assessment test? Write in their names and your best guess at their
profiles below.
1. _______________________ ______________________________________________
2. _______________________ ______________________________________________
3. _______________________ ______________________________________________
If you understand their profiles, you will be in a better position to give them feedback, manage dis-
agreements, select team members for projects, and so forth.
Think About It . . .
match Your mode to the situation
Although assertiveness is the best all-around mode for workplace effec-
tiveness, there are times when it may make sense to adopt either a passive
(non-assertive) or aggressive mode. for example, your co-worker has a sick
child and needs to take the next day off. You had planned to be out of the
office that day on client calls, but respect that persons need to be home
and provide care. You reschedule your appointments and tell your co-
worker not to worry about taking the day off. in moving from assertive to
non-assertive mode, youve put your co-workers needs before your own
because you care about your long-term relationship with that employee.
Aggressiveness is also appropriate sometimesfor example, during
an emergency. Lets say that an employee has fallen down the stairs. He
may have broken bones, had a concussion, or suffered heart failure. no
one knows his condition and several people rush to his aid, but clearly
they dont know what theyre doing. Because youve had extensive first
aid training and experience, you push them aside and aggressively take
control, shouting orders as you tend to the injured person: Bill, call 9-1-
1 and get an ambulance here right away. sally, run to the closet and bring
two heavy coats; we dont want him going into shock. Moving from the
assertive to the aggressive mode makes perfect sense in this case. Other
people will usually welcome your aggressive take charge action in an
Aggressive behavior may also be appropriate when someone is ag-
gressively trying to violate your sense self-respect or clear rights. Well
have more on this in Chapter 8, which explains how to handle difficult
people and the office bully.
PrOgress Begins WiTH seLf-AWAreness 17
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
Whatinfluences Your assertiveness
now that youve identified your propensity for being passive, assertive, or ag-
gressive, its time to consider the influences that have nudged you toward that
particular mode of behavior. if youre a passive or aggressive type and want to
change, you may be asking yourself, What made me this way? The self-un-
derstanding that comes from answering that question will help you alter both
your behavior and your communication mode to one that is more effective.
People are products of both genetics and experiences: nature and nurture.
genes determine our gender, race, body type, intelligence, propensity for cer-
tain diseases, eye color, and other traits. some talents may be inherited as well.
genetic inheritance may also influence our personalities and behaviorsal-
though the extent of that influence is a matter for debate. We are also products
of our experiencesfamily and cultural settings, life-shaping events, interac-
tions with others, and so forth. Whether nature or nurture is stronger in form-
ing our personalities, character, and behavior is a subject of disagreement and
is clearly beyond the scope of this course. However, in becoming more self-
aware, its helpful to look at the traits weve inherited and how these influence
our lives. exercise 2-3 on page 19 gives you an opportunity to do that.
no one will assess these genetic influences in the same way. One person
who writes female in the gender row may identify this trait as a source of pos-
itive feeling, explaining that her mother was a positive role model who overcame
many career obstacles as a physicist, and became a stronger person in the process.
in her view, being female has added to her self-confidence. Another woman with
a different set of experiences may mark the female trait as a negative.
in contrast to genetic traits, other influencers of our lives, such as socio-
economic status, language, education, religion, and lifestyle stem from our cul-
ture and environment. if youre an African-American male from the Midwest
born into a family of medical doctors, you will have had different experiences
and opportunities than a white female born into a family of Appalachian coal
miners. if youre the child of an alcoholic parent, youll most likely have a dif-
ferent outlook on life than you would if you had parents who were moderate
drinkers. Were dealt different hands in life. nevertheless, we can play those
hands more effectively if we understand the environmental and cultural influ-
encers in our lives. exercise 2-4 on page 20 give you an opportunity to note
and think about those influencers.
As with the previous exercise relating to inherited traits, each respon-
dents profile and comments are bound to be unique. for example, a bilingual
person whose dominant culture is Hispanic (and is living in the united states)
may report positive feelings toward this cultural background, and believe that
it adds to her self-confidence. Another person from the same cultural back-
ground may report the opposite, saying that living between the two cultures
(Hispanic and Anglo) has been confusing and has detracted from his self-con-
fidence and self-esteem.
How did you respond to these cultural/environmental traits? Has com-
pleting the exercise stimulated your thinking about how your background has
shaped your position on the passive-assertive-aggressive continuum?
18 AsserTing YOurseLf AT WOrk
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Fill in the genetic traits below. Then, evaluate your feelings about each one. Do you have positive, negative, or ambivalent feelings about
these? Do you believe that these traits add to or detract from your self-confidence and self-esteem? Why?
Exercise 2-3
Identifying Life Influencers: Genetic Traits
Trait Description
Positive Feelings
(Yes or No)
Negative Feelings
(Yes or No)
Feelings (Yes or No)
Affects Self-confidence/
Esteem (Yes or No)
Talent #1
Talent #2
Body Type





Fill in the factors below. Then, evaluate your feelings about each. Do you have positive, negative, or mixed feelings about these? Do you believe that they
add to detract from your self-confidence and self-esteem? Why? (Note: Some influencers, such as sexual orientation, have a profound impact on our lives.
Yet, whether they derive from genetic or environmental factors is uncertain. To explore these influencers, use an Other category in Exercise 2-3 or 2-4, or
both. There are no right or wrong choices here.)
Exercise 2-4
Identifying Your Life Influencers: Cultural and Environmental Factors
Environmental Factors
Positive Feelings
(Yes or No)
Negative Feelings
(Yes or No)
Feelings (Yes or No)
Affects Self-confidence/
Esteem (Yes or No)
Birthplace/other places of
residence (such as urban, rural)
Dominant culture
(such as Latino, Celtic, Asian)
Socio-economic status
(such as upper middle class)
Occupation (such as blue-collar,
Family structure and size (such as
nuclear, extended, one-parent)
Marital status
Lifestyle (such as family,
social, professional, spiritual)
The process of learning how to live and interact within ones culture and
family structure is called socialization. its a process that continues as events
and experiences shape our lives. Were at our most impressionable stage, how-
ever, during early childhood, within the boundaries of our homes and imme-
diate families. The care we receive is all that we know; we lack any comparison
with which to evaluate it and determine whether its good, bad, or in between.
By the time we move beyond our backyards and have other experiences, many
of our attitudes, behavior patterns, and perceptions have been formed.
Major events in early life profoundly shape adult attitudes and behavior.
Therefore, evaluating those events adds another layer of understanding in our
quest for self-knowledge (see exercise 2-5).

1.Use this exercise to identify four key milestones of your childhood, both positive and negative.
2.Number the milestones in order of the most influential (1 is highest) to the least influential.
3.Describe the insights this exploration reveals to you.
Exercise 2-5
Identifying Life Influencers: Key Milestones of Childhood
Positive Milestones Rank Negative Milestones Rank
Milestone 1: Milestone 1:
Milestone 2: Milestone 2:
Milestone 3: Milestone 3:
Milestone 4: Milestone 4:
PrOgress Begins WiTH seLf-AWAreness 21
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
Exercise 2-5 continues on next page.
Each persons milestones will be unique. Consider this abbreviated example of Exercise 2-5 below.
The positive and negative milestones of this persons early childhood
successes, failures, and relationshipsno doubt had an influence on her later
approach to people and risk-taking. What about yours?
its important to explore the type of the care we received as children;
whether it was mostly positive or negative, or whether we appreciate, resent,
or have mixed feelings about it, this care incorporates the behavioral and com-
munication styles we often model in our adult relationships, to include those
at work. After all, thats what we know. even people who deplore the way they
were treated as children, and who vow never to treat anyone else that way,
often do because they follow the model to which they were expected to con-
Besides parents and other family members, authority figures such as
teachers, spiritual leaders, coaches, and mentors also impact our world view.
When we explore their influence in our lives, we may find behavioral patterns,
communication styles, beliefs, and emotional responses that weve adopted as
our ownsometimes to our benefit and sometimes not (see exercise 2-6).

In the spaces below, list adjectives that describe the behavioral styles of the primary behavioral
models in your life. Were they affirming, controlling, loving, consistent, attentive, instructional, crit-
ical, punitive, inconsistent, encouraging, inspiring, autocratic, judgmental, forgiving, doting, tyran-
nical, sacrificing, positive, negative, etc.? List as many adjectives as apply, including ones not
listed here. Once youve done that, describe your reaction and insights.
Positive Milestones Rank Negative Milestones Rank
Milestone 1:
First plane flight. Trip to
Disney World with Grandpa
and Mom. (I was 6.) One of
the happiest times of my life.
3 Milestone 1:
Kindergarten teacher punished
me for something I didnt do.
Made me stand in the corner
and kept me in at recess.
I felt humiliated.
Milestone 2:
Second piano recital when I
was 8. Won award.
5 Milestone 2:
First piano recital when I
was 7. Froze and ran from
the stage.
Exercise 2-6
Identifying Your Life Influencers: Behavioral Models
22 AsserTing YOurseLf AT WOrk
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Exercise 2-5 continued from previous page.
Exercise 2-6 continues on next page.
Finally, write down the adjectives that best describe your behavioral style. What connection(s)
do you see between that style and the styles of your behavioral models?
(a) My mothers behavioral style:
(b) My fathers behavioral style:
(c) My caregivers behavioral style (if applicable):
(d) Other key role models behavioral style (identify role and describe):
(e) Other key role models behavioral style (identify role and describe):
(f) Reaction/Insights:
(g) My behavioral style:
PrOgress Begins WiTH seLf-AWAreness 23
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
Exercise 2-6 continued from previous page.
the transference traP
understanding our influencers helps us recognize the degree to which we
carry childhood perceptions of the world into our adult lives. As weve dis-
cussed, a persons interactions are limited primarily to caregivers and the sur-
rounding community of relatives, teachers, and neighbors during our
formative years. We absorband usually adopttheir values and beliefs and
ways of interacting with others. Our behaviors and methods of communication
with others are often formed during those early years. As we grow up, our ac-
ceptance by others often depends on how well we adhere to their values and
standards. These values and standards form our ability to fit in with society
and get along as adults.
eventually, we meet, read about, become aware of, or work with people
from other backgrounds and cultures. if we assume that our values, beliefs,
and standards are superior, or if we judge their behaviors based on our stan-
dards, were engaging in what anthropologists call ethnocentric thinking. Were
transferring our values and standards to them. And when these people dont
measure up in terms of our values or standards, we assume that theres some-
thing wrong with these people. Transference is the root of the bias and prej-
udice that tears at relationshipsbetween individuals, groups, and
nationsand is the root of the im better than you attitude. When we are
assertive, we stand up for our values and standards while respecting the values
and standards of others. That last part, respecting the values and standards
of others, is often forgotten.
in his book, The Road Less Traveled, M. scott Peck writes about transfer-
ence from the psychiatric point of view, which he defines as that set of ways
of perceiving and responding to the world which is developed in childhood
and which is usually entirely appropriate to the childhood environment . . .
but which is inappropriately transferred into the adult environment (Peck,
are you puzzled by what to write in the final two sections of exercise
2-6? here are the responses of one person.
My role models tilt toward controlling, unaffirming, and
negative. Mother was loving and affirming, but timid. She did
not stand up for herself with Dad and Uncle Edor for me
and my brother and sister. Mr. Babson, our middle-school
science teacher, helped me gain some confidence, even though
girls werent encouraged to excel in science or math.
My behavioral style:
Controlling, timid, negative, honest, caring, demanding of
myself and others. I see a connection between my timidity and
my mothers timidity and between my fathers and uncles
controlling and demanding behavior.
24 AsserTing YOurseLf AT WOrk
AMACOM Self Study Program
1978). Peck describes the difficulties of a bright computer technician who
moved from job to job throughout his career and whose wife had just left him.
As a child, the technicians parents promised him many things and then failed
to fulfill them, one after another. One year they actually forgot his birthday.
To avoid being disappointed, he learned to accept the reality of his parents
shortcomings and to distrust their promises. As an adult, he transferred this
parental distrust to a distrust of people in general, a transference that kept
him from having a close, loving relationship with his wife and successful in-
teractions at work.
While its important to examine the reality of our childhood experiences,
its equally important to avoid projecting that reality onto our adult interac-
tions. To be assertive, we need to respect each person as a unique individual
who has his or her own perceptions of the world and his or her own set of val-
ues, beliefs, and standards. We need to look at each persons behavior objec-
tively and each situation on its merits. in doing this, well keep our balance
and avoid the transference trap.

1. Write about some of the feelings and perceptions youve carried with you into adult life and
transferred onto someone else or onto people as a group.
2. If any of these feelings or perceptions are negative, identify at least one step you can take to
limit this transference in the future.
Think About It . . .
PrOgress Begins WiTH seLf-AWAreness 25
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
Perfectionism is the belief that we or others must be perfect or right all of the
time. Perfectionists base their identity and self-worth on being perfect. While
seeking perfection seems a noble goal, like transference, it gets in the way of
our interactions. seeking perfection is different from striving for excellence
in our work. Perfectionists have trouble accepting their own mistakes and the
mistakes of others. They play mistakes over and over in their minds, figura-
tively beating up themselves and others in the process. They set unreachable
goals, and then, fearful of falling short or of making mistakes, put off doing
the things they need to do to reach those goals. earthlings will colonize Mars
before perfectionists will take risks. That may be an exaggeration, but it strikes
at the truth because perfectionism involves more than a surface obsession with
mistakes and goals. it delves deep into the psyche at the level of self-esteem.
in the workplace, perfectionism can cause many problems:

A team spends too much time brainstorming the perfect solution to a prob-

A company delays launching its new product because the product lacks all
the bells and whistles even though consumers may only want the basics.

A manager is afraid to try new ideas.

A gifted employee holds back during meetings, hesitant to speak up.

A co-worker falls apart under constructive criticism.

A department spends so much time focusing on mistakes and assigning

blame that it never gets around to analyzing those mistakes and finding
ways to avoid them in the future.
The problem of perfectionism can be overcome if we:

set high standards even as we identify and forgive our shortcomings.

Develop practical action steps toward our goals.

Value ourselves as works in progress.

Practice continuous improvement.

Acknowledge mistakes and treat them as learning experiences that make

us better and stronger.
We help others overcome perfectionism when we point out what they do
well. We can guide them through their disappointments by helping them dis-
cover (but not telling them) how to correct their mistakes and do better the
next time. Most of all, we can affirm their innate worth as individuals and let
them know that, however they view themselves and their situation, we rec-
ognize their worthflaws and all.
it takes time and effort to make the transition from perfectionism, or to
help take that journey. Yet, it is time and effort well spent.
26 AsserTing YOurseLf AT WOrk
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Whats your own experience with perfectionism? How did you respond to mistakes you made as
a child and teenager? Did you try to cover up mistakes? Did you feel the need to always be right?
Were you forgiving of yourself? Did you try to find out why you made mistakes and how future oc-
currences could be avoided?
How did your parents and other behavioral models respond to your mistakes? Did they help you
work through them? How did their response affect you?
How do you respond to mistakes you make today? Do you dwell on them, beat yourself up because
of them, or learn from them? Does making a mistake encourage you to avoid risk-taking?
Think About It . . .
PrOgress Begins WiTH seLf-AWAreness 27
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
the role of attitude
Our attitude toward lifewhether we tend to be optimistic or pessimistic, or
whether we look at outcomes as half-full or half-empty glassesaffects our
ability to become assertive and our willingness to take steps necessary to get
there. To be assertive, we must believe in the possibility or the probability
that well succeed in standing up for our needs and interests. if we are domi-
nated by negative thinking or the view that the glass is half empty, we are un-
likely to stand up for ourselves: Why go to the trouble? i cant win. On the
other hand, positive thinkingthe view that the glass is half fullgives us
the courage and incentive we need to pursue what we want. so, as you move
step-by-step toward more assertive behavior, practice reality-based optimism.

How do you view the world and your circumstances most of the time? Like a half-full glass of
water? Half-empty? Neither?
How does your worldview affect your willingness to stand up for what matters to youand take
While youre exploring life influencers, consider your self-esteem and self-
confidence. Self-esteem is the way you view your worth as a human being and
the inherent rights, while self-confidence is your sense of abilitythe belief
you have in your ability to reach a goal or to perform a task well.
Think About It . . .
28 AsserTing YOurseLf AT WOrk
AMACOM Self Study Program
its possible to feel confident about your abilities and performance and
still lack a sense of your complete worth. for example, you may have a knack
for crunching numbers, and know that you do this well; nevertheless, you
are reluctant to ask for a raise or a better office situation. You may have cre-
ative marketing ideas and express them one-on-one, tucked away in your cu-
bicle, but you keep them to yourself during meetings because you prefer to
be invisible, allowingso you thinkyour job performance speak for itself.
To be assertive, you must feel confident about what you do and also feel
worthy. You may feel that you have little of either at this stage. However, youll
find your confidence and self-esteem growing as you take each step toward
assertive behavior.
This chapter is devoted to self-awareness. it began by challeng-
ing you to describe the personal goals and motivations that
prompted you to take a course on becoming more assertive. it
then provided a self-assessment test that allowed you, using the
chapters scoring method, to identify you now on the passive-
assertive-aggressive continuum: your assertiveness profile.
knowing where you stand right now is an important first step
in getting to where you ideally would like to be.
its also important to understand the life influencers that got you to
your current position on the continuum. Those include your genetic back-
ground and cultural and environmental factors in your life, but also the in-
fluences of parents, caregivers, teachers, and role models. exercises in the
chapter encouraged you to reflect on how they have affected your current
level of assertiveness. in addition, you were asked to look at other contributors
to your current assertiveness (or lack thereof): perfectionism, your sense of
optimistism or pessimism, self-confidence and self-esteem.
PrOgress Begins WiTH seLf-AWAreness 29
American Management Association. All rights reserved.

1. The process of learning how to live and interact within ones culture 1. (c)
and family structure is called:
(a) socialization.
(b) group identification.
(c) adaptation.
(d) homogenization.
2. Which of the following is an environmental influencer? 2. (b)
(a) Talent
(b) education level
(c) intelligence
(d) race
3. Adult behaviors and forms of communication are often formed: 3. (c)
(a) randomly.
(b) almost always by traumatic adult experience.
(c) during the early years of life.
(d) by the education system.
4. Which of the following could be a non-genetic influencer of 4. (b)
assertiveness level?
(a) Hair color
(b) socio-economic status
(c) gender
(d) ethnicity
5. __________________________ is an example of a genetically 5. (b)
inherited trait.
(a) A pessimistic outlook
(b) Body type
(c) The ability to work with others collaboratively
(d) The level of physical fitness
Review Questions
30 AsserTing YOurseLf AT WOrk
Do you have questions? Comments? Need clarification?
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or e-mail at
AMACOM Self Study Program
Building Your Assertiveness
Learning Objectives
By the end of this chapter, you should be able

Identify your needs, wants, interests, and val-


Identify your short-term, intermediate, and

long-term goals.

Apply skills and strategies to develop as-

sertive verbal communication.

Apply skills and strategies to develop as-

sertive written communication.
In the previous chapter of this course, you identified your assertiveness profile
and your lifes key influencers. You did this to gain deeper insights and self-
knowledgethe first step in your growth as an assertive individual. Youre
now ready for the next step.
This chapter and the two chapters that follow provide core concepts that
will help you become more assertive in your thoughts and actions. Both are
important and are similar to the mind-body connection that affects physical
and mental health. Assertive attitudes support assertive behavior, which sup-
ports assertive thoughts, which supports assertive behavior, and so forth. Even
so, as Alberti and Emmons point out, some people respond more readily to
cognitive (thinking) interventions, others to behavioral (action) interventions
(Alberti and Emmons, 1995). Therefore, they recommend that you put most
of your energy into whichever is most helpful to you. (Ibid.)
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
Your Needs, WANts, INterests, VAlues,
You cant think and act assertively until you understand what matters to you
in your personal and professional life. Here we define what matters as your
needs, wants, interests, values, and goals. Together, they provide the sense of
purpose that will pull you toward a destination that you must stand up for,
even when the going gets tough.
Your needs are those things you regard as essential for basic physical and mental
survival. The psychologist Abraham Maslow codified these in his now famous
hierarchy of needs (Exhibit 3-1) which begins with the most basic, physical
needs such as food and water and ascends to progressively higher level needs
such as safety and security, love and a sense of belonging to the group, self-
esteem that comes from respect and recognition of ones accomplishments,
andat the very topself-actualization, what one feels he or she was born
to do in life (Maslow, 1943). According to Maslows theory, a higher level need
becomes important only when lower level needs are satisfied. for example,
the need for self-actualization becomes important when all lesser needs in the
hierarchy have been taken care of. for example, you wouldnt feel a need for
self-esteem or self-actualization if you hadnt eaten in three days (physiolog-
ical need) or if you were being stalked by a gang of street thugs (safety need).
Whatever your needs, assertiveness requires that you stand up for them.
Any time they are threatened, an alarm bell should sound in your head.

Maslows hierarchy of needs is a good tool for thinking about what matters to us at different stages
of our lives. Take a look at Exhibit 3-1 and then answer the question: Where are you located on
Maslows hierarchy of needs?
In contrast to needs, wants are desires such as living to eat versus eating to
live. They include the answers to such questions as: What type of food? What
kind of shelter? What type of car or other transportation? How much sleep
or healthcare? What level of social contact or social status? People often con-
fuse wants with needs. While there may be some overlap, wants are optional;
needs are not.
Economists tell us that people have unlimited wants. They get some
things they want and then want more and more. Wants are also highly moti-
Think About It . . .
32 AssErTIng YoursElf AT Work
AMACOM Self Study Program
vational. As any topnotch salesperson will tell you, they sell to peoples wants,
rather than to their needs. Therefore, wants have a tremendous impact on our
lives. In the realm of assertiveness, its important to prioritize our wants, be-
cause those that matter most are things for which we will most likely take a
strong stand.
Interests are things to which we claim some right, title, or legal sharethings
that are inherently ours and for which we need not negotiate. A department
manager, for example, has an interest in decisions that will affect the ability
to perform his or her duties. Thus, the manager, and not the managers boss,
has the right to direct the activities of any direct reports and the right to con-
duct performance appraisals of any subordinates. If the boss were to tell the
managers people what to do, or to tell them to Come to me if you need any-
thing, the manager would have the right to stand up to the boss and assert
the right to supervise his or her own people.
unassertive (or passive) people may not have identified the rights that
matter to them. or they back down too readily when their rights are challenged.
Aggressive people, on the other hand, will boldly claim their rights and have
few qualms about infringing on the rights of others. An example would be an
executive telling the direct reports of one of his or her managers what to do.
With respect to the workplace, what interests and rights are we talking
about? Every person has an interest in maintaining control over workplace
activities for which he or she is officially responsible. likewise, everyone has
a right to:

Be treated fairly and with respect.

Express his or her ideas.

Have the resources needed to do the job well.

BuIldIng Your AssErTIvEnEss 33
American Management Association. All rights reserved.

xhibit 3-1
Maslows Hierarchy of Needs
Love & Belonging

Be ambitious and set personal and career goals.

Have time for family and non-work responsibilities.

As Alberti and Emmons note: Each of us has the right to be and to ex-
press ourselves, and to feel good (not powerless or guilty) about doing so, as
long as we do not hurt others in the process (Alberti and Edmonds, 1995).
Taking a stand, claiming your rights, and protecting what matters to you with-
out harming someone else is the essence of thinking and acting assertively.
values are the abstract ideals which we adhere and hold on to, and for which
we wish to be known. They represent the core of our humanity. Typical values
include integrity, trustworthiness, fairness, and loyalty. some values matter
more to certain people and cultures than others. In a given situation, people
will lean more toward one value than another, even though they may profess
both (Browne and keeley, 2006). for example, a family may tilt toward quality
of life over physical life when making the difficult decision to pull the plug
on the ventilator of a loved one who is brain-dead. A negotiator may choose
cooperation over a clear victory in a labor settlement in order to build a re-
lationship that will strengthen her company over the long term.
Because values provide the basis for decision-making and behavior, its
important to know which ones matter the most. This will help you understand
why you decide in favor of one value over another in a particular circum-
stance, and why someone else may decide the opposite. furthermore, recog-
nizing your core values will help you establish the boundaries of acceptable
and unacceptable behaviors of others toward you and the boundaries of your
behaviors toward others. Exercise 3-1 gives you an opportunity to contemplate
your unique set of needs, wants, interests, and values.

1. Fill in three entries under each category below in order of preference. These should be the
things that matter most to you, with number 1 being the most important.
2. Fill in the approximate income in the Needs and Wants categories.
Exercise 3-1
Identify Your Needs, Wants, Interests, and Values
1. _____________________________________________________
2. _____________________________________________________
3. _____________________________________________________
Approx. Income Needed: ____________________________
34 AssErTIng YoursElf AT Work
AMACOM Self Study Program
Exercise 3-1 continues on next page.
How did you complete Exercise 3-1? Each person will have his or her own set of needs, wants, in-
terests, and values. Heres a sample response that might trigger your assertiveness thinking.
1. _____________________________________________________
2. _____________________________________________________
3. _____________________________________________________
Approx. Income Needed: ____________________________
you want to
1. _____________________________________________________
2. _____________________________________________________
3. _____________________________________________________
1. _____________________________________________________
2. _____________________________________________________
3. _____________________________________________________
1. Food
2. Shelter
3. Healthcare/medication
Approx. Income Needed: $35,000
1. A more spacious home in a better neighborhood
2. World travel (starting with New Zealand)
3. A graduate degree
Approx. Income Needed: $75,000
BuIldIng Your AssErTIvEnEss 35
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
Exercise 3-1 continues on next page.
Exercise 3-1 continued from previous page.
Your GoAls
A goal is something that you consciously aim to achieve in the futurea sen-
ior management position, financial independence, a place in the symphony
orchestra, etc. People typically have several goals, some personal, some fam-
ily-related, and others work- or career-related. And some goals have greater
importance than others. Your highest work goal, for example, may be to be-
come vice President of operations, while your secondary work goal may be
to become a better delegator. do you have conscious goals at work and outside
of work? Have you consciously prioritized them?
one useful exercise is to identify and write down your goals. doing this
will bring structure to your goals and provide a direction for your lifes journey.
Approach goal-setting in whatever manner works best for you. You might, for
instance, brainstorm goals on a yellow pad without limiting or censoring them.
set the pad aside for a day or two and brainstorm again on a new sheet of paper.
Then, review your lists and note the similarities and dissimilarities. Add goals
and eliminate others as the spirit moves you. Assign your goals to categories,
such as personal, career, and financial (fountain and Arthur, 1990), and, in ad-
dition, identify which goals you want to achieve within a particular time frame.
You may also find it helpful to prioritize each goal as low, medium, or high
which will guide you when goals conflict. for example, you may have a long-
term career goal of becoming the Chief financial officer of a fortune 500
company and an intermediate personal goal of attending each of your daugh-
ters choir concerts. These appear to be in conflict because the path to becom-
ing a Cfo at a fortune 500 company demands a work commitment that may
limit the personal time you have with your family. In all likelihood, one of
these goals will have a higher priority for you than the other. noting which
you prefer will help you adjust your goals now or some time in the future.
you want to
1. To be treated with respect
2. To be treated fairly
3. My reputation
1. Honesty
2. Trustworthiness
3. Respect for others
3. Personal responsibility
36 AssErTIng YoursElf AT Work
AMACOM Self Study Program
Exercise 3-1 continued from previous page.
However you set your goals, whether you brainstorm them or not, the
act of writing them down transforms your goals into concrete targets toward
which youll aim future thoughts and actions. so, lets begin. In the next part
of this chapter, your job is to identify your short-term, intermediate, and long-
term goals, as well as goals in a category that may be unfamiliar to you
legacy goals.
short-term Goals
short-term goals are those you want to accomplish within a yearand are
possible to accomplish. getting a medical degree, if youre not already in med-
ical school, is not a viable short-term goal. If you already have a medical de-
gree, finishing your internship is. This may seem obvious, but the point is to
avoid pie-in-the-sky goal-setting. Being realistic is the first step toward pro-
ducing real accomplishments that bolster self-esteem and assertiveness.
In addition to being realistic, set a firm date for meeting each short-term
goal. otherwise, these goals may slip by and roll over into the following year.
Intermediate Goals
In general, think of immediate goals as things you want to have or to accom-
plish within the next five to ten years. five or ten years can pass more quickly
than you think, so dont put off work on these goals. You need to plan for and
begin working toward them now.
long-term Goals
long-term goals identify what you want to have or accomplish within the
next ten to twenty years. This can be a most fertile time in your life, a time
when your experiences, insights, and training propel you to operate at peak
levels of performance. for your long-term goals, aim high.
legacy Goals
The most powerful goal category contains legacy goals. These are achieve-
ments for which you most wish to be remembered. These are the things you
would want your loved ones, co-workers, and neighbors to write in your epi-
taph. This question may seem macabre, but asking it is very useful. Identifying
your legacy goals will help you set priorities and concentrate on what truly
matters to you. With this and earlier discussion of goals in mind, complete
Exercise 3-2 on page 38.
BuIldIng Your AssErTIvEnEss 37
American Management Association. All rights reserved.





1. Fill in your short-term, intermediate, long-term, and legacy goals for each category. Limit your list to three goals for each category.
2. Prioritize each goalhigh (H), medium (M), or low (L).
3. Compare your personal, career, and financial goals with the priorities youve assigned. Ideally, your goals and priorities will be
compatible. If they arent, adjust either the goal or the priority.
Exercise 3-2
Your Goals Worksheet
Goal Type Personal H M L Career H M L Financial H M L
Goals (within
1 year)
Visit New York by
X Get a promotion by
end of year
X Rebalance my 401-K
portfolio by year end
(within 5 to
10 years)
(within 10 to
20 years)
(things for
which you
hope to be
How did you complete the goal exercise? Are your goals compatible, or
is some rethinking and adjustment in order? now take a minute to consider
your skills, talents, and personal capabilities. Are these sufficient to get you
where you want to be? The Think About It activity below will help you answer
that question.

1. What skills and talents must I develop more fully in order to reach my goals?
2. What education, training, and experience must I acquire or enhance in order to reach my
3. What career path am I currently on? What career path change, if any, must I make in order
to achieve my work-life goals?
Think About It . . .
BuIldIng Your AssErTIvEnEss 39
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
Think About It continues on next page.
4. Is my current geographical location compatible with my goals? If not, where do I need to live?
speAkINGup for WhAtMAtters to
now that youve identified your needs, wants, interests, values, and goals, pre-
pare yourself to speak up on their behalfthat is, to communicate what
matters to you. speaking up is an important step toward becoming more as-
engage in a positive Internal dialogue
Before you speak up to others, you must learn to speak up to yourself. Intrap-
ersonal communication or the communication you have with yourself, de-
scribes the running dialogue in your head from the time you wake up in the
morning until you go to bed. This internal dialogue may be barely perceptible
to you, and it may be negative: There you go again, putting your foot in your
mouth. Whats the matter with you? It may be positive: That was an awesome
idea you came up. good for you! It may be mixed: I delivered a solid pres-
entation. The audience was with me all along the way . . . I think.
Primarily, unassertive people veer toward negative internal dialogues
while assertive people hold honest and positive conversations with themselves,
using what human behaviorist dr. denis Waitley calls winners self-talk
(Waitley, 1995).
These include:
40 AssErTIng YoursElf AT Work
AMACOM Self Study Program
Think About It continued from previous page.

Positive self-esteem talk, such as I like myself versus Id rather be

someone else.

Positive self-control talk, such as I make it happen for me versus It al-

ways happens to me.

Positive self-expectancy talk, such as good today, better tomorrow. next

time Ill get it right versus With my luck, I knew it would fail.
When you read these statements, you can feel the power of their influ-
ence and understand why you should engage in positive internal dialogue and
avoid the negative. Imagine if The little Train That Could in the famous
childrens story of the same name said, I think I cant, I think I cant, I think
I cant. The train would remain forever stuck at the bottom of the hill.
If you engage in a negative internal dialogue, your exterior behavior will
probably reflect it. Youll behave like you think. To become more assertive in
your thinking and, subsequently, in your behavior, Alberti and Emmons rec-
ommend the technique of turning negative statements into their positive
forms. for example, instead of saying Im not important and My opinions
dont count, tell yourself, I am important and My opinions count (Alberti
and Edmonds, 1995). furthermore, Alberti and Emmons recommend that you
create, memorize, and post in a viewable place a list of positive statements or
compliments about yourself, such as, I have a job, Im good at what I do,
Im becoming more assertive every day (Ibid.). If you find yourself thinking
predominantly negative thoughts, create and post this type of list.
learning to engage in positive rather than negative internal dialogue (Ex-
ercise 3-3) takes time, patience, and commitment. You must want to transform
your intrapersonal communication patterns. doing this may seem artificial
and strained at first, as if youre boasting to yourself. Well, go ahead and boast,
especially if youve had a habit of beating yourself up from morning to night.
You have that right.

1. Select one workday in the upcoming week to track your internal dialogue from the time you
arrive at work until you arrive home at the end of the day.
2. Record your internal dialogue in a small notebook.
3. On the following day, read your conversations and answer the following questions:
What internal conversations did I have as I arrived at work? Write a P by the positive comments
and N by the negative ones. Were my conversations mostly positive or negative? Explain.
Exercise 3-3
Scripting a Positive Internal Dialogue
BuIldIng Your AssErTIvEnEss 41
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
Exercise 3-3 continues on next page.
What internal conversations did I have during my day at work? Write a P by the positive comments
and N by the negative ones. Were my conversations mostly positive or negative? Explain.
What internal conversations did I have on the way home from work? Write a P by the positive com-
ments and N by the negative ones. Were my conversations mostly positive or negative? Explain.
Now, write down your insights about your internal dialogue:
If you found Exercise 3-3 useful, continue tracking your internal dialogue
and note your improvements. If you catch yourself carrying on a negative in-
ternal dialogue, stop and rewrite your dialogue into a positive one. doing this
regularly with create a habit of positive internal dialogue, and that habit will
elevate your assertiveness at work.
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Exercise 3-3 continued from previous page.
Verbally Communicate in Assertive Ways
speaking up for ones needs, wants, interests, values, and goals mostly involves
verbal communicationdelivered face-to-face, over the telephone, or in some
form of stand-up presentation. The strength of your verbal communication
depends on your words and delivery. Both are important demonstrations of
assertiveness. Word choices frame your meaning while the way you deliver
your messageyour tone of voice, facial expression, or your body language
often makes a greater impact on your receivers than what you have to say. Well
concentrate on those aspects of nonverbal communication in the next chapter.
for now, well focus on the words, and how you can state your thoughts in
more effective and assertive ways.
Be Direct
Effective and assertive verbal messages are delivered through brief, declarative
sentences that are specific, concrete, and to the point. People who use direct
communication dont waltz around their main point, or ramble, hesitate, hedge
their statements, excuse themselves, or do anything else that delays, prolongs,
or confuses their messages. Consider each of the following examples of
unassertive speech and their assertive equivalents.
notice how the unassertive communicator beats around the bush and
qualifies what he or she hopes to say (if youre open to it), and seems to be
apologizing (Excuse me, Im sorry). In contrast, the assertive communi-
cator uses simple declarative sentences (Theres another approach) and is
commanding in nature (I recommend that . . .). Try following this assertive
example on a regular basis. As you craft short, clear, concrete sentences that
precisely convey your meaning, youll hear and feel yourself becoming more
assertive. The tips that follow will help you develop this skill.
Unassertive Language Assertive Language
Perhaps, if you dont mindand I
realize the subject may seem a bit
arcanebut if youre open to it, we
might look at a another approach to
financing this phase of our expansion.
Theres another approach to financing
this phase of our expansion. I
recommend that we do a sale-
leaseback. Heres how it works . . .
Oh, excuse me, Doug, Im sorry to
bother you when youre so busy, but,
ah, I was wondering, and maybe this
isnt the time, but I was wondering if I
could talk with you sometime about
my vacation schedule. Is that
Doug, Id like to talk with you about
my vacation schedule. Can we meet
next week?
BuIldIng Your AssErTIvEnEss 43
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Understand Your Listeners
The more you know about your listeners, the better prepared youll be to craft
and deliver a message that appeals specifically to their interests, concerns,
needs, and so forth. You can understand listeners by conducting audience
analysisa series of questions whose answers will help you identify the
makeup of your audience. To analyze your listener or audience, answer the
following questions:

Who is my listener/audience? (gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, rank/po-

sition, educational level, income level, area of expertise, training, social
class, religion, etc.)

What does my audience know or need to know about the subject of my


How does my audience feel about the subject of my message?

How does my audience perceive or feel about me? (knowledgeable, credi-

ble, reliable, trustworthy, fair, persistent, unreliable, scattered, inflexible,

How well will my message appeal to my audiences concerns, interests, and

Put Your Main Point Up Front
one of the keys to direct communication is putting the main point of your
message up front (Bailey, 2007), whether the message is delivered via a pres-
entation, a face-to-face encounter, an e-mail, a report, a letter, or a telephone
call. Consider this example of a sales manager making an announcement to a
gathering of her sales representatives:
Im pleased to tell you that david osborne, formerly of Hargrove
Equipment, one of our key competitors, will be joining us in the
southwest sales region.
This sales manager would then go on to describe osbornes background
and what he would bring to the sales effort. Her main purpose, however, was
to announce osbornes hiring, which she did straightaway, before getting into
any other details.
This is the gold standard of business communication. up front means
close to the top of the message, although its not necessarily the first words
people will hear or read. speeches and presentations, for example, call for a
brief attention-getter; other communication channels call for a short exchange
of pleasantries. Your main point, or audience take-away, should come soon
after. The rest of your communication merely explains the details of that main
point or provides a logical argument in its favor.
The exception to this tip involves delivering bad news. When you have
bad news to communicate, cushion it by first delivering a brief background
of the situation or reasons for a request or decision. Avoid prolonging these
comments, though, because your receivers, regardless of the situation, will be
itching to know your bottom line. for example, if you need to miss a day of
work because your mother is having cataract surgery, you might say to your
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boss, rubin, my mother is scheduled for cataract surgery on friday, so I want
to take that day off. By stating your reason first, you prepare rubin to be
more open to your request.
Heres another example: lets say you manage a department in a com-
pany which has lost revenues. The holidays are approaching, and you need to
break the news that the company is scaling back its year-end celebrations and
that bonuses will be sharply reduced. You might announce it this way:
As you know, weve had a revenue shortfalls in each of the past two
quarters. Company-wide were down about $3 million from this time
last year. so, this holiday season well have a modestly catered get-
together instead of the usual holiday bash. That way everyone can
receive a small holiday bonus.
In this case, you provided a reason (the companys current financial sit-
uation) before delivering the negative main points. notice too how this puts
a potential negativethe token bonusinto a positive light without being
dishonest or manipulative.
If you find yourself getting caught up in rambling voice mail messages,
prolonging the chit-chat in telephone conversations before you get to the
heart of your messages, employing hedge words to convolute your meaning,
hinting at what you really want in face-to-face encounters, or using other
forms of unassertive communication, youre not being assertive. But you can
Use Positive Language
In general, its more effective to state what you want rather than what you
dont want. negative words such as dont, wont, cant, not, and never
are difficult for the mind to process. Also, people are more likely to respond
well to a positive statement than to a negative one. They dont like being told
to dont to this, dont do that. Instead of saying dont leave a cluttered desk
when you go home from work, give a more assertive statement, Clean up
your desk before you leave. some examples follow.
tip: rehearse
If you have an important message to get across, write it out ahead of time.
Then, practice it out loud or in your mind and deliver it as you practiced.
In time, what you practice will become a habit that presents you as a more
focused and powerful person.
BuIldIng Your AssErTIvEnEss 45
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There are subtle differences in these examples, but the statements in the
right-hand column are more commanding and unambiguous in their meaning.
They communicate both the message and the assertiveness of the speaker.
Avoid Words That Limit Your Credibility
When you use limiting adverbs such as just and only to describe yourself
or an accomplishment, you convey a low sense of self esteem to listeners. for
example, Im just the receptionist, Its just my opinion, or Im just hoping
Ill get the opportunity to work here (Walther, 1991). You may think that these
words make you appear to be more humble. Instead, they make you appear to
be insecure, as though youre devaluing yourself. delete them and use more
self-confident language, even when you dont feel confident. look at the dif-
ference that dropping a word and using bolder language choices can make:
By the same token, phrases such as To tell you the truth, To be per-
fectly honest, and frankly speaking raise questions in your receivers mind
about your honesty (Walther, 1991) and, therefore, credibility. As george
Negative-Unassertive Statements Positive-Assertive Statements
Dont wait until the end of the month
to turn in your expense report.
Always submit your expense report
before the end of the month.
Dont keep taking long lunches and
coming back late to work.
Take as much time for lunch as you
like, as long as you can be back to
work on time.
Dont forget to give me your report
before you leave for Baltimore
Give me your report before you leave
for Baltimore.
We cant send a technican until
We can send a technician tomorrow.
We wont be launching the new ad
campaign until next month.
Well launch the new ad campaign
next month.
Unassertive Statements Assertive Statements
Im just the receptionist. Im the receptionist.
Its only my opinion, but . . . . I firmly believe that . . . .
Im just hoping Ill get the opportunity
to work here.
This is where I want to be.
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Walther writes in his book Power Talking: 50 Ways to Say What You Mean and
Get What You Want, If a person is habitually honest, if his integrity is 100 per-
cent, why would he need to make a point of explaining that hes about to tell
the truth? (Walther, 1991). You may be using these phrases as fillers to make
sentences more conversational and fluid without intending any special mean-
ing. still, as Walther recommends, its better to eliminate the use of integrity-
questioning phrases.
Avoid Absolutes
Words like always and never are absolute words that damage credibility
when used to describe oneself or someone else. Here are some examples:
Ive never been good at math.
I never look professional. somethings always out of place.
I always put my foot in my mouth.
Youve never had strong people skills.
You never speak up in our meetings.
very few things in life are absolute. using absolute words requires an ex-
traordinary amount of evidence to substantiate your point, even then its un-
likely you can prove it absolutely. so, its best to strike them from your
thoughts and communication.
tip: Avoid I think
no long ago, a close adviser to President george W. Bush was being in-
terviewed by a news reporter. The subject was the Presidents state of the
union Address, which he had delivered the night before. It was clear from
the initial part of the interview that this adviser had a hand in drafting
the address. The reporter asked the adviser what the President had meant
by improving security conditions in Iraq. did that mean that the troops
would soon be coming home?
like so many, this adviser began as follows [my italics for emphasis]:
I think that what the President meant was . . . . one repeatedly hears this
sort of equivocating from people whom we expect to make unequivocal
statements. saying I think that . . . is like saying, Im not sure, but . . .
or I really dont know. or worse, I think that what I meant was . . . .
Always remember, people are less interested in what you think than in
what you know.
An assertive, credible person does not have to guess at what he or she
means. Its much more effective to make statements like this: The Pres-
idents statement communicated the demonstrable fact that violence in
Iraq has subsided since this time last year.
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Avoid the Sorries
Picture this scene: A member of your sales team tells you that he has been
courting a particularly difficult client for six months, and that the client has
just called to say that she went with a competitor. You respond with Im
sorry. Your teammate looks puzzled and declares, Its not because of you.
now, youre puzzled. Whats going on?
linguist deborah Tannen explains that the word sorry has two mean-
ings. one is a literal apology; the second is an expression of sympathy and
concern through which the speaker is not apologizing or accepting blame. Ac-
cording to Tannen, women are more likely than men to use the second mean-
ing while men are more likely than women to view this as an apology (Tannen,
1994). You can lessen the possibility of being misunderstood by being more
specific: Im sorry that happened, or Im sorry to hear that your client went
with another company. depending on the receiver, however, that may still
sound apologetic. As an alternative, feed back the emotion the other person
is expressing: Thats disappointing, followed by a more neutral, positive
statement such as But Im sure that your sales skills will eventually bring you
an even bigger and better account.
According to Tannen, a literal apology puts you one-down in a rela-
tionship. Youre accepting blame and putting the other person in a position
to absolve you of guilt (Tannen, 1994). Therefore, pay attention to how you
use the words Im sorry.
Use I Statements to Express Ideas and Give Feedback
statements that begin with the word I tell your receivers that you own and
take responsibility for the message thats about to follow. Consider these ex-
I recommend that we open a new, state-of-the-art warehouse in
Westerville. Heres why . . .
I believe well be more efficient with our time and problem-solving
if we have fewer members on the teamseven at the most.
Amirah, I want you to facilitate the next meeting because youre an
excellent listener and you welcome opposing points of view. That
shows me youre ready for a leadership role.
These I statements exude confidence and clarity. Can you see why? I
statements also help prevent feedback from coming across as judgmental or
accusatory. Take a look at these examples:
I like the layout of the brochure. Its eye-catching. In terms of color,
though, Id like to see more contrast between the background and text.
Phil, Im disappointed that you missed our meeting. Your input is
valuable to us and we counted on you.
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Marcia, Im frustrated when you interrupt me. doing so disrupts my
notice how these statements combine I with objective and concrete
words. To say, Marcia, I feel frustrated when you interrupt me, because thats
rude will probably provoke a defensive response.
Avoid You Statements
In contrast to I statements, those that begin with you may put your re-
ceiver on the defensive, especially when they convey criticism. starting a sen-
tence with you is like pointing the finger at another person. In the following
examples, youll see the judgmental version of the statements you just read in
the previous section:
You did a poor job on the brochure, frank. for one thing, you dont
have enough contrast between the background and text.
Phil, you missed the meeting and let everybody down. You really
disappointed us.
Marcia, you make me angry when you keep interrupting.
Just reading these words can make you feel beaten down, so imagine what
they do to the receiver. If your goal is to influence a change of behavior, pro-
duce a better product, encourage more participation, develop an employees
leadership skills, or some other positive outcome, then avoid the resistance
and resentments that you statements often provoke.
In the same vein, compliments that begin with you may also be a prob-
lem. Your receivers may feel uncomfortable because the compliments appear
to be overly familiar and may constitute a breach of professional boundaries
especially when youre communicating with someone from the opposite sex.
rather than saying You look great in that suit, which is also vague and im-
precise, you might say I like the design and color of your suit. It looks very
professional. Instead of saying You have a nice smile, you can say I appre-
ciate your cheerful attitude. It boosts the morale of our department. These
I statements are more specific and neutral, and they deflect any misunder-
standing a complimentary you statement might generate.
Consider the Multi-Part I Statement
Multi-part I statements can be especially useful in emotionally-charged sit-
uations where feelings upset your equilibrium and you find yourself at a loss
for something to say. Although the formula for these statements may vary, one
of the most commonly used versions incorporates the three parts used to com-
municate ones feelings:
I feel ________________ when you _________________ because
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The formula allows you to describe your emotions, the behavior of the
other person, and its consequences for you (or your team, company, depart-
ment, family, etc.). Here is the specific layout:
lets say that your manager has held on to your teams feasibility report
for several weeks without giving you feedback. Any more delay will under-
mine your schedule. Everyone will have to work nights and weekends to make
up the lost time. This is not the first time this has happened. In fact, your man-
ager makes a habit of this witholding. You and your team suspect that he likes
to create a crisis, giving himself the perverse pleasure of watching your team
perform under pressure.
By now youve all had enough of the late nights, seven-day weeks, and
missed activities with your families. Youre tempted to let loose. If youre on
the passive side of the assertiveness scale, youll likely resist the temptation
and simply boil inside. If youre on the aggressive side, you might explode:
There you go again, Tom. You never give us feedback on our reports until
the last minute, which puts us into a time bind. Were sick and tired of this
silly game. unburdening yourself in this aggressive way may make you feel
better, but that approach is often ineffective and risky. You put the other per-
son in your gunsight, used absolutes (never), and assumed you knew his mo-
tives (game), when in reality, people cant know for certain the thoughts or
motives of others unless he or she shares them with us.
The beauty of the multi-part I statement is that it allows people at any
level of assertiveness to send an effective and non-judgmental message:
Tom, I become frustrated when you delay giving feedback on our
reports because it puts us in a time crunch and takes us away from
our families.
notice that the I statement implies a desire for a change in behavior in
the other person. You may find it useful to directly state the change you want
by adding a fourth part to your message: so will you _________________?
for example:
Tom, I become frustrated when you delay giving feedback on our
reports because it puts us in a time crunch and takes us away from
our families. So will you agree to turn around our reports faster?
Heres a so will you extension from an earlier example:
Marcia, I feel frustrated when you interrupt me. It disrupts my
I feel a description of your emotions
when you an objective description of the other persons behavior
because a description of the effects on or consequences for you
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thoughts. So will you let me finish? Then, Ill be happy to hear what
you have to say.
Those statements are assertive without being disrespectful. Marcia will
probably agree to this reasonable request. But what if she responds, no, I wont
promise that.? You might ask her to explain her objection. she might tell you
that she interrupts because you take a long time to make your point and that
shes concerned about losing her train of thought. In response, you could offer
to use more direct communication and say, In that case, will you agree to stop
interrupting me? By using an I statement to feed back your feelings to Marcia,
you learned more about your own behavior and negotiated a win-win outcome.
use the Most effective Communication Channel
A communication channel is a medium through which people deliver a mes-
sagea telephone call, letter, email, voice mail, report, face-to-face en-
counter, etc. The nature of your message, the culture of your organization,
and your relationship with the receiver will help you determine the most ap-
propriate channel. for example, if you need to deliver negative feedback to
an employee, youll want to do so face-to-face and in private. If you want to
set up a time with your manager to discuss a raise or promotion, you might
also want a face-to-face, private verbal encounter. Yet, your manager might
better appreciate an email, because he or she can access it at his or her con-
venience. You can write: Hello, [the name of your manager]. now that Ive
successfully finished the Marks Enterprise project, Id like to talk with you
about my next steps with the company. Is there a convenient time for us to
meet? notice that youre asking for a meeting, not for the raise or promotion.
Its better to leave these specifics for the face-to-face encounter.
practice Good timing
In addition to choosing the most effective communication channel, good tim-
ing is important. This involves good timing in regard to your receiver and a
timely response in terms of feedback.
Timing and Your Receiver
When you practice well-timed communication, the receiver is ready to hear
and respond to your message, free of distractions. To accomplish this, you
need to be aware of whats going on with and around your receiver. What body
language does he or she convey? Is he or she alone, engaged in conversation
with someone else, or surrounded by people? does your receiver seem rushed
or at ease? Is the room peaceful or chaotic? What time of day is itmid-morn-
ing, right before lunch, closing time?
delivering a message at the right time can help ensure your success; de-
livering it at the wrong time can lead to a wasted effort. for example, if you
walk into your receivers office to find that he or she looks red-faced and is
surrounded by harried-looking staff as he or she shouts orders on the tele-
phone, these may be clues to come back at another time. If your receiver is
alone, working quietly at the computer, you might politely interrupt and ask
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if its a good time to talk. If he or she says yes and motions for you to sit
down, you should proceed. If your receiver says yes, but his or her body lan-
guage says no, you may want to ask if another time would be more conven-
ient. successful timing is a matter of good sense, being attuned to the other
person, and to the importance and nature of your message.
Timing and Feedback
Prompt feedbackthat is, responding to another persons behavior, words,
ideas, or performance in a timely wayis another aspect of good timing. de-
laying feedback limits the impact of your message and may indicate hesitation
or a lack of confidence and assertiveness. In fact, Alberti and Emmons suggest
in their book, Your Perfect Right that a spontaneity of expression is a goal of
assertiveness (Alberti and Emmons, 1995). of course, some situations call for
a delayed response. Confronting someone in front of others, for example, is
not a good idea. In general, however, its better to be prompt when you want
to compliment or constructively criticize someone, deliver an opposing idea,
ask for a change in behavior, or encourage positive behavior. Timely feedback
is an element of open and assertive communication.

1. Think about a communication encounter that missed its mark with your receiver. Describe
the encounter below.
2. Identify the reason or reasons for the miscommunication. For example, did you misjudge or
misunderstand your receiver? Did you hedge, ramble, or waltz around the topic? Did you
delay your main point? Did you use negative language? Did you use words that lowered your
credibility? Did you use you statements or other judgmental language? Did you choose an
ineffective communication channel? Did you use poor timing, etc.?
Think About It . . .
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Think About It continues on next page.
3. Now, describe the way you would engage your receiver or receivers if you had the opportu-
nity of a second take.
AssertIVe WrItteNCoMMuNICAtIoN
up to this point in this chapter, we have covered only spoken communication.
However, a significant percentage of workplace communication is written:
emails, interoffice memos: letters to bankers, customers, supplier, and other
stakeholders; reports. unlike spoken communication, written messages cant
be augmented by the many non-verbal nuances we often use to convey our
thoughts and feelings: facial expressions, voice tone, posture, and so forth. our
words must stand by themselves. fortunately, many of the features of assertive
verbal communication that youve already learned apply equally to written
formsuch as being direct and getting to your point quickly. But there are a
few others, which well cover here.
have a Clear purpose
The starting point for assertive writing is a clear purpose. The writers purpose
might be to:

request action: Bill, we need to meet later this week to plan the spring
sales conference. How about friday morning, at 10 AM?

respond to a message: I received your message and will respond by noon


deliver information: This report contains the market research teams find-
ings on customer demand in the Twin Cities area.

Influence the reader: vera, I hope that you will agree with me that this is
the right time to implement a new human resource strategy. In our industry,
whoever has the best human capital owns the future.
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Think About It continued from previous page.
The purpose in each of these examples is clear, telling the reader that
the writer knows what he or she is about. There is no beating around the
bush, no apologizing, no mincing words. Thats assertive writing. so, before
you sit down to write your next message, answer this question: Whats my
purpose? Proceed from the answer.
Make Your Message Clear and Crisp
In most cases, youll want to confine your communication to a single topic.
limiting yourself reduces the chance of confusion or of the recipient reading
the first one and skipping the rest. This is particularly true of email. If you
have two separate issues to cover, make each the topic of a separate email. fo-
cusing on a single message will also give you an opportunity to be clear and
crisp. for our purposes crisp means :

getting the idea across in as few words as possible. Every modern writing
expert urges economy of words. unnecessary words and flowery phrases
bury your message and its impact, and detract from the assertive image you
hope to project.

using short, simple sentences. long, complex sentences confuse and slow
down readers, and as a result, reduce the impact of your message. If you
cant edit down your messages, break them into shorter, more digestible
Consider the following piece of writing and how it could be made more
clear and crisp by implementing those two suggestions:
I am writing to each of you today to personally let you know that I
have received your suggestions for reducing our companys customer
service response time. My thanks to each of you for sending those
various suggestions. Be assured that I appreciate your submission of
those suggestions, and that I will endeavor to respond to them. Im
currently not sure when I will have my responses, but I can assure
you that it wont be too long.
Quite a mouthful, right? Heres one example of how to get the message
across in a more assertive way:
Thanks for submitting your suggestions for reducing our customer
response time. All are appreciated. Ill be back to you soon with my
The statement was reduced from 78 to 23 words. Which version is clearer
and more assertive and which will have a greater impact on the reader?
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Read the following message and then rewrite it with the objective of getting the same idea across
in fewer words:
Ive been thinking about when we should start planning the annual July 4th company
picnic. Sometime in May? June? Im not sure. Id be interested in hearing your thoughts
on when we should begin planning. Please let me know.
Then, read the following message and rewrite it with the objective of using short, simple sentences.
I am writing to inform you that last month the market research team (currently composed,
as you know, of myself, Tom Anderson, Brenda Goodall, and Silvia Gonzales) convened
in the R&D Center conference room to consider each of these two issues: lead user cus-
tomer attitudes toward our existing list of products, and how we might go about measur-
ing the responses of these lead user customer attitudes to prototypes developed by the
new product development team.
use the Most effective and Appropriate Mode
Many modes of communication are available to you. depending on the cir-
cumstance, you may be able to deliver a verbal, face-to-face message. We dis-
cussed this matter earlier in this chapter. face-to-face verbal communication
is fast and allows you to enhance your message with smiles, grimaces, finger
pointing, crossed arms, voice tone, and other nonverbal cues. As you will learn
later in this course, nonverbal communication generally makes a greater im-
pression on listeners than the words we use. verbal communication, either
face-to-face or via telephone, also has the advantage of being dynamic; the
other party can respond with questions or comments, so the two parties can
better close in on the topic or, conversely, take its discussion in some fruitful
new and unplanned direction. In contrast, written communication is more
like a one-way street.
on the other hand, written communication has some distinct advantages.
Exercise 3-4
A Clear and Crisp Message
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The writer has time to think, plan, and rewrite the message. A trusted col-
league can be asked to read the message or letter and suggest alterations
and improvements.

large chunks of information can be conveyed (such as by reports), with

graphics and tables used to highlight or elaborate key areas.
You should also consider how the choice of communication form will af-
fect peoples perception of your assertiveness. for instance, in dealing with
problem subordinates, telling them via email to shape up will give the im-
pression that youre afraid to criticize their work performance or behavior in
person. Youll be perceived as a passive, conflict avoider. Its best to speak di-
rectly to the person about the problem, then follow up with a written memo
in which you restate the problem as you see it, summarize what was said dur-
ing your meeting, and note whatever change(s) the person agreed to. By fol-
lowing up in writing, you produce a record that can be put in the personnel
file of the problem subordinate. In the case of future disciplinary action or
dismissal, that record will support your action.
Written communication is an area in which you can demonstrate as-
sertiveness. Any time you write in a clear, concise, confident, and compelling
way, you demonstrate that youre in control of yourself and the information.
This type of writing marks you as an assertive person.
In building your level of assertiveness, you must know what
matters to you. What matters in this case are your needs,
wants, interests, values, and goals. These are the things you
must stand up for in the workplace and in other areas of your
needs are things you regard as essential for your basic
physical and mental survival. We referred to Maslows hierar-
chy of needs, beginning with the most basic needs (food and
water) and moving up to higher level needs (self-esteem and self-actualiza-
tion). Wants are like needs, but are optional. You may need transportation in
order to hold a paying job, but you may want a BMW because you like quality
and fine engineering.
Your interests are those things to which you claim some right, title, or
legal share. for instance, if you are a manager, you have a right to schedule
the work of your subordinates. Anyone who tried to schedule their work
would be infringing upon your right as a manager. An assertive person would
stand up for that right.
values are the abstract ideals to which we adhere and hold on to, and for
which we wish to be known. Typical values include integrity, trustworthiness,
fairness, and loyalty.
As described in the chapter, a goal is something we consciously aim to
achieve in the future. Its useful to think of goals as short-term, intermediate,
56 AssErTIng YoursElf AT Work
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long-term, and legacy. And its a good idea to write down and prioritize goals.
Personal goals, like other factors covered in the chapter, are something that
the assertive person must stand up for when they are challenged or disre-
speaking up for what matters to you involves both verbal and written
forms of communication. Assertive verbal communicators are direct; they use
brief, declarative sentences that are specific, concrete, and to the point. They
dont hem and haw, ramble, or dance around their main point. These com-
municators are effective because they make a point of understanding their
listeners: who they are, what they already know about the subject, what they
need to know. They also put their key points up front, using the rest of their
time to provide details.
While most workplace communication is done verbally, a person can also
be assertive in the way he or she approaches written communication. Many
of the same principles of assertive communication apply equally to emails,
memos, letters, and reports. They should be clear and crisp, and in most cases,
put the main point up front.
BuIldIng Your AssErTIvEnEss 57
American Management Association. All rights reserved.

1. limiting adverbs such as just and only to describe yourself (Im just 1. (a)
an assistant) or an accomplishment, convey the following to listeners:
(a) a low sense of self esteem.
(b) an exact expression.
(c) assertive confidence.
(d) your job identity.
2. Which of the following best represents someones needs? 2. (d)
(a) A large house, a sailboat, a private university education
(b) freedom from worry
(c) Equality of opportunity
(d) shelter, food, and water

The starting point for assertive writing is: 3. (b)
(a) an outline.
(b) a clear purpose.
(c) a sophisticated vocabulary.
(d) a powerful ending.
4. You want a job title that reflects your expanded duties. 4. (d)
_______________ is the most effective communication channel to
your boss for achieving this goal.
(a) An email
(b) A voice mail message
(c) A telephone call
(d) A face-to-face meeting
5. Which of the following demonstrates the most effective I statement? 5. (b)
(a) I feel upset when youre inconsiderate towards people on the team.
(b) I feel upset when you give me an assignment the night before its due,
because I want to deliver my best work. so, next time will you give me
advance notice?
(c) I think youre never going to improve, because you either dont try or
you dont care.
(d) You left the Colby account out of the financial statement. How could
you be so careless?
Review Questions
58 AssErTIng YoursElf AT Work
Do you have questions? Comments? Need clarification?
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assertive Nonverbal
Learning Objectives
By the end of this chapter, you should be able

State the importance of nonverbal aspects of


Differentiate between passive, aggressive, and

assertive nonverbal cues.

Identify key dimensions of assertive nonver-

bal communication (ANC).

Explain how dimensions of ANC can be

combined to strengthen nonverbal commu-

Keep a nonverbal communication journal.

Describe strategies to align your verbal and

nonverbal communication.
The last chapter equipped you with practical techniques for making your ver-
bal communication more assertive. In this chapter, youll learn about another
form of communicationnonverbaland its impact on the way people per-
ceive you and the words you speak.
The Power of NoNverbal
According to studies conducted by psychologist Dr. Albert Mehrabian, a mes-
sage delivered face-to-face breaks down into three elements:

Verbal: What you say

Vocal: How you say it

Visual: What the receiver sees that is your body language, dress, etc.
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
Which of these do you suppose has the greatest power? According to
Mehrabian, the vocal componenttone of voice and volume, for example
counts for 38 percent of a message perceived by the audience. The verbal
the actual wordscount for only 7 percent, while the visual portionposture,
facial expression, and dress, for examplecounts for 55 percent (Arredondo,
1991). Surprising, isnt it? other research reveals different percentages de-
pending on the setting of the communication. Nevertheless, those findings
underscore the importance of nonverbal communication to the effect of a
message. According to Mehrabian, if your nonverbal and verbal communica-
tion contradict each other, people will be more likely to believe the nonverbal
cues. In other words, the nonverbal message trumps peoples words. People
may also be confused by your verbal and nonverbal contradictions.
lets suggest that a friend at work asks if you would mind staying late to
help put together graphs for a report. You say, No, I dont mind at all, but
you rap on the table (knock on wood) and offer a tight-lipped smile. Your
words say that you dont mind, but your nonverbal cues send the message that
you do mind. An assertive person would not send these mixed messages; his
or her nonverbal communication would support his or her words. The verbal
and non-verbal communication would be aligned: I cant help you tonight
with these graphs because of another commitment, but I can pitch in early
tomorrow morning. How does that sound to you? All the while, the assertive
speaker is using facial and body language to indicate his or her interest and
support for what the other person is trying to accomplish: a smile, erect pos-
ture, eye contact, and a commanding tone of voice.
The last chapter gave you many examples of words and phrases you can
use to express feelings and state what you want in a direct and concise way.
The knowledge of how to frame your message should give you more confi-
dence in what youre about to saya confidence that your voice and body
language should reflect. Ideally, as you grow more assertive, each aspect of
communicationverbal, vocal, and visualwill progressively become better
aligned (Exhibit 4-1).
60 ASSErTINg YourSElf AT WorK
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xhibit 4-1
Alignment Between Communication Elements
What You Say
How You Say It
Body Language
In this chapter, well assume that youre already getting better at framing
the verbal content of your messages and that your comfort level with using
more assertive language will help you improve your nonverbal communica-
tion skills. To get started, try your hand at Exercise 4-1. It will help you ob-
serve the difference in your voice and body language when you deliver
non-assertive, aggressive, and assertive statements.

1. Ask a friend to videotape you reading (or putting into your own words) the following state-
ments. Or, put the camera on a tripod and do your own recording. If you dont have access to
a video camera, capture your voice on an audio recorder while watching yourself in a mirror.
2. Record each statement, one after the other, in one take.
3. Then, play back the non-assertive and assertive statements in Example 1.
4. Write down what you observe about your voice and body language in the nonassertive and
assertive readings. Do you see a contrast? If so, what stands out? What does this say to
you about nonverbal communication?
5. Follow the same process for Examples 2 and 3.
Example 1
Nonassertive language:
Oh, excuse me, Doug, Im sorry to bother you when youre so busy, but, ah, I was won-
dering, and maybe this isnt okay, but I was wondering, you know, if I can talk with you
sometime about my vacation schedule? Is that possible?
Assertive language:
Doug, Id like to talk with you about my vacation schedule. Can we meet next week?
Your observations:
Example 2
Nonassertive language:
If you dont mindand this may or may not seem a bit arcane to youbut if youre open
to it, and hopefully you are, we might look at another approach to financing this phase,
if you will, of our expansion plan.
Exercise 4-1
Words into Action
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
Exercise 4-1 continues on next page.
Assertive language:
I propose another approach to financing this phase of our expansion. I recommend that
we cap our debt financing at $150 million and delay new store openings in the southwest
region. Heres why . . . .
Your observations:
Example 3
Aggressive language:
There you go again, Tom. You never give us feedback on our reports until the last minute
and we always end up in a time bind. Were sick and tired of being the pawns in your
game, just so you can play hero to senior management.
Assertive language:
Tom, delaying feedback on our reports like this puts the entire team in a time bind, forc-
ing us to work nights and weekends. More timely feedback from you will solve that prob-
lem. Is there any reason that you cannot turn around our reports more quickly?
Your observations:
What did you observe about your reading of these three examples? from
a strictly verbal perspective, the passive, aggressive, and assertive aspects of
these quotes are fairly obvious. But what about the voice tone and body lan-
guage that went with them? Exhibit 4-2 lists some of the non-verbal cues gen-
erally associated with these three approaches to communication.
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Exercise 4-1 continued from previous page.

xhibit 4-2
Non-Verbal Cues
Passive Aggressive
Avoids eye contact Glaring eye contact; squinting
Shoulders hunched Leaning forward
Head down Head craned forward
Low voice Strong and unusually loud voice
Hands held in front in a defensive
Pointing or jabbing forefinger at the
listener; or hands on hips; or arms
crossed in front
metacommunication: meaning beyond the words
Imagine this scenario. You set the alarm an hour-and-a-half earlier than
your usual wake-up time, so you can get to work ahead of your manager
and co-workers. You look forward to answering your email free of dis-
tractions and polishing the trip report on last weeks regional sales meet-
ing. When you arrive, youre surprised to run into the Vice President of
National Sales who says in a booming voice as she walks by, My, youre
off to an early start today. You mumble, Well, yes, I am. The V.P. strides
into her office. You unlock the door to your office and walk inside and
wonder, Now, what was that all about? Did your V.P. mean you never
come in early? Did she mean that youre trying to show her up? Did she
mean that shes impressed with your early arrival? You think about her
tone of voice, her facial expression, and other body language to give you
a clue.
The meaning youre trying to figure out in this situation is what com-
municators call metacommunication. Specifically, this is the intentional
or unintentional implied meaning of a message . . . [that] though not ex-
pressed in words, accompanies a message that is expressed in words
(Chaney and Martin, 2004). As we communicate with one another, we in-
terpret the implied meaning of others words, just as theyre interpreting
our words. This is another reasonand an important one at thatto be
precise and concrete in the words we choose. Yet, we arent always precise
and neither are other people, so we continue to interpret each others
voice and body language for meaning. understanding these vocal and vi-
sual cues can help us improve our interpretations.
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
SixDimeNSioNS of NoNverbal
In this section, well explore the dimensions of nonverbal communication to
help us extract the deeper meanings of messages. These dimensions are:

Body movement

Body contact

Eye contact

Interpersonal space


Well present these dimensions first in terms of culture in the united
States and then, point out the similarities and differences with other cultures.
Although we wont be focusing on regional variations, its important to note
that in a country as ethnically diverse and large as the united States, regional
standards may also vary from the national norms. once you understand these
dimensions of nonverbal communication, well then present a section on how
you can use them to make your communications more assertive.
body movement
This dimension of nonverbal communication includes gestures, facial expres-
sions, posture, and other mannerisms (Chaney and Martin, 2004). for ex-
ample, facial expressions tell us about a persons mood, feelings, and attitudes.
Many are universal, such as smiles or frowns, laughter or cries. As people be-
come socialized, they learn how to control expressions to mask their emotions,
especially inappropriate ones. How do they do this? As Alberti and Emmons
explain, they become more aware of how the facial muscles feel in various
facial expressions. Then, they can begin to control their expressions and make
[them] congruent with what [theyre] thinking, feeling, or saying (Albert and
Emmons, 1995). The same holds true for gestures and body posture.
Whatever the words, most individuals in the united States view an active
and erect posture as assertive and a slouched posture as passive. Nervous and
erratic gestures indicate a lack of self-confidence. Thus, a persons gestures,
facial expressions, postures, stance, and other aspects of movement can either
enhance or confuse a verbal message. Effective communicators keep these two
forms of communication in alignment.
Keep in mind that some common gestures in the united States are in-
terpreted differently in other cultures. If you work with people from other
countries, take time to learn the basics of their body language and how to
present yourself nonverbally in a way that will avoid friction and misunder-
standing. Helpful resources include travel guides, online sources devoted to
international business and cross-cultural communication, and books, such as
Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands: How to Do Business in Sixty Countries by Terri Morrison,
Wayne A. Conaway, and george A. Borden.
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body Contact
In North America, a handshake, whether its firm or limp, is one of the most
important nonverbal messages we send. While the handshake is a common
and accepted form of touching, excessive touching may be perceived as sexual
harassment or aggressive behavior, while those who habitually shrink from
physical contact may be perceived as passive or defensive (fountain and
Arthur, 1990). By contrast, occasional touching of arms or shoulders, espe-
cially when its spontaneous and open, may be viewed as assertive (Ibid.). Any
time you going beyond a handshake, however, its important to follow the stan-
dards of your organization and profession.
In his book, Gestures, roger Axtell divides cultures into three categories:
dont touch, touch, and middle ground. He has categorized the united States,
Japan, Canada, England, Scandinavia, and other Northern European countries
as dont touch cultures. Touch cultures include latin American countries,
greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, russia, and some Asian countries. Middle
ground cultures include france, China, India, Ireland, Australia, and Middle
Eastern countries (Exhibit 4-3).
According to Axtell, both men and women in touch cultures may hold
hands or walk down the street arm in arm. In these cultures, same-sex touch-
ing is often the norm and does not indicate homosexual behavior. for example,
latin American men often greet each other with an affectionate embrace,
placing both hands on the others shoulders. In contrast, men in the Middle
East must avoid using the left hand in touching another person because the
left hand is considered unclean (Chaney and Martin, 2004). In Asia, its taboo
to touch someones head, because the head is considered sacred (Ibid.). Touch
is a very sensitive issue, and anyone who conducts business across borders and
across cultures must learn and observe the norms.
American Management Association. All rights reserved.

xhibit 4-3
Touch and Non-Touch Cultures
Touch Middle Ground Non-Touch
Latin American countries
Mediterranean countries
(Greece, Italy, Spain,
Parts of Asian countries
Middle Eastern countries
United States
Northern European
eye Contact
In the united States, Britain, Canada, and in Northern and Eastern Europe,
people expect direct eye contact with others, but not constant eye contact. for
them, staring at another person is considered aggressive while the lack of di-
rect eye contact as viewed as passive, if not trustworthy or showing a lack of
interest. By contrast, Asians, Eastern Indians, and American Indians view look-
ing down or indirectly as a way of showing respect. They consider direct eye
contact rude. Thus, the nature of someones eye contact tells us a lot about
his or her level of assertiveness, as long as we evaluate it within the proper
cultural context.
interpersonal Space
Is there a point at which another persons closeness to you makes you uncom-
fortable? Do you have a general sense of what distance from another person
is most appropriate? Most people do have this sense, and it governs how they
feel in certain situations. for instance, if someone steps too close to them, they
feel uncomfortable and want to back away.
In his seminal studies of cultural anthropology, Edward T. Hall catego-
rized the use of space into four categories: intimate, personal, social, and pub-
lic (Tuleja, 2005).
Intimate Space
Hall identified intimate space as 18 inches or less (Chaney and Martin, 2004).
Most Americans are uncomfortable being at this distance for any length in
time with a stranger or someone they dont know well, although theyll make
an exception when shaking hands (Chaney and Martin, 2004) and standing in
elevators (Tuleja, 2005). In the workplace, entering another persons intimate
space without permission is generally viewed as aggressive behavior. It makes
people inherently uncomfortable.
Personal Space
Hall identified personal space as 18 inches to four feet. In the workplace, peo-
ple use this space for giving instructions to others or working closely with
another person (Chaney and Martin, 2004). As Elizabeth Tuleja points out,
the business phrase arms-length relationship has its origins in the far phase
distance (see following paragraph). She explains that keeping this distance in
the workplace helps people maintain proper relationships and protects them
from being controlled or unduly influenced by others (Tuleja, 2005).
Social Space
Hall identified social space as four to twelve feet. In the world of work, this is
the distance within which people act impersonally and with formality. A busi-
ness meeting, for example, typically takes place within the four to twelve foot
social space. Tuleja writes that the near phase of social, which is four to seven
feet, is the range at which most business conversations and interactions are
conducted, while the far phase, eight to twelve feet, gives rise to transactions
that have a more formal tone (Tuleja, 2005). She points out that many or-
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ganizations in the united States place office furniture for senior managers
and executives in arrangements that support the eight to twelve feet principle
of far social space.
Public Distance
Hall identified public distance as over twelve feet. Communication and in-
teraction in this public space is less personal and qualitatively different than
what transpires at a closer distance. Can you imagine trying to communicate
with someone who is twenty-five feet away? Clearly, you would have to speak
very loudly and exaggerate your body language in order to communicate at
all, which is what people must do when they make a speech in a large hall.
given Halls four-part space system, how should you maneuver if youre
trying to be assertive? When interacting with others in the workplace, assertive
people choose a distance that is appropriate for the occasion and the nature
of the relationshipnot so close that they make others uncomfortable, yet
not so far away that they appear detached or excessively formal. If they must
be far awayas when giving a speech or presentationthey counter the ef-
fects of physical distance through forceful language, a powerful voice, and ex-
aggerated body language that can be seen and interpreted at a distance.
Silence is another dimension of nonverbal communication that can help you
with assertive communication. responding quickly to another persons com-
municationthat is, narrowing the gap of silencewill generally make you
appear more assertive than someone who pauses or stutters in a search for
words. That said, silence can also be used as an assertiveness tool. Consider
this example:
The aggressive boss was demanding a solution to a pressing problem
from his three direct reports. Yelling and waving his arms wildly, he
fixed his stare on Bill: So what can be done about this problem,
Bill? Bill remained calm and composed, and didnt say a word for
at least twenty seconds. The long silence made the boss uncomfort-
able but made Bill appear thoughtful and in control, as though he
already had the solution, but was choosing his words carefully.
Silence can also be used to indicate disapproval, as in response to a dis-
tasteful joke. It can also be used to draw out clarifying and revealing informa-
tion, because people generally feel awkward during long silences and rush to
fill the void. Consider this example:
Charlotte, the leader of a cross-functional team, was meeting with
the other team members. getting a handle on customer demand
for this new product appears to be slowing our progress, she ob-
served to the others. understanding customer demand is not a big
issue, responded Helen, a member of the team. The others all
looked at Helen in silence, as if asking, Well, what do you mean by
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
that? Her, comment, after all, was counterintuitive and demanded
some explanation. After a moment of silence, Helen got their un-
stated message. Well, what I mean is that customer demand is a
question we can answer through traditional market research.
Experienced negotiators know the value of silence and use it to their ad-
vantage. As people develop their assertiveness skills, they learn when to deliver
a quick response during an interchange and when to resort to silence.
Paralanguage involves all vocal aspects of messages beyond our words: voice
tone, speaking rate, inflection, volume, energy level, fluency, and so on. It in-
cludes vocalizations such as laughing and crying, attending sounds such as
uh-huh, and fillers (ums and uhs) (Chaney and Martin, 2004). Paralan-
guage reveals our attitudes toward ourselves and others and the situation at
hand. It also reveals the part of the world or the nation were from. It lets peo-
ple know if were angry, happy, impatient, stunned, or perplexed, among other
As with the other dimensions of nonverbal communication, paralanguage
is culture-specific. In the united States, for example, we often characterize
people who speak overly loud as rude, boorish, or aggressive. People who
speak overly soft are often characterized as insecure or timidthat is,
unassertive. on the other hand, a loud speaker in an Arab nation is viewed as
demonstrating strength and sincerity. The pace of speech is another aspect of
paralanguage. People from Italy and Arab nations, for instance, usually speak
at a faster rate than do people in the central united States. What we might
interpret as anger or impatience in this rapid rate of speech is the norm for
their cultures. The same pace issue is observable within the united States;
compare, for example, the rapid clip of an urban New Yorker with the slow
drawl of a rural Kentuckian.
As you develop your nonverbal communication skills, use paralanguage
that conveys the message you want to send and the emotions you wish to re-
veal. Be equally attentive to the vocal cues of others.
Now that youre acquainted with the dimension of nonverbal communi-
cation, you are ready to move on to Exercise 4-2 on page 69, in which you are
asked to analyze the nonverbal communication of people you watch on a tel-
evision program of your choice and then categorize the communication as
passive, aggressive, or assertive.
PuTTiNgTogeTher The DimeNSioNS
for aSSerTive NoNverbal
The six dimensions of nonverbal communication described above are like
building blocks. If you put them together in appropriate ways, you will make
your nonverbal communications more assertive and effective. What follows
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Exercise 4-2
Evaluating the Nonverbal Dimensions
1. Record a television talk show on videotape or DVD. It may be a busi-
ness-oriented program, a political program, a self-help program, or any
other television program where people express ideas and interact.
2. Avoid watching the show while youre recording. (We suggest that you
leave the room so you dont overhear the conversation.)
3. Once youve recorded the program, rewind it to the beginning.
4. Then, press the mute button on your television set or remote control and
play back the program without sound.
5. Watch the program straight through without taking notes. (First impres-
sions are important.)
6. Then, replay the program and fill in a description of each nonverbal di-
mension, except the paralanguage category. You may stop and start, or
use the pause button to do this.
7. Once youve filled in the categories, determine if the nonverbal commu-
nication is passive (P), aggressive (Ag), or assertive (A) and place an
X or checkmark in the appropriate column.
8. Next, go back to the beginning of the program and replay it with the
sound on.
9. Fill in the paralanguage category and determine if the speaking style
(not the content of the message) is passive, aggressive, or assertive.
10. Finally, listen to the content of each speakers message (what the
speaker says) to evaluate if the speakers verbal and nonverbal commu-
nication are in sync. Fill in the Observations/Comments section of the
Speaker #1 P Ag A Speaker #2 P Ag A Speaker #3 P Ag A
Body contact
Eye contact
is a list of actions you can take to make your assertive nonverbal communica-
tion, or ANC, an effective habit. Before you attempt this, take a moment to
scan Exhibit 4-4, which lists many of the body language behaviors you will
experience in the workplace, and what they usually mean.
make Proper use of Space
How you use space and the degree to which you respect the space of others
sends a message about your assertiveness. for the most part, you should not
invade someones intimate space except for a handshake or a platonic hug,
and the latter only given to people you know well. Your use of the other types
of spacepersonal, social, or professionalshould appropriately match the
occasion and relationship. for example, its appropriate to enter personal space
when training an employee to do a physical task, helping a customer put on
an overcoat, or helping team members edit a report. on the other hand, doing
the same thing at a professional networking event or meeting with represen-
tatives of another company would probably be inappropriate.
Always be alert to how others respond to your movement in space. Even
when youre properly within the boundaries of a particular space, if the other
person steps back from you, do not pursue. That person might require more
distance than you are giving him or her. If you step forward as the other person
steps back, you risk coming across as aggressive rather than assertive.
Now, lets turn the tables. If someone crosses over your line of comfort,
step back. You have a right to your personal space and to define how large or
small it is. By stepping back or moving to the other side of a counter or desk,
you maintain a proper distance. Be aware, though, that this action may come
across as passive, especially to someone who is aggressive or who comes from
an aggressive culture. Alternatively, stand your ground and put your hands on
your hips, which indicates that youre holding the line.
maintain a Professional appearance
A professional appearance contributes to assertive nonverbal communication
(ANC). In the united States, appearance is one of the three most important
nonverbal messages you send. The other two are your handshake and eye con-
tact. Appearance involves dress, hairstyle, grooming, and such things as
makeup and jewelry.
Assertive people dress appropriately for their work and organization. or-
dinarily, that means either business formal or business casual attire. Account-
ing firms and financial companies, for example, traditionally require the more
formal wear of dark business suits, while the entertainment and advertising
industries lean toward the casual. Whatever your work environment, invest
in quality clothing that matches the current style. Clothing should have a
proper fit and be kept clean and pressed; shoes should be polished. If your
work requires a uniform, wear and maintain the uniform according to your
organizations standard.
Your hairstyle is another important aspect of your professional appear-
ance. Choose a hairstyle that has a clean-cut look and enhances the positive
features of your face. Always keep your hair combed and washed. If you color
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your hair, use subtle tones.
finally, wear tasteful makeup and jewelry if its appropriate for your gen-
der and profession. Avoid heavy eye makeup, dangling earrings, and flashy
rings that jingle and glitter and distract from your message. remember, your
appearance is one of the most important nonverbal communicators. It affects
the way people size you up and respond to you, which in turn affects your
give a firm handshake
The third component of assertive nonverbal communication or ANC is a firm
handshake. A firm handshake is part of the greeting ritual in the united States
and in many other nations and its quality sends a strong message about your
American Management Association. All rights reserved.

Source: Perry McIntosh and Richard Luecke. Interpersonal Communication Skills in the Workplace.
(New York: American Management Association, 2008).
xhibit 4-4
Body Language and What It Says to Others
Body Language Meaning
Crossing the arms across the chest Often a defensive or nervous posture, but
sometimes nothing more than a comfortable
Touching or scratching the mouth or cheek Nervous; anxious
Breaking eye contact from the speaker Possible sign of either disinterest or
disagreement with what is being said
Fiddling with something, even when
maintaining eye contact with speaker
Possible disinterest
Head tilt while listening Possible boredom
Looking away from the listener while speaking Speaker may be lying or hiding something
Nervous head movements Anxiety
Smiling with the mouth, but not with the eyes Submission to the other person
Staring and holding eye contact for a long
time, perhaps with eye squinting
Possible aggression
Stepping abnormally close to the other person Aggression; dominance
self-confidence to the people whose hands you shake. To shake someones
hand, grasp his or her hand firmly with your right hand, and pump slightly
once or twice while you make direct eye contact. Avoid wildly pumping the
hand, greeting the person with a weak or soft handshake, using a crushing
grasp, or placing your left hand on the persons arm while you shake (except
when you know the person well).
Your hand should also be dry and warm to the touch. If you tend to per-
spire a lot when youre nervous, dry your hands before you meet someone. If
your hands are chronically cold to the touch, warm them up by rubbing them
together or on your clothing. (of course, do this only if youre out of the per-
sons line of sight or before you enter the room.) A weak, sweaty, or cold hand-
shake can get in the way of making a strong first impression. So practice your
handshake with friends and co-workers you trust. use their feedback to hone
this greeting ritual.
use Direct eye Contact
In addition to having a professional appearance and a firm handshake, use di-
rect eye contact to engage others. look the other person in the eye for several
seconds or for a period of time that feels natural and comfortable to you. Then,
break away briefly and re-engage. However, avoid constant, piercing eye con-
tact because that makes people feel uncomfortable.
Direct eye contact combined with direct language is a powerful combi-
nation that will make you come across as a straight-forward, confident, no-
nonsense personthe kind of individual other people are more apt to pay
attention to and whose ideas theyre more likely to accept.
Eye Contact and Shyness
If youre so shy that you find direct eye contact difficult, challenge yourself
to recall the eye color of the people you meet and talk with during the day.
To accomplish this, you must look into their eyes. This trick may help you
get past your shyness.
Eye Contact in a Small Group
In the workplace, its common to talk with two or three people in meetings, in
hallway conversations, at lunch, and in other situations. When youre in a small
group, make direct eye contact with everyone. Avoid favoring one person with
most or all of your attention. If you do, the others may feel slighted, perhaps re-
sentful. It makes sense if youre talking in a group to have longer and more fre-
quent eye contact with your boss. After all, this shows respect for his or her
position and is appropriately assertive, but dont do this at the neglect of others.
Eye Contact with a Large Group
If youre speaking to a large group of people, make direct eye contact with
individuals or sections of your audience instead of looking over their heads
or toward the back of the room. look into the eyes of one person (or address
a group of people) for two to three seconds, then move on until you have in-
cluded all areas of the room. once youve done that, move in the other direc-
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tion from person to person (or from small section to small section). This lends
smoothness and flow to your eye contact and makes a personal connection
with the audience. It takes time and practice to learn how to do this while giv-
ing a presentation. once youve mastered this technique, your audience will
be more receptive both to you and to what you have to say.
Distracting Eye Movements
Certain eye movements can get in the way of your message and assertiveness,
and its best to avoid them. for example, excessive blinking can make you ap-
pear nervous or insecure. rolling your eyes will make you seem dismissive or
contemptuous. If you shift your eyes, you may look like youre lying and are
therefore, untrustworthy.
use good Posture
Many of us remember our parents and teachers grumbling at us about our
poor posture during our adolescent years; theyd scold: Stand up straight.
Pull your shoulders back. Tuck in your stomach. And they were right. good
posture counts as it affects how people think of us. When you practice good
posture, you look confident and centered as you stand, sit, and walk.
When You Stand
Standing up straight goes right to the core of a good posture. Keep your shoul-
ders back and down, and your chest out. Tuck in your stomach. Balance your
stance by putting your weight equally on both feet. (Bending your knees a bit
will help you do this.) In profile, your body should form a straight, vertical
line from head to toe. It should look natural and relaxed.
Here are some things to avoid when you stand: Avoid hunching or round-
ing your shoulders, shifting your weight from foot to foot, standing with your
ankles crossed, scratching your leg with your foot, dancing around, pacing
back and forth, leaning against the wall or table, and so on. These actions por-
tray you as nervous and insecure.
In addition, avoid standing with a rigid posture as people may view you
as tense and aggressive. By the same token, avoid standing with your chin
tilted up as you talk with others. They may see you as arrogant and imperious.
Practice your stance in front of a full-length mirror. Take a look at yourself
facing forward and in profile, and adjust your posture accordingly.
When You Sit
good sitting posture also conveys self-confidence. Sit up straight with your
hips back in the chair and your feet flat on the floor. You may put one leg in
front of the other for a natural look. Hold your hands in your lap, face down
on your thighs, or comfortably on a table.
Here are some things to avoid when you sit: Avoid slouching in your
chair, sitting on the edge of your chair, shifting or rocking in your chair, lean-
ing toward one side or the other, gripping the arms of the chair, and swiveling
the chair. These actions make you look insecure. Avoid crossing your arms as
this defensive posture puts a barrier between yourself and the other person.
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In addition, avoid crossing your legs or ankles, because this comes across as
too casual for a business setting, and even rude. And by all means, avoid cross-
ing your leg at the knee and shaking your foot. This comes across as too casual,
and others may view you as extremely nervous or impatient. finally, avoid
sitting in a rigid posture, which suggests that you are tense and inflexible.
As with your stance, practice your sitting posture in front of a full-length
mirror. You might try this with different types of chairsa regular chair, an
armchair, a swivel chair, and a stool, for example. (If its a tall stool, rest your
feet on the ledge.) Watch yourself facing the mirror and in profile and then,
adjust your posture.
When You Walk
When you walk, use a natural gait, your shoulders back, and your chin straight.
As you move by other people, pass them on the right, while staying your
course. Avoid stepping aside if someone moves toward you in your path. Thats
passive behavior that will make you appear weak. You have a right to stand
your ground. on the other hand, you may decide to move out of the way be-
cause you want to be polite and thats important to you. This is your choice
to make. The advice is different for an aggressive person trying to become
more assertive. Avoid moving into other peoples paths as they approach them.
Instead, stick to your own path, and dont encroach on those of others.
As with standing and sitting, practice your walk in front of a full-length mir-
ror. You can also practice by looking at your reflection in store windows. This
will give you a profile of your walking posturea good perspective to have.
Purposeful gestures
To gesture with purpose means moving your arms and hands in natural, well-
coordinated motions that suitably reinforce the words and meaning of your
message. Theyre not halfhearted or tentative. You commit to each movement
completely, yet you do this more or less unconsciously. To put it another way,
gestures flow from your message. If you try to plan your gestures ahead of
time or think too much about them as you speak, you may become self-con-
scious. And once you become self-conscious, your gestures become unnatural,
stilted, or uncoordinated.
gestures should be proportionate to the space. Thus, if youre in a large
room, such as an auditorium, use broader and more sweeping gestures than
you would in a small room. otherwise, they will not be noticed. And avoid
the following, as they can make you appear uncomfortable or insecure, com-
bative or aggressive:

Nervous, random gestures

overuse of gestures

Tapping on the table, desk, or podium, playing with objects like pens and
paperclips, or jingling things in your pocket, like keys

Holding notes or a pen or other objects in your hands (except a pointer)

Pounding on the table or podium, gesturing with your fists, or pointing your
finger at people
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As with posture, try practicing gestures in front of a full-length mirror.
Think of something you want to say to someone at work and then say it aloud.
Watch your posture and gestures, and evaluate how your message comes
across. repeat the message but adjust your gestures. Then move on to another
message, perhaps one thats more emotional or difficult to convey. Working
with a mirror gives you immediate feedback on your body language. It will
help you develop purposeful gestures that look natural and that reinforce what
you want to say.
Control Your facial expressions
facial expression is probably the most powerful form of nonverbal commu-
nication. It tells us if people are happy, angry, curious, fearful, and so forth.
And were generally more trusting of what facial expressions tell us than of
spoken words.
Your expressions should match the content of your message and the situ-
ation at hand. They should also respond appropriately to someone elses mes-
sage. To do this, you need to know when to smile, frown, laugh, and so on. You
need to know when to have an open expression and when to hide your feelings.
You need to know how to control your expressions without looking robotic.
Controlling your expressions is especially important during negotiations and
performance reviews, and when you have to discipline an employeeor con-
verselywhen youre being reviewed or receiving negative feedback.
To become more assertive in your facial expressions, avoid:

Biting or wetting your lips; both make you come across as nervous and

Smiling when you deliver a serious or critical message, or when someone

else delivers one; that sends a confusing message.

Tightening or jutting your jaw; that comes across as rigid or aggressive.

Pursing your lips and flaring your nostrils; both signal anger and aggres-

Smirking; it makes you appear arrogant.

You can work on your facial expressions in front of a full-length, bed-
room, or bathroom mirror. Think of something you want to tell a colleague
at work and practice it, monitoring and adjusting your facial expression as you
speak. Think of how your colleague might respond. Watch and adjust your
facial expression as you listen to the response.
Now, heres the big test. Practice a more difficult communication, such
as asking your manager for a raise or time off. What internal feelings did you
have as you spoke? Were you nervous, timid, or afraid? How well did you
mask those emotions?
finally, think of a message where an open expression is appropriate, such
as praising a co-worker and practice it. How does you face look when you de-
liver this message versus the more difficult one? Continue to work on your
facial expression by delivering a variety of messages.
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effective vocal Delivery
How you speak can be as important as what you say. Effective vocal delivery
requires attention to resonance, volume, energy level, tone, speaking rate, flu-
ency, enunciation, and inflection.
Some people are born with the resonant voice of a radio announcer and
theyre often the envy of the rest of us. Yet, most people have more than ad-
equate voices that with fine-tuning can serve them well in the workplace and
in other areas of their lives. Very few people have an irritating voice. Those
who do can usually get help from vocal coaches.
How can you speak in richer and rounder tones? The answer is breath
support and voice placement. If youve ever taken acting or singing lessons,
youve had experience with both. Breath support begins with breathing from
your diaphragm as well as your lungs. The diaphragm is a membrane that sep-
arates the abdomen and chest. When you breathe deeply, it fills with air and
supports your voice. To know if youre breathing from your diaphragm, put
your hands on the sides of your torso with your fingers facing backwards, just
below your ribcage. Take a deep breath through your nose. You should feel
your torso expand on both sides and toward your back. If you dont, you may
be taking a shallow breath that uses only your lungs. Now, try again until you
feel the air expand your diaphragm. Deep breathing is a good way to relax
your muscles when youre nervous.
In addition to breath support, you can enhance vocal quality through
proper voice placement. A lot of people speak as if their voice is trapped at
the back of their throat. This produces a guttural sound that lacks volume.
others speak with a nasal quality, which ironically means theyre not using
their nose. (If you pinch your nostrils while speaking, youll know what nasal
sounds like.) Proper placement feels as if youre throwing your voice forward
past the roof of your mouth through your nose and cheekbones toward lis-
teners. Moving your voice forward in this way takes advantage of resonating
effect of the structure of the bones and facial cavities. Do this and you will
hear a difference in vocal quality.
use an audio recorder to work on your vocal resonance. Speak a common
saying like a penny saved is a penny earned with your typical delivery. Now,
take a deep breath and speak it again as you visualize your voice moving for-
ward. replay what youve recorded and note the difference between the first
and second delivery. Keep practicing until your voice resonates with confi-
dence and power.
When you speak up, speak out! What is the benefit of having a fantastic idea
if people cant hear it? If you speak too softly, people will have to strain to
hear and you will come across as timid and passive. Also, match the volume
of your voice to the size of the room. for example, if you take part in a meeting
in a large conference room, youll talk louder than you would in a one-on-
one encounter in a small office. Wherever you are, use strong breath support
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and throw your voice forward, as you did in creating a more resonant sound.
At first, it may feel to you like youre shouting, even in private conversations.
But resist the temptation to go back to your quiet self. If, on the other hand,
you generally speak at a volume that would shatter safety glass, youre coming
across as bombastic and aggressive. Youll need to tone it down.
As you gain more experience, youll learn how to raise or lower the vol-
ume of your voice for dramatic affect. This will add a surprise element to your
delivery that will help get and keep peoples attention and also get your points
across in a more powerful way.
finally, avoid dropping your voice as you reach the end of your sentences,
presentations, and speeches. Some people drop their volume when they feel
nervous or self-conscious. How you end is vital to the success of your com-
munication. Its the last thing people hear, and it remains in their memory. To
be confident about what you have to say, always end strong. It will help to
practice speaking out, toning down, and varying the volume of your voice
with an audio recorder.
Speaking with energy is not the same as speaking loudly; its about showing
passion and enthusiasm (Arredondo, 1991). A listless voice comes across as if
the speaker doesnt care. This speaker will fail to rally listeners to his or her
cause or maintain their attention. Speaking with energy, however, demon-
strates that what you say matters to you and, by extension, that it should mat-
ter to others. Enthusiasm is contagious, writes lani Arredondo in How to
Present Like a Pro, Your audience will catch it from you (Ibid.). If you dont
believe it, practice speaking with passion and watch how your enthusiasm in-
fects others.
As with other aspects of your voice, use an audio recorder to practice
vocal energy.
Voice tone communicates emotions and should conform to your message, to
the situation, and to your listeners. You would not use a cheerful voice for a
somber message, for example, or a strident voice for a compliment. In this re-
spect, the use of vocal tone is similar to facial expressions. You need to know
when and how to mask your emotions and when and how to reveal them with
your voice tone.
In being assertive, you must have command of your voice, while you stay
true to yourself and respectful of others. In other words, you must avoid al-
lowing your voice to be overtaken by emotionsunless its appropriate. If,
for instance, your voice sounds choked up or shaky when you state an idea in
a meeting or respond to criticism, you come across as frightened and timid.
In contrast, if your voice sounds choked up or shaky when you speak at a me-
morial service for a colleague, you will seem moved and compassionate
both appropriate to the situation. If you were to stifle your feelings in that
situation, youd come across as cold or heartless. In being assertive, let your
tone of voice project your inner confidence and trustworthiness.
As with other aspects of your voice, use an audio recorder to practice your
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
tone. Think of situation at work that provokes strong feelings within you, then
craft a response. Is this a situation in which your voice should mask your emo-
tions? If so, aim for a tone that sounds calm and in control. on the other hand,
should your voice reveal your emotions in this situation? If so, go for a tone
sounds true to the situation and yourself. Continue practicing messages that
have strong underlying emotions. listen to the playback and adjust your tone.
Speaking Rate
on average, people speak between 125 and 150 words per minute (Kiely,
1997). Within that range, they sound confident and natural. once their rate
exceeds that range, speakers sound insecure, as if they cant wait to get to the
finish line. Their listeners cant wait, either, because theyre exhausted from
the ride. on the other hand, people who speak too slowly appear unsure of
what words to use, which does not inspire confidence in their listeners.
To avoid racing through your messagesor dragging through them
have confidence that you have something valuable to say, and that what youre
telling people matches the occasion. You can build that confidence by knowing
your material well and by having reasons to back up what you say.
Practice your speaking rate by using an audio recorder, but avoid count-
ing the words. Instead, listen to the playback and judge whether your speed
sounds natural. Then, make adjustments as needed.
fluency is a measure of how well your voice flows from one thought to the
next. for the most part, your delivery should be smooth, with natural pauses
between clauses and sentences. These pauses work in much the same as they
do in writing, where commas, semicolons, colons, and periods indicate the
length of a pause. In writing, the period stands for a longer pause than a
comma. Its the same when speaking; youll pause longer at the end of a sen-
tence and a paragraph than you will between an opening clause or phrase and
the rest of the sentence. Your goal should be to have a natural flow to your
voice, just as you aim for a natural speaking rate.
To have a fluent style, avoid jamming sentences together. Doing so will
allow your listeners to absorb the points youre making. run-on speaking
makes you appear nervous and insecure or aggressive, as if pausing might give
someone a chance to jump in and challenge your point. Avoid long and un-
natural pauses between words and sentence fragments as these create a choppy
delivery that makes you sound unsure of yourself. In addition, avoid filler ex-
pressions such as um and uh, and filler words, such as like and you
know. fillers get in the way of a fluent delivery and obscure the message.
When you feel an um or any other filler on the tip on your tongue, pause
briefly instead. This will sound like a natural break to your listeners, even if
it feels like a gap to you.
once you develop a natural speaking rate, use an audio recorder to prac-
tice. record and play back your message. focus specifically on the rhythm
and flow of your words. They should sound smooth and conversational and
be filler-free. Count the number of ums and other fillers and eliminate them
in follow-up recordings.
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Enunciate with Clarity
Enunciation (or articulation) has to do with the clarity of speaking. When you
enunciate well, listeners can clearly understand every word you say.
As a child, you may have had fun practicing tongue-twisters like Peter
Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers in order to practice your Ps or She
sells seashells by the seashore to practice your Ss and Es. You may have
honed your vowels with rhymes like, How now brown cow. These exercises
were helpful because you had to open your mouth and relax your jaw in order
to do them wella technique that works at any age. Both opening your mouth
and relaxing your jaw, along with the correct pronunciation of consonants and
vowels, helps ensure stronger enunciation.
Here are some things to avoid:

Mumbling or slurring your words; these make you come across as careless,
shy, or intimidated.

over-punctuating consonants; these make you appear stiff and aggressive,

or as tentative and overly concerned with making a mistake.
If you have a speech impediment, such as a stutter, lisp, or the inability
to pronounce a particular letter or combination of letters, or a foreign or re-
gional accent, you may feel insecure about speaking. This insecurity can affect
your quest to become more assertive. You may find it helpful to work with a
speech therapist or coach.
Again, practice with an audio recorder. Deliver a message you want to
say to someone at work, either one-on-one or in a meeting, then play back
the recording. How distinctly did you speak? Did you mumble or slur words
together? Were you overly precise to the point of sounding insecure? re-
record your message and keep practicing until your words are crisp and clear.
Inflection is the variation in the pitch of your voice. When you speak with in-
flection, your voice sounds lively and ebullient, instead of flat and dull. In
general, when you speak with passion about a topic, vocal inflection will fol-
low. Your voice will ring with a variety of pitches that sound natural, rather
than pre-planned. In other words, inflection is not something you chart out
ahead of time; it bubbles up and out from within.
How much you vary your pitch should depend on the audience and on
the situation. The key is to sound natural. for example, use strong vocal vari-
ety in meetings and during presentations to keep the audience interested and
alert. In an employee performance review, though, especially if youre giving
negative feedback, tone down your inflection and speak in a flatter voice. Too
much vocal variety in this situation might detract from the seriousness of the
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using an audio recorder is also an excellent way to practice vocal inflec-
tion. record a message youd like to deliver in a meeting or presentation. lis-
ten to the playback to hear how well you vary your pitch. Adjust and re-record
your message. Then, record a message to someone whose behavior youd like
to change. Play it back to hear if your pitch reflects the more authoritative
nature of the message. If you need to work more on inflection, re-record your
messages and keep practicing.

In this exercise, youll put together key components of assertive nonverbal communication (ANC).
Youll dress in business formal wear and do an exercise that involves a sit-down discussion. Use
a video camera to record a discussion between you and another person in the workplace (a vol-
unteer). If you have a tripod, youll need only one person to help with this exercise. (Set the camera
on the tripod and punch the record button before you begin.) If you dont have a tripod, youll need
two people: one to act as your discussion partner and another to operate the video camera. (Use
a still camera and tape recorder as a substitute, if you dont have a video camera.)
You and the other person should sit in two chairs that face each other, yet angled slightly toward
the camera. Adjust the camera to record both of you from just above the ankles to a few inches
above the top of the head. Once the camera has begun recording, hold a give-and-take discussion
that lasts from three to five minutes. Then, stop the video recorder. Wait until youre alone to eval-
uate your nonverbal communication performance. Then, follow these steps:
1. Rewind the video and press the mute button on your television or remote control.
2. Play back the sit-down discussion without sound.
3. Watch straight through without taking notes.
4. Replay the video and fill in a description of each category of assertive nonverbal communica-
tion, except Effective vocal delivery. You may stop and start, or use the pause button to do this.
5. Once youve filled in a category, determine if your nonverbal communication is passive (P),
aggressive (Ag), or assertive (A) and place an X or checkmark in the appropriate column.
Tip: inflection

Avoid a sing-song delivery; that is, a pattern of predictable pitches.

Aside from annoying your audience, it will make you come across as
uncomfortable or nervous.

Do not stress the wrong words in sentences or the wrong syllables in words.
It makes you sound uncoordinated and out of sync with your message.

Avoid a monotone voice; that is, a voice that lacks pitch variation. It will
make you come across as uninvolved and disinterested.

Avoid raising your pitch at the end of a sentence thats not a question.
Some people do this when they want to be collaborative and consider-
ate. If you want to send that nonverbal message, go ahead. But be aware
that your listener may view you as tentative.
Exercise 4-3
Putting the Components of Assertive Nonverbal Communication Together
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Exercise 4-3 continues on next page.
6. Next, go back to the beginning of the tape and replay it with the sound on.
7. Fill in the Effective vocal delivery category and determine if your speaking style (not the
content of your message) is passive, aggressive, or assertive.
8. Then, listen to what you say (your content) to evaluate if your verbal and nonverbal commu-
nication are in sync.
As a final step in this exercise, complete the sections below.
Description of Behaviors P Ag A
Use of space
I appear to be within the proper
boundaries here.
Eye contact
Im slouching.
Controlled facial
Effective vocal
a. Resonance
b. Volume
c. Energy
d. Tone
e. Speaking rate
f. Fluency
g. Enunciation
h. Inflection
What I will do to improve:
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Exercise 4-3 continued from previous page.
a NoNverbal CommuNiCaTioN
Much can be learned by keeping a journal in which you record daily examples
of nonverbal communication. Journal-keeping forces a person to reflect on things
that happened during the day. You probably dont have the time or interest to do
this every day, but try doing one day of each week for a month. Select any day
of the week to make your entry, for example on Tuesdays, then visit your journal
at the end of each Tuesday in each of the next four or five weeks. reflect back
on the encounters you had during the day to determine if you:

looked professional in your appearance.

Made direct eye contact.

Shook hands firmly.

Spoke with appropriate volume, energy, and fluidity.

used appropriate space.

Stood, sat, and walked with good posture.

gestured with purpose.

used the proper voice tone.

Controlled your facial expressions.

Comment on these in your journal. Note what you did well and what you
need to work on, then keep practicing. remember, you can also ask for feed-
back from friends and co-workers whom you trust.

If youre a manager, does your body language, tone of voice, and eye contact send metamessages
that employees might misinterpret? Explain.
Do you use a different nonverbal communication style with your employees than you do with your
peers and superiors? If so, is each style appropriate?
Think About It . . .
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Think About It continues on next page.
If you are not a manager, but a team member, do you use a different style of nonverbal communi-
cation with your co-workers than you do with your manager? If so, is that style appropriate? Is it
assertive or passive? Explain.
aligNYour verbal aNDNoNverbal
We noted in the first pages of this chapter that communication has three el-
ements: what you say, how you say it, and what the listener sees (body lan-
guage). Communication is most effective when these three elements are
alignedthat is, when they send the same message. When your words say one
thing, but your voice volume and tone and body language all say another, the
listener receives a mixed and confusing message. To appreciate how alignment
happens, consider the following situation in which a subordinate achieves pos-
itive alignment among the three elements of communication. As you read this
story, picture yourself in a similar situation.
Silvias manager called her into his office. Silvia, said ralph, I
have an assignment I want to discuss with you. Please sit down.
As she sat, Silvia leaned forward in her chair and faced her boss
directly. She looked at ralph with a slight smile. She opened her
hands in front of her, as if to say, Im open. let me hear what you
have to say.
Silvia, we need to find out what added services our best cus-
tomers might be looking for, and I need someone who can design a
survey questionnaire, get them out to the right people, and analyze
customer responses once we get them. Can you take that on this
Silvia nodded affirmatively. I can do it this month if I put one
other project on the back burner. She continued with a quizzical
look on her face, What type of customer responses are you looking
for: quantitative or anecdotal?
ralph raised his eyebrows. good question. What would you
Silvia leaned forward and spoke in an even, assertive voice, and
with a confident look on her face. I believe that a combination of
the two would work best, she said raising two fingers toward ralph,
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Think About It continued from previous page.
Some people in this company respond best to data, while others
like to hear customer response in their own words.
good idea, said ralph with a broad smile. Makes sense to
meget to it!
Will do, said Silvia enthusiastically, standing to go. Then she
paused and took a step closer to her boss. ralph, what sort of de-
livery date are you thinking about for this job? My calendar is pretty
packed right now, she said, holding her hands upward, as if sup-
porting a load of work, and opening her eyes wider.
Well, responded ralph, How about one month from today.
Youve got it, Silvia said loudly with a broad smile and a
clenched fist thrust forward. Ill have it done by then.
In this example, Silvia very successfully aligned what she said with how
she said it, and supported both with nonverbal cues. This is exactly what you
must do as you work toward becoming a more assertive communicator at work.
In this chapter, you learned that face-to-face messages have
three elements: what you say, how you say it (such as voice
tone and volume), and the nonverbal body language shown to
the listener. The latter two forms of nonverbal communication
account for the largest portion of the face-to-face messages
you send38 percent and 55 percent respectively, according
to one study. You also learned that if your visual and vocal
messages contradict the words you say, people will be swayed
more by the nonverbal than verbal part of your message. Thats why you need
to maintain alignment between what you say, how you say it, and your body
Many of the nonverbal cues you send (or receive from others) have either
passive, aggressive, or assertive characteristics. for example, a person in a pas-
sive mode tends to avoid eye contact, keep his or her head low, and speak in
Tip: be Yourself
Heres a final tip that you should take to heart. Your nonverbal language
should reflect the kind of person other people understand you to be. If
you depart too muchin voice, posture, inflectionfrom what they al-
ready understand about you, they will question your genuineness: Whats
with Bob? Has he been taken over by space aliens? for instance, if you
are known as an even-tempered personsomeone whose range of dis-
played emotions doesnt swing very far in either directionoverdoing
your emotional display will seem artificial and insincere to co-workers.
As you try out new techniques, be sure to integrate them into your current
style of non-verbal communication which will create better alignment.
Dont behave as through you are someone else!
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a low voice. An assertive person in the same situation will maintain eye con-
tact, have erect posture, and speak with a strong, well-modulated voice.
Six dimensions of nonverbal communication were presented and ex-
plained: body movement, body contact (touching), eye contact, interpersonal
space, silence, and paralanguage. While many aspects of nonverbal commu-
nication are universal, such as smiling, others are culturally influenced.
Body movement includes gestures, facial expressions, posture, and man-
nerisms. Erratic gestures, for example, usually correlate with lack of confi-
dence. Body contact is commonly shown through handshakes and other forms
of touching, some of which may be perceived as aggressive. The rules of eye
contact vary with cultures. In the united States, Britain, Canada, and in
Northern and Eastern Europe, people expect direct eye contact with others.
Staring at another person is considered aggressive while the lack of direct eye
contact as viewed as a passive.
How people use interpersonal space provides another indication of
whether they are passive, aggressive, or assertive. Cultural anthropologist, Ed-
ward T. Hall characterized the use of space into four categoriesintimate,
personal, social, and publicwith each defined by the distance from a par-
ticular individual. To be an assertive person, you must both defend your space
boundaries from invasion by others, and be sensitive to the space requirements
of the people you interact with.
Silence has nonverbal qualities. leaving too much of a silence gap be-
tween one persons statement and your response may give a signal that you
are unsure of yourself. on the other hand, maintaining a gap of silence be-
tween another persons outburst and your reply may make you appear calm,
cool, and in control.
Paralanguage involves all vocal aspects of messages that we do not ex-
press in words: voice tone, speaking rate, inflection, volume, energy level,
pitch, accent, fluency, and so on. laughing and crying are examples of par-
alanguage, as are the uh-huh and like fillers that populate our communi-
cation with others.
The chapter also advises readers to keep a journal in which he or she
records daily workplace experiences with nonverbal communication. Keeping
a journal forces a person to consciously reflect on things that happened during
the day and how he or she handled them.
finally, alignment between the three elements of communicationwhat
we say, how we say it, and the nonverbal cues associated with eachwas un-
derscored in a case example.
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1. The business phrase arms-length relationship relates to: 1. (a)
(a) the far phase of personal space.
(b) intimate space.
(c) public space.
(d) the near phase of social space.
2. Which of the following nonverbal cues indicate passive behavior? 2. (c)
(a) Controlled voice, direct eye contact, back slapping, interrupting
(b) Constant eye contact, tight jaw, stiff body language,
inappropriate touch
(c) fidgeting, looking down, rapid speech, slumping posture
(d) Professional appearance, firm handshake, fluid speech, good posture
3. Metacommunication is the: 3. (c)
(a) long-term meaning of a message.
(b) larger-then-life meaning of a message.
(d) implied meaning of a message beyond the actual words.
(e) carefully crafted syntax of a message.
4. When talking with others in a small group, you should: 4. (a)
(a) make direct eye contact with each person, without favoring one at the
expense of others.
(b) avoid making direct eye contact with anyone.
(c) make direct eye contact with the most powerful person in the group
most of the time.
(d) direct your communication to the person in the center of the group.
5. According to research conducted by Dr. Albert Mehrabian, the verbal 5. (c)
part of a message accounts for _________ percent of what a listener
(a) 38
(b) 93
(c) 7
(d) 55
Review Questions
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opportunities at Work
Learning Objectives
By the end of this chapter, you should be able

Identify seven actions for developing positive

visibility at work.

Discuss the connection between assertiveness

and taking responsibility for ones perform-
Now that you understand how to be assertivethrough your speech, non-
verbal cues, and so forththe next challenge is to identify and exploit op-
portunities to demonstrate assertive behavior where you work. This chapter
will show you how to create a more positive and visible presence in your pro-
fessional life. Here youll find seven practical actions you can take toward that
goal. One involves creating a daily action plan.
The other major section of this chapter is about taking ownership, or re-
sponsibility, for ones successes and failures at work. People who do this are
viewed as strong, confident, and assertive. As in other chapters, youll find ex-
ercises and Think About It segments that challenge you to respond to what
youve learned.
Developingpositive visibility
Have you noticed how passive people seem to blend into the background in
the shop or at the office? Theyre quiet and agreeable, and they dont call at-
tention to themselves. They go about their tasks more or less invisibly without
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
making waves, voicing dissent, or speaking up. Although many of these indi-
viduals do their work very well, they dont always make the cut when the boss
is passing out promotions or plum assignments. Has this been your experi-
like everyone else, these unassertive folk crave recognition for their good
workrecognition is an important human needand are frustrated when all
they get is a pat on the head and some words of praise added to their annual
performance reviews (which disappear into the personnel file). These loyal
worker bees notice others passing them by and wonder why. Whats so spe-
cial about her? Hes just a self-promoter, they often complain. Are you one
of these hard-working but invisible people in your organization?
On the other end of the continuum, there are aggressive people who be-
have and communicate in ways that call attention to themselves. They scream,
badger, and bully. They dress down co-workers and subordinates in front of
others. They are competitive in the extreme. for them, work life is a zero-
sum game in which anyones gain must produce a loss for someone else. Con-
sequently, winning is a must for them. Is this how people at work view you?
The point of these descriptions is not to typecast people, but to suggest
that being passively invisible or gaining visibility through aggressive behavior
wont benefit your career in the long run. The long-run winners in the modern
workplace are those who achieve positive visibility. Positive visibility means
that they and their work are noticed, that they stand out from the crowd, and
that they have a positive aura. In this section, youll learn about seven actions
that can help you create positive visibility where you work. These seven as-
sertive actions are:
1. speak up and share your views.
2. Disagree agreeably.
3. Participate actively in meetings.
4. Be your own best champion.
5. Handle compliments with grace.
6. look at constructive criticism as a self-improvement opportunity.
7. Create and following a daily assertiveness plan.
action #1: speak Up and share your views
If youre on the passive side of assertiveness, you need to raise your profile.
You must become more visible in a positive way. The first action step toward
doing that is to speak up and share your views when appropriate opportunities
present themselves. By appropriate, we mean whenever your interests are at
stake and whenever you have something positive to contribute.
Begin with safe, informal encounters, such as spontaneous conversations
with people you trust at work, conversations in the hallway, at lunch, and at
the photocopy machine. use assertive communication to let people know, in
a positive and direct way, what you think about the topics being discussed.
Ask questions to show that youre involved and interested. stand out by bring-
ing a new idea into the mix, or by politely changing the direction of the con-
versation. Avoid, however, the temptation to initiate gossip or spread rumors.
You want to be associated with positive ideas and issues.
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Once youve become used to speaking up with people you know and feel
comfortable with, widen your circle. share your ideas and views with people
with whom you feel less comfortable, perhaps your supervisor or manager.
Theres no rush here; do this at a pace that works for you.
If youre on the aggressive side of the assertiveness scale, keep in mind
that the key word is share. Conversations are give-and-take encounters; state
your views without taking over the airwaves or trying to overwhelm other
views. Demonstrate support for things that matter to you, but also show an
interest in the views of others and what matters to them. let others give
and allow yourself to take. resist the temptation to do all the talking. And
when others have the floor, listen with your full attention.

Are you are a passive, staying-in-the-background sort of person, even when people discuss work-
related matters that involve you? Its time to move away from that position and assume some pos-
itive visibility. Start by imagining yourself doing what Action #1 advises. Imagine that youre taking
a coffee break with your supervisor and two co-workers. Your supervisor begins talking about a
work matter that involves you directly. Describe one such work matter that involves you now:
As you sit at the table, and think back to the previous chapter, describe the posture and facial ex-
pression you would use to demonstrate interest and assertiveness as you listen to your supervisor
Your supervisor has finished his or her remarks and is looking for a response from someone at
the table. His or her eyes meet yours, as if to say, What do you think about that? You begin your
verbal response. What facial, body, and hand movements would make your response visible and
Exercise 5-1
Breaking Out of Passivity
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action #2: participate actively in Meetings
Once you feel comfortable speaking up in a small group, youre ready for the
second action step, which is to take part in meetings where you speak to more
people and where more is at stake. You may feel tentative and anxious about
this at first, especially if youre used to holding back your thoughts and quietly
listening to what others have to say. Your first attempts at participating may
not come out the way you intend, but, like any skill, regular practice will make
them better. Try to do the following whenever opportunities to speak up at
meetings present themselves:

express your ideas during brainstorming sessions.

Add to other peoples ideas, such as We could take sarahs good idea a step
further by . . . .

state your opinions or express a contrary view, along with supporting ar-
guments, such as I disagree. In fact, we should do just the opposite. And
heres why . . . .

Ask questions, such as I want to be sure that I understand your position.

Would you explain how your plan will benefit our customers?
One thing to avoid, though, is to simply repeat what someone has already
said. People view that as a waste of time.
If youre on the aggressive side of the assertiveness scale, you may have
a habit of interrupting others during meetings, out-shouting them, talking
over their conversations, or other unpleasant behaviors. You now have the
tools to be direct without being hurtful or rude. Try out those tools and ob-
serve the response. You may find that now people are more willing to listen
to your ideas and engage in dialogue, whereas before they silently crossed
their arms, resisted what you had to say, or responded in some other negative
Preparation, of course, will give this action step a tremendous boost, par-
ticularly if other people are in the habit of coming to meetings unprepared.
Preparation will make you feel more comfortable and confident; it will also
give you more ammunition when discussion begins.
The meeting agenda is your best tool for preparation. If the meeting
leader hasnt sent an agenda of discussion topics, ask for one. Then, review
the topics and prepare thoroughly. Doing so will provide you with the infor-
mation that you need to speak with confidence and to support your views. A
prepared meeting participant makes a good impression, especially when other
participants are simply winging it. Assertive and prepared participation in
meetings is an excellent way to gain positive visibility in your organization.
action #3: Disagree agreeably
You also gain positive visibility when you express a well-reasoned contrary
viewpoint or an alternative course of action without putting others down
in other words, when you disagree agreeably. You have a right to assert your
view on issues that matter to you. And you should aim to winbut not by
destroying or mocking people who hold an opposing view. Thats what ag-
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gressive people often do, and that behavior often leads to their eventual un-
doing. Think of how youd respond if someone said, Thats not right and, fur-
thermore, its a stupid idea. There would be a visceral reaction: your muscles
would stiffen, your jaw would tighten, and your heart rate would rise. Youd
have a negative view of that person and probably tell yourself, This isnt a
person Ill do business with again.
frank discussion of issues is healthy and valuable while disagreeable ar-
guments are not. They polarize people and undermine united effort. Organ-
izations are weakened when people who should be working together separate
themselves into hostile camps.
Here are examples of statements you can use to make a disagreeing state-
ment without being disagreeable:

use (but dont overuse) I statements: ray, Im concerned about the ea-
gerness to sign this contract. The bid seems off-target. XYZ has a reputation
for lowballing estimates and then billing for cost overruns. so, can we agree
to put out more rfPs?

Thats an interesting idea. Would you also consider_____________?

Id like to express another viewpoint.

Heres another way to look at it.

lets also explore the flip side.

Thats one possibility. Another option would be to______________.

What if we ____________________________________________?
expressing disagreement can create conflict, which is why so many peo-
ple avoid taking issue with their boss or co-workers. Conflict can be emotional,
create stress, and may create a contest that a person could lose. Nevertheless,
a certain level of conflict is necessary if organizations (and individuals) aim
to stay sharp. The use of non-judgmental and disagreeing statements like the
ones youve just read can keep conflict at a healthy level.
action #4: be your own best Champion
The fourth action step for gaining positive visibility is to be your own best
champion. That means standing up for yourself and what matters to you and
not waiting for others to speak up in your behalf. This action differs from form-
ing alliances in pursuit of common goals or enlisting the help of others to get
a project done. even when you have allies, you need to stand up for yourself
when the issue is about you. Consider this example:
Harold is upset that his manager routinely assigns the departments
most interesting and important projects to a particular co-worker
instead of to him. That co-worker has less experience and time with
the company than Harold. rather than confront his boss, however,
Harold privately shares his frustrations with his closest friends in
the department.
since few things remain private in organizations, the manager eventually
hears about Harolds complaints. If this matters so much to Harold, she won-
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ders, why hasnt he spoken to me about it? The manager begins to think of
Harold as weak, lacking in confidence, even untrustworthyhardly traits that
will inspire her to give him an important project.
How could Harold have handled this matter in a more assertive manner?
Harold could have requested a meeting with the manager, during which he
would describe his concern. He could have pointed out the tasks he had been
performing and their results. He could have described the value that his skills
and experience contribute to the department and company. equally important,
he could have emphasized his interest in taking on new challenges and greater
responsibility. Ideally, Harold would have ended by asking, Im interested in
more challenging assignments. What do I have to do to get them? That kind of
frank talk would put the ball in the managers court. she would have to either
give him the next plum assignment or have a very good reason for not doing so.
In any case, she would surely think of Harold differently: as an assertive person
with serious interests and requirements whom she should take more seriously.
Note that Harold didnt mention the co-worker who was getting all of
the good assignments. Instead, he talked about his own strengths and value.
An aggressive person, in contrast, would likely oversell himself or herself,
compare his or her skills and value to the other employee, and create unpro-
ductive tension between himself or herself and the boss. Theres a thin line
between an appropriate and inappropriate ways of being your own best cham-
pion. Be careful not to cross it.
action #5: Handle Compliments with grace
What do you do when someone pays you a compliment? Do you brush it aside,
act embarrassed and say, Its nothing. Jamie did most of the work. or, It
wasnt a big deal.? Or worse, Well, I didnt land the Allgood account. so,
hold back on the congratulations.
The fifth action step for gaining positive visibility is to handle compli-
ments with grace. Assertive people know how to do this; passive and aggressive
tip: on being Frank
The Middle english term frank is often defined as being forthright and
open in expressing ones feeling or thoughts. Candid is one of its syn-
onyms. Though we havent used the term until now, frankness is a quality
we find in assertive people. When assertive people think that someones
being unfair (say, in giving out desirable assignments), they tell that per-
son. When an assertive supervisor notices someone doing sloppy work,
she wont mince words in calling attention to the problem: Bill, this work
isnt up to our standards. Whats the problem?
Many people dance around the truth when confronting others on
difficult issuesafraid to offend or fearful of generating conflict. As-
sertive people speak frankly and openly about what they see as a problem.
They lay it all out in the open where it can be analyzed and discussed ob-
jectively. In this way, they contribute to solving the problem. If you want
to be assertive, start being open and frank with people in the workplace.
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people often dont. A passive person may feel undeserving (which goes back
to the self-esteem issue) or feel that to accept praise shows a lack of humility.
Or some other conflicted feeling gets in the way, such as not landing the All-
good account. The aggressive person uses a compliment as a form of self-ad-
vancement, to the annoyance of co-workers.
Whats the assertive way to respond to a compliment? Its really very sim-
ple, you look the other person in the eye, smile, and say, Thank you. Offer
more if you wish, such as, Thank you. I appreciate your telling me, or
Thank you. It means a lot to me, or Thank you. It was a challenging project
and Im proud of what we accomplished. When in doubt, a simple Thank
you will do.
Aggressive, non-assertive people, on the other hand, need to remember
the grace part of compliment acceptance. They must avoid accepting more
credit than theyre due, putting anyone down, or criticizing the person paying
the compliment. for example: Thanks. If it werent for me, we wouldnt have
gotten this thing off the ground, or Thanks. It was like pulling teeth to get
the team engaged, but I managed to pull it off, or Thanks. I thought youd
never notice. These are the types of responses that will bring you down in
the esteem of others.
action #6: look at Constructive Criticism as a self-improvement
The other side of a compliment is constructive criticismwith the emphasis
on constructive. You already know how to give constructive feedback and how
to feed back your feelings to others through objective, positive language. You
should now be able to recognize constructive feedback when youre on the
receiving end.
Constructive criticism lets you know how you might improve your atti-
tude, behavior, performance, and so on. The goal here is to build you up, not
tear you down. Destructive criticism, in contrast, may involve a personal attack
(a you statement) or a manipulation to make you feel guilty or get you to
do something against your will. Its important to understand the difference
between constructive and destructive criticism and to be open to accepting
the former without becoming defensive. You may feel uncomfortable (after
all its about you) and you may experience a visceral reaction, but resist going
into denial or into a defensive mode. Consider the following example:
The department manager walked into her subordinates cubicle and
dropped a report on his desk. Ive circled five errors in this report,
she began. errors like these throw off our accounting and damage
the departments reputation. error-proofing is a matter of focus and
time management. so next time, start your report earlier, okay? That
way youll have time to double-check your numbers and run them
by sergio before you bump the report up to me.
The subordinate was initially stung by his managers words. Hed worked
a bruising schedule over the past few weeks. The flu had hit the department
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hard and he had taken up the slack. still, he knew that mentioning this would
sound like making excuses. He prided himself on the quality of his work, yet
he had to admit that he hadnt given the report the attention it deserved. so,
he agreed with his managers focus and time management prescription. Yes,
I could manage my time better, he admitted to himself. The idea of delegat-
ing more suddenly occurred to him. Ive resisted trusting others with more
work and responsibility. Now is the time to change.
Without the managers constructive criticism, this subordinate might not
have been ready to make a changeto improve. As an assertive person, you
must learn to accept (dare we say welcome) constructive criticism and use
it to improve performance.
action #7: Create a Daily assertiveness plan
Many successful and productive people follow a simple maxim: Plan your work,
then work your plan. The seventh action step is to create a daily assertiveness
plan. eventually, you should be spontaneously assertive, but at this stage a
daily plan will help you identify assertiveness opportunities at work and in
other areas on your life. As you practice your skills on a regular basis (see ex-
hibit 5-1), they will grow and become healthy habits.
Begin with safe, comfortable situations in which to practice assertive be-
havior and challenge your comfort level incrementally. Plan out your as-
sertiveness opportunities the night before and do this as long as you find this
exercise useful. You will probably backslide from time to time. Be willing to
forgive yourself when you do. As in dieting, falling off the wagon will not
mean failure if you get back on the program the next day.
Also know that people may not respond to your new assertiveness in ways
youd expector like. If youve been passive in your relationships, some peo-
ple may like the old you better. They may tell you so, even if that hurts.
After all, you were the agreeable person who kept quiet, accommodated, and
bit your tongue. That behavior made it easier for them to stand out. resist the
temptation to revert to your old behaviors.
If youve been aggressive in the past, people may be confused about your
new behavior. They may continue to walk gingerly around you, waiting for
an expected outburst. It will take time to gain the trust of others, so be patient.

1. Make several copies of the worksheet below, so that you can fill it out on a daily basis.
2. Identify your daily goals for each category, when applicable. Do this the night before you go
to work.
3. At the end of the day, evaluate your results. Remember that increasing your assertiveness
skills will take time. Be patient.
Exercise 5-2
Your Daily Assertiveness Plan Worksheet
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Exercise 5-2 continues on next page.
If you are not sure what to identify as a daily goal, consider the following examples:
Day Daily Goal Results
Day Daily Goal Results
Ask Kiyoko for a meeting
Got it. That was easy!
Let Gary know that Im
miffed about his comment
that I never stay late.
Garys out of town. Try
again next week.
Prepare to present my
ideas at the weekly sales
Went well. Got noticed.
Preparation made the
Speak with Helen about too
many typos.
Had a good chat. Didnt
come down on her but she
knew I meant business.
Tell Fred to stop using my
office as a hangout.
Chickened out! Will try
again next week.
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Exercise 5-2 continued from previous page.
take responsibility For yoUr
perForManCe atWork
every one of us can point to those whom we admire as strong and assertive
people. Of the individuals you know, which of their traits stand out in your
mind? fairness? Honesty? Decisiveness? frankness? Perhaps youve noticed
something else these people have in common: They take responsibility for
their actions and workplace performance, both good and bad. They dont
blame others or make excuses for their lapses and shortcomings. They engage
in straight talk, not spin. They dont try to take credit for the good work of
others. People admire them for this assertive behavior, even when they dis-
agree with their perspective. President Harry Truman, for example, earned
respect from both his supporters and detractors for his statement that The
buck stops here.
Taking responsibility for your own performance is an essential step to-
ward becoming more assertive. Any time you feel the urge to blame others or
to make excuses for your failures and shortcomings, make a conscious choice
to take responsibility what youve done or failed to do. The pain of doing this
is small compared to the toll that evading responsibility will take on your self-
esteem, integrity, reputation, and career. Because everyone makes mistakes
and occasionally falls short of goals, most people will forgive your shortcom-
ingsif you acknowledge and take responsibility for them. What they wont
forgive or forget is any attempt to pass the buck, to blame others, and to
evade responsibility for a bad outcome. In their eyes, youll be seen as weak,
unreliable, and untrustworthy.
The more your take responsibility for your performance, the more youll
feel empowered and worthy of respect. Therefore, if youre inclined to blame
others and make excuses for your mistakes, make a commitment to change
that behavior.
Taking responsibility for ones performance is analogous to effective cus-
tomer service. When a customer lodges a legitimate complaint, its important
to acknowledge the mistake, the poor service, or whatever motivated the com-
plaint, then find and fix whatever caused it in the first place. You should do
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Speak up and share your views.
Disagree agreeably.
Participate actively in meetings.
Be your own best champion.
Handle compliments with grace.
Use constructive criticism as an opportunity for self-improvement.
Create a daily assertiveness planand follow it!
xhibit 5-1
Seven Action Steps toward Positive Visibility
the same with your personal performance: acknowledge that something turned
out badly, find out why it happened, and fix it. lets look at how this can play
out when people fail to take responsibility and then when they seize it.
Scenario #1: The unassertive response
Troy arrived fifteen minutes late to a meeting with a team of com-
pany managers. He tiptoed through the door and stated in a low
voice, Im really sorry. My alarm didnt go off this morning. Then,
there was an accident on the freeway that backed up traffic for miles.
And then I realized my wife had borrowed my cell phone without
telling me, which is why I couldnt contact you. I hope you under-
Scenario #1: The assertive response
Patricia arrived fifteen minutes late to a meeting with a team of man-
agers from her company. she walked through the door briskly and
stated in a well-modulated voice, Im late and I recognize that your
time is valuable. In the future, Ill hit the freeway earlier, in case
theres an accident. Please accept my apology.
Who comes across as more credibly and assertive in scenario #1, Troy
or Patricia? You probably chose Patricia. Although Troy apologized, he
wrapped his tardiness in a bundle of excuses and then threw himself upon the
mercy of his colleagues. Patricia, on the other hand, took responsibility for
her lateness and showed respect for her colleagues time. she also indicated
what she would do in the future to solve the problem. Her response is strong
and assertive while Troys is weak and unassertive.
Scenario #2: The Unassertive Response
Julie was called to the office of the vice President of sales and Mar-
keting to account for the sharp loss of sales volume in the previous
six months. Once there, she paced the floor, with one hand on her
hip, talking in a shrill voice.
Well, the previous quarters were strong, she began, so this is
a fluke. The economys in a downturn and our competitions under-
cutting us. Theyre probably losing money on every order just to get
the sales away from us. To make matters worse, we never got ap-
proval for the new account executive, so were all working longer
hours. What do people around here expect, miracles? Itd help to
have some support around here.
Scenario #2: The Assertive Response
ricardo was called to the office of the vice President of sales and
Marketing to account for the sharp loss of sales volume in the pre-
vious six months. He sat in a chair beside the vice presidents desk,
looked him in the eye, and spoke in a calm voice.
Yes, weve had two lousy quarters in a rowand it happened
on my watch. The economys weak and we face stiff competition,
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but we can do betterand we will. Heres how. first, weve begun
focusing more on retaining existing customers. second, were in-
stalling a program that will help the sales team manage prospects
more efficiently. finally, were looking forward to approval to hire
the new account executive. Are you still behind me on that one,
In scenario #2, who do you think will turn the companys sales around,
Julie or ricardo? Most likely, youve picked ricardo. Julie hasnt accepted re-
sponsibility for the sales slump. using the weak economy and competition as
excuses, she offers complaints instead of a plan to cure the problem. ricardo,
on the other hand, acknowledges that poor performance has happened on his
watch. He mentions the slow economy and stiff competition, but only as chal-
lenges that his team must surmount. He then describes the steps his team is
taking to improve the situation. finally, ricardo presents the issue of the new
account executive as an expectation and uses the occasion to confirm Pauls
backing for the new hire.

Think about a poor outcome for which one of your colleagues has avoided taking responsibility.
Describe the outcome and how that person responded. Did he or she make excuses, shift blame,
deny or refuse to discuss it, become bullying and aggressive, etc.? What may have influenced this
persons response? Write your answers below.
Now, with your new commitment to assertiveness, revisit the event described above. Put yourself
in that persons shoes. How would you respond to the same situation? What would you say? How
would you say it? Write your answers below.
Think About It . . .
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Think About It continues on next page.
take Credit for your successes
While its important to take responsibility for a poor performance, its also im-
portant to take credit for a successful one. If youre on the passive side, this
may be harder to do than accepting blame when something goes wrong. You
may think that taking credit will make you appear boastful and egotistical. It
wont as long as you credit the contributions of others. for example, instead
of saying, We really lucked out in the negotiation I was in charge of, say,
Im proud of the way the negotiation turned out. It was my first time in charge
and it was a positive experience. I applaud sandra for her outstanding contri-
bution. Her research skills contributed greatly to our success. Does that
sound boastful and egotistical, or does it sound assertive and collaborative?
The first approach credited no one, unless you think of luck as a person. The
second approach humbly accepted congratulations while acknowledging the
excellent performance of another participant (sandra).

Think about a successful outcome you were involved in at work but for which you avoided taking
responsibility. How did you respond? Did you minimize the accomplishment? Did you diminish your
own contribution? Did you credit others without crediting yourself, etc.? Why did you respond in
this way? Write your answers below.
Think About It . . .
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Think About It continues on next page.
Think About It continued from previous page.
Now, revisit your successful outcome. Were giving you a second chance. How will you respond
this time around? What will you say to take responsibility without seeming arrogant? How will you
say it? Write your answers below.
Dont take responsibility if its not yours
As you strive to become more assertive, avoid taking responsibility for an out-
comegood or badthats not yours to take. This is also a wise move for
your career. People will resent you if you take credit for a positive outcome
that belongs to someone else; theyll disrespect you if you accept blame for
something you didnt do. In general, avoid falling on your sword for your
boss, a subordinate, a co-worker, or your company. If youre asked or feel
tempted to do this, analyze the pros and cons carefully and strategically. Then,
if you decide to go ahead, its own your decision.

If you are a manager, complete this exercise. If youre not a manager, put yourself in your managers
shoes for a moment and do the same. Youre talking with one of your direct reports about a problem
that his team has created. This individual, Shawn, leads a sales team that has just lost a big ac-
count and is depressed by the loss. He makes no excuses and takes full responsibility for it. You
know that many factors were involved in the lost accountstrong competition, a less-than-perfect
match between your companys product and the customers needs, and inexperience on Shawns
sales team. In your view, Shawn is a good team leader and not entirely to blame. What advice
would you give Shawn about his approach to taking responsibility in this matter?
Exercise 5-3
Helping Your Subordinates Take Responsibility
100 AsserTINg YOurself AT WOrk
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Exercise 5-3 continues on next page.
Think About It continued from previous page.
In this chapter, you learned why its important to create pos-
itive visibility at work and the actions you can take to achieve
that visibility. The chapter began with seven action steps you
can take in gaining positive visibility: (1) speaking up and shar-
ing your views; (2) disagreeing agreeably; (3) participating in
meetings; (4) acting as your own best champion; (5) handling
compliments with grace; (6) using constructive criticism as an
opportunity for self-improvement; and (7) creating a daily as-
sertiveness plan.
The second half of the chapter underscored the importance of taking re-
sponsibility for your work performanceboth failures and successesand
offered examples of how this can be done in ways that will give you a positive
and assertive aura. Taking responsibility for your performance at work in-
cludes taking credit for your successes and refusing responsibility when it isnt
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Exercise 5-3 continued from previous page.

1. An unassertive person is usually inclined not to disagree with 1. (b)
co-workers because doing so could:
(a) make them visible in the organization.
(b) create conflict.
(c) result in a job change.
(d) waste time.
2. An effective way to gain positive visibility in your organization is to: 2. (c)
(a) regularly remind people of your accomplishments.
(b) dominate conversations.
(c) speak up and express your ideas in a clear and direct way.
(d) avoid taking a position when opinions are divided.
3. Prepare for active participation in meetings by: 3. (d)
(a) being spontaneously assertive.
(b) arriving at least half an hour early.
(c) getting lots of sleep the night before.
(d) asking for an agenda and researching the topics.
4. Which of the following is an effective way of expressing a 4. (a)
contrary viewpoint?
(a) Thats an interesting idea. Heres another way we can look at this.
(b) How could you even consider that? It wont work.
(c) Customers might go for that feature. But Im not convinced.
(d) On the contrary, I dont think your plan has merit.
5. In taking responsibility for your performance at work, which of 5. (b)
the following should you avoid?
(a) giving credit to others when they deserve it
(b) Accepting blame for a poor outcome you didnt contribute to
(c) Taking proper credit for good outcomes you contributed to
(d) Apologizing if youre responsible for a mistake
Review Questions
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Learning Objectives
By the end of this chapter, you should be able

Evaluate your listening skills.

Identify the three levels of listening.

Identify techniques that will help you explore

the needs and interests of others.

Identify multicultural barriers to disclosing

needs, interests, and concerns.

Identify and apply techniques that will help

you respond to the needs, interests, and con-
cerns of others.
In the previous chapters, you focused on the first part of the assertiveness
equation: standing up for your rights, needs, and interests. This chapter moves
on to the second part of the assertiveness equation: how to understand and
respond to the needs and interests of others, especially of people you routinely
deal with at work. If you are wondering what this has to do with becoming
more assertive, heres the answer: Just as you take a stand for you own rights,
needs and interests, other people with whom you work are doing the same.
Those things that matter to you dont stand alone, but exist within a land-
scape of other, and often competing, personal needs and interests. The more
you understand the needs and interests of others, the more youll likely get
what you want with the least amount of conflict. Negotiators have understood
for years that their best assurance for getting what they want is to understand
the interests of the opposing party. Peoples interests, in the view of master
negotiators, are pivotal. In many cases, you, like a savvy negotiator, can create
win-win arrangements in which you and other parties attain your separate
goals if you can understand their key interests. In contrast, failing to under-
stand the needs and interests of others usually results in conflict that is de-
structive to relationships and to organizations.
Addressing the Needs
and Interests of Others
Exercise 6-1 continues on next page.
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Once you understand the other persons interestsand that person un-
derstands yoursthe two of you will be in a better position to reach an agree-
ment or work together successfully. This is because interests are more
powerful than the positions people take.
EvAluAtINgYOur lIstENINgskIlls:
A sElf-AssEssmENt
Listening is your main pipeline into the needs and interests of others. If you
want to be more assertive, be a good listener. That may seem contradictory,
as we usually think of listening as a passive activity. Communication experts,
however, often refer to active listeningthat is, the active engagement of
one person with what another is saying.
How do you rate your skills as a listener? Are you a good or poor listener?
Does your mind wander while others are speaking to you, or are you actively
engaged with what they are trying to communicate? Do you send signals that
the speaker has your full attention? Instead of guessing at the answers to these
questions, take the self-assessment test in Exercise 6-1. Then, follow the in-
structions for totaling and evaluating your score. The results may surprise you.

Read each statement carefully. Put a check mark under the most appropriate answer, based on
the way you typically behave in your work environment.
Exercise 6-1
Listening Self-Assessment
Behavior Rarely Sometimes
Most of
the Time
1. I make strong eye contact while the other person is
2. My mind wanders while the other person is speaking.
3. I paraphrase what the other person has said to ensure
that I heard correctly.
4. I give the other person my complete attention while he
or she is speaking.
5. I am silent when the other person is speaking.
Exercise 6-1 continued from previous page.
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Behavior Rarely Sometimes
Most of
the Time
6. I nod my head and make attending sounds, such as
uh-huh, while the other person is speaking.
7. If the other person says something I disagree with, I
interrupt or cut him or her off.
8. I mentally formulate my response while the other
person is still speaking.
9. I take a brief moment of silence to reflect on what the
other person has said before responding.
10. I look around at other people or things while the other
person is speaking.
11. If Im upset or anxious about things unrelated to a
conversation, that gets in the way of listening.
12. I repeat the other persons exact words to ensure that
Ive heard correctly.
13. I ask questions that help clarify points the other person
is making.
14. I accept cell phone calls during face-to-face
15. I turn my cell phone off when conversing face-to-face.
16. I listen to the other persons tone of voice to better
understand his or her feelings and meaning.
17. If people speak in a slow or halting way, I jump in and
finish their sentences.
18. I try to get determine the other persons viewpoint and
perspective in conversationespecially when we disagree.
19. I stop listening or think of other things once I hear the
information I most want to hear.
20. I pay attention to what each person has to say in a
meeting so I can add on to it.
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totaling Your score
To determine your score for the Listening self-Assessment, follow the steps
Step 1: for statements 1, 3, 4, 6, 9, 13, 15, 16, 18, and 20, award yourself 10
points for each Most of the Time response. give yourself 5 points for each
sometimes; 0 for each rarely. Add up your points for these statements.
Your highest possible total score is 100 points.
Step 2: for statements 2, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 14, 17, and 19, give yourself minus
(-) 10 points for each Most of the Time response, minus (-) 5 points for each
sometime, and 0 points for each rarely. Add up your points for these state-
ments. Your lowest possible total score is minus (-) 100 points.
Step 3: subtract your negative total from your positive total to determine your
Assertive Listening score. for example, if you have plus (+) 80 and minus (-)
15, you total score of will be plus (+) 65; if you have a score of minus (-) 80
and a plus (+) 15, you total score will be minus (-) 65.
Interpreting Your score
What do these numbers indicate about your listening skills? Take a look at
your score in step 3. It reflects both your positive and negative assertive lis-
tening behaviors.
Next, review your score for step 2 relative to the following table. This
provides a numerical rating of your negative assertive behaviors. A low score
in this category indicates stronger listening skills.
Step 3
Score Sum of Positive and Negative Skills
91 to 100 Excellent
81 to 90 Strong
71 to 80 Moderate
61 to 70 Low-Moderate
51 to 60 Weak
50 or less Poor
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Now, evaluate your score for step 1, which provides a numerical rating
of your positive listening behaviors. A high score in this category indicates
stronger listening skills.
moving toward Assertive listening
statements 2, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 14, 17, and 19 describe negative listening be-
haviors. If you scored in the high range for this category, review the statements
you marked Most of the Time and sometimes. These reflect behaviors you
should change or avoid. Then, study statements 1, 3, 4, 6, 9, 13, 15, 16, 18, and
20. These describe positive assertive listening behaviors you should model.
If you scored in the extremely high or in the high range of positive lis-
tening skills, you have much strength as a listener. use it to help your team-
mates, co-workers, and subordinates improve their listening skills. If you
scored 70 or less in this category, study the statements you marked some-
times or rarely to see where you can improve.
Step 2
Score Negative Listening Skills
- 91 to -100 Extremely high negative
- 81 to -90 High negative
- 71 to - 80 Moderately high negative
- 55 to - 70 Moderate negative
- 40 to - 54 Low moderate negative
- 39 or less Mildly negative
Step 1
Score Positive Listening Skills
91 to 100 Extremely high
81 to 90 High
71 to 80 Moderately high
55 to 70 Moderate
40 to 54 Low moderate
39 or less Mild
Exercise 6-2 continues on next page.
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thrEE lEvEls Of lIstENINg
Now that you have a sense of your strengths and weaknesses as a listener, lets
move on to areas that will help you improve. The first are the different levels
of listening. We all listen with varying degrees of involvement, and for differ-
ent reasons. This section will explore the three levels of listening. All are com-
ponents of the active listening that will help you to become more assertive:

Listening to be aware

Listening to learn

Listening to engage
level 1: listening to Be Aware
The first level of listening is fundamental, yet crucial to expanding your lis-
tening skills. It involves listening to your environment with rapt attention
that is, using your ears to be aware of whats going on around you in a
particular location at a particular time. Today, many of us are so plugged into
cell phone conversations, MP3 players, talk radio, and inner thoughts that
were not entirely present in the time and place were occupying. This has
been occurring since the invention of the telephone first replaced face-to-
face communication, but has become more pervasive as weve gone wireless,
often to the point of rudeness. Have you noticed people on the street or on
the subway who are so plugged into their MP3 players and cell phones that
they appear heedless of the people and activities around them? Perhaps, oc-
casionally youre one of them.
When were electronically plugged in elsewhere, we miss the sounds of
our environment: the clicking of heels on sidewalks, the kicking of balls on
the soccer field, and the giggling of kids hanging upside down on the bars of
a swing. We miss snatches of hallway conversations, the clinking of silverware
in the company dining room, the hellos and goodbyes that mark the day.
We miss the wondrous and often healing sounds of nature. In other words,
were not really there. The purpose of the first level of assertive listening is to
reconnect to the environment and to hone your most basic listening skills.
You can do this by getting unplugged and tuning onto the sounds around you.
Exercise 6-2 will help you.

In this exercise, youll work on your most fundamental listening skills by identifying the sounds that
surround you.
1. Select a location in your work environment where you are apart from co-workers and unlikely
to be disturbed for four to five minutes.
2. If you have a cell phone with you, turn it off. If you have a radio, MP3 player, or any other
non-work device on, turn it off as well.
Exercise 6-2
Tuning In to Natural Surround Sound
Exercise 6-2 continued from previous page.
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3. Now, close your eyes, breathe deeply, and sit quietly. Put any worries or to do items out of
your mind.
4. Use the next five minutes to focus on all the sounds around you: footsteps and voices in the
corridor, the person in the next cubicle speaking on the telephone, the click-clack of some-
one keyboarding; a telephone ringing somewhere.
5. Once the five minutes is over, make a list of the things you heard:
6. If you heard human voices, were they angry, cheerful, concerned, hurried, demanding,
calm? Describe the tenor of those voices.
Repeat this practice session as often as you wish. Aside from building listening skills, it can be a
useful way to alleviate stress.
level 2: listening to learn
The second level of listening is the listening we use in classrooms, seminars,
workshops, training sessions, meetings, and in conversations with others when
we seek information. Communicators call this deliberative listening (kiely, 1997).
At this level, we listen with the intent to learn something. We act like sponges,
soaking up facts, statistics, theories, and educated opinions. We file what we
receive into our memory banks in order to pass exams, understand our indus-
try, learn more about the financial position of our companywhatever in-
formation we need to function successfully.
This level of listening requires concentration and the ability to abstract
often complex information. We need to understand the essence of whats being
said so we can take accurately notes or recall the information later. We must
do so without hanging on to every word, getting lost in the details, and losing
sight of the larger picture. Listening to learn requires us to capture informa-
tion quickly in our minds and on paper without falling behind the presenter.
This takes skill and practice. Exercise 6-3 will give you some of that practice.
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In this exercise, youll work on your listening skills by concentrating on and capturing information
you receive in a learning situation: a video presentation. Perhaps your company has some taped
instructional videos or sales presentations you can borrow. Otherwise, a lecture video or TV doc-
umentary will do. All you need is a VHS or DVD player, or an online Webcast (Webinar). These
are best because you can play and re-run them at your leisure. Heres what you need to do:
1. Set yourself up in a place where youll be uninterrupted by people or telephone calls. Have a
pen and notebook handy. Then, get relaxed and put other matters out of your mind.
2. Turn on the video and watch the first ten minutes of actual presentation (skipping over any
introductory remarks by a moderator or announcer).
3. Concentrate on the speakers main points and the key evidence used to back up these
points. Jot them down in your notebook.
4. After ten minutes, or at a logical break in the program, stop recording and paraphrase the
speakers main points and key evidence.
5. Then, replay the program and compare what you hear in the replay with the main points and
evidence you recorded in your workbook. How accurately did you capture what the speaker
or speakers said?
6. How many key points did you fail to catch the first time?
Repeat this practice session as often as you wish.
level 3: listening to Engage
The third level of listening engages us in the other persons conversation.
Communicators call this active listening. We could also call it assertive listening
because it takes a person beyond passive absorption to active involvement in
Active, assertive listening goes beyond attentively and passively absorbing
what we hear. Instead, it requires direct visual and oral engagement by the
listener. The goal is to help us accurately understand the other persons mean-
ing and avoid the trap of misunderstanding. Active listeners do this by using
inclusive eye contact and body language, avoiding distractions, using attending
sounds, paraphrasing, asking questions, and asking for more information.
Exercise 6-3
Soaking Up Information
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Use Eye Contact and Body Language
When you use eye contact and body language, you demonstrate that youre
interested in what the speaker has to say. Eye contact signals your desire to
listen. People who look around at other things send a different message: Im
not interested.
In addition to eye contact, use facial expressions and body language that
area relaxed and welcoming. Nod your head when you hear a point of agree-
ment and gesture with your hands and arms toward the other person to invite
the sharing of ideas.
Avoid Distractions
Another way to listen actively is to avoid distractionsboth in your mind and
in the environment. That means keeping your attention focused on what the
other person is saying, rather than on letting other thoughts intrude or allow-
ing emotions to get in the way. One natural obstacle to distraction avoidance
is the fact that people hear at a much faster rate than they speak. As you
learned in Chapter 4, people speak on average of between 125 and 150 words
per minute. In contrast, people hear (and comprehend what they hear) at a
rate of up to 600 words a minute (kiely, 1997). given this disparity, its easy
to see how some people might become impatient and let their minds wan-
deror even try to speed the speaker along by finishing their sentences!
To help keep your mind free of distractions, reduce the number of dis-
tractions in your environment. Turn off your cell phone and ask your assistant
to hold your telephone calls. If youre expecting an important call, let the per-
son know beforehand, and if the call comes through, keep it briefor else
reschedule the meeting. If the radio is on when someone enters your office,
turn it off. By all means, avoid doing other tasks as you listen. Yes, we live in
the age of multitasking, but multitasking is just a way of sequencing your at-
tention, which seldom produces a good result.
Use Attending Sounds
responses, such as uh-huh and um-hum, are known as attending sounds,
as are the words and phrases such as, Okay, I see, I hear you, sure, and
similar phrases. They tell the other person that youre listening and following
along with the conversation. If you dont understand a point or if youre not
following the conversation, its better to ask for clarification, rather than to use
attending sounds: I didnt understand that point. Would you clarify it for me?
If you disagree, ask questions that will help you understand how the other
person arrived at his or her viewpoint: Wait a minute. I dont see how you
reached that conclusion, given what you said earlier. Please explain how you
reached it.
Paraphrase the Other Persons Point
To ensure understandingand to demonstrate that youre listening with in-
terestuse your own words to feed back what the other person has just said;
that is, paraphrase the other persons points.
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In other words, youre saying that . . . .
If I understand you . . . .
What I hear you saying is. . . .
Just to check my understanding, youre stating that . . . .
Paraphrasing allows the other person to respond to and, if necessary, to
correct your feedback, which helps prevent misunderstanding and possible
Ask Questions
Along with paraphrasing, ask questions that clarify the other persons points.
Do this in an inquiring, rather than a challenging way, by keeping your tone
of voice steady and calm, and letting your speaker know that the goal is to
create understanding. Here is an example of a clarifying question:
When you say that the future of our gizmoTec product line is
clouded, do you mean that our sales will be eclipsed by rivalsper-
haps with superior technology?
Another way of asking the same clarifying question would be to say:
What do you mean by the word clouded? Presenting it that way, however,
might seem more of a challenge, especially if you have an edge to your voice.
You can also use the technique of folding a paraphrase into your question.
Here are two examples:
When you say cloudy, do you mean that our future is uncertain or
in decline?
In other words, youre saying that the gizmoTec product line has
no long-term future?
As with paraphrasing, asking clarifying questions shows the other person
that youre involved and attentive, and youre interested in his or her point of
view. It also elicits information that can improve your understanding.
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Ask for More Information
Another way to listen effectively and actively is to ask for more information.
You might ask the other person to expand on a point, or to be more specific,
more precise, or to provide examples. Again, your goal is to understand what
the other person means. Here are several examples:
Thats an interesting idea. Tell me more about it.
I want to be sure I understand your point. Tell me specifically what
you mean.
Thats a unique view. Tell me more precisely what you mean.
give me an example of what you mean, so that I dont misunder-
stand your point.
As you seek more information, ask questions, paraphrase, use attending
sounds, avoid distractions, and employ inclusive body language and eye con-
tact, you gain an understanding of others perspectives that helps cement im-
portant relationships. Yet, if youre like most people, youve not been taught
how to listen to engage or to listen actively. Developing this skill will take
time and continued practice. Its well worth the effort, because as you become
more engaged, youll find that your conversations with others will become
more engaging and more vibrantand cast you in a more positive light.
tip: Dig Deep to uncover real Interests
To understand another persons interests, dig beneath the surface of a
stated position by asking questions. Try to determine what the person is
really after, which may be different than what has been stated. for example,
if a subordinate keeps telling you that she needs a larger office, dont ac-
cept that statement without probing deeper. she might need more square
footage in order to complete her work. On the other hand, her true in-
terest might be to gain some tangible and visible recognition of her con-
tributions to the company. If her real interest is getting psychic stokes,
there is more than one way to provide them, such as a promotion, a bonus,
or complimenting her in front of co-workers. A bigger office is just one
way to address her real need.
When youre probing for real interests, dont by shy about being very
up-front and direct: so, Helen, do you really need more space to get you
job done, or do you feel unappreciated for the good work youve been
doing lately? remember, unassertive people beat around the bush. As-
sertive people are direct and frank.
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Of OthErs
Listening well sends a message of respect. Indeed, being treated with respect
and earning the respect of others is a universal need that cuts across race,
class, gender, and culture. As we choose to listen to others and know how to
do so effectively, we address this universal need at a basic level. We do this in
an assertive wayusing direct and positive language, strong eye contact, ap-
propriate facial expression, good posture, and controlled voicewithout los-
ing our sense of self or our ability to decide things for ourselves. for many of
the encounters we have during the course of a day, this will suffice. But for
crucial interpersonal understanding we need to go a step furtherto explore
what matters to the other person. This exploration is an extension of knowing
our audience, a topic discussed earlier in this course.
Its especially important to explore the needs, concerns, and interests of
those people we work with on an on-going basis: our co-workers, teammates,
managers, subordinates, clients, loyal customers, suppliers, outside contrac-
torsanyone with an important working relationship with us and with our
organizations. We need to get to the core of what these people care about. We
can do this through many types of encountersin one-on-one discussions,
in small groups, in meetings, at lunch or dinner, or other venues. The alter-
native is to act on assumptions or guesswork, which can lead us down a dan-
gerous path.
How can you effectively explore the needs and interests of others? As
youll learn here, you can do so by creating a safe environment, asking probing
questions, avoiding questions or statements that might provoke a defensive
response, reciprocating, and being proactive.
Create a safe Environment
A safe environment for our purposes involves an emotional and psychological
climate in which people feel free to disclose their needs, interests, and con-
Observe this caution as you try to determine what matters to others. If
youre on the passive side of the assertiveness scale, you may find yourself
as a matter of habit putting the other persons interests above your own.
You can avoid this by consciously keeping what matters to you in the fore-
ground of your thoughts. Empathize with the other person, but not at
your expense. If youre on the aggressive side of the assertiveness scale,
this type of exploration may make you feel that youre appearing weak.
In fact, being unwilling to listen to other viewpoints and explore other
peoples concerns is a weak posture, and for that matter, an insecure one.
In contrast, willingly exploring the concerns of others sends a message
of openness and confidence. This, in turn, helps you cement relationships
and build the alliances that are so crucial to workplace success.
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cerns without the fear of reprisal or ridicule. good things can happen when
fear is removed.
A fear-free environment encourages people to speak directly and hon-
estly. Here are some things you can do to create such an environment:

Maintain respectful and civil discoursedont roll your eyes or give an ex-
asperated look when you hear something with which you disagree.

If necessary, lay out clear ground rules such as, Well listen respectfully to
each other, avoid interrupting, and make no personal attacksokay?

set an example by being calm and listening carefully to the other person.

Hold confidential information in strict confidence. People will not open up

if you are perceived as a blabbermouth.
If youve been on the aggressive side of the assertiveness continuum, dont
expect people to open up to you right away. They may not yet trust you. Youll
have to earn their trust one encounter at a time.
If youre on the passive side of the assertiveness scale, create a safe envi-
ronment for yourself as well. Be sure that the people with whom youre ex-
changing views and concerns are trustworthy. One way to do that is to disclose
something personal of minor importance and observe how they handle it. If
they demonstrate trustworthiness, be more disclosing during your next en-
counteragain, observing how they handle your information.
Avoid sharing information you might later regret, making promises you
dont want to keep, giving in when you feel pressure, or giving up what matters
to you in order to curry favor, gain someones approval, or make nice. giving
in is especially easy to do when youre subject to group peer pressure. Avoid
going along to get along if its at your expense. On those occasions when you do
backslide, learn from your mistake, and decide how youll respond to similar
situations in the future.
Ask probing Questions
Once you create an environment for safe and open discussions, you need to
find out what matters to other people. You do this by asking probing ques-
tionsquestions that, when answered, reveal the interests and concerns that
lie beneath someones stated position (Thomas, 1995) or viewpoint.
Beware of Backsliding!
Habits are hard to break. If you inadvertently backslide into an aggressive
mode when communicating, stop, apologize, and then resume. Be aware,
however, that anger-explosion-apology is a pattern among people who
have anger management issues. If you backslide often, seek professional
counselingnot because youre a flawed person, but because ingrained
behavior can be hard to changeand harder yet when you try to do it
yourself. The insights of someone trained to deal with anger-management
can help you.
AMACOM Self Study Program
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Probing questions often begin with the word what. for example, What
bothers you about this situation? What do you really care about here?
What concerns you about this issue? What questions often open the door
to the underlying reasons why someone takes a certain stand, expresses a
viewpoint, or refuses to budge from a position (Ibid.).
If the other person lists a number of concerns and youre not sure which
are the most important, probe for more information as in these examples:
Which of the three things you mentioned is most important to you?
How would you prioritize the four things you say are essential to
your department?
Once you know the persons priorities, you can addressing the top ones
and leave the lesser priorities for another time.
Avoid Questions that provoke a Defensive response
As you probe for what matters, and because trust can be so easily broken, avoid
judgmental questions that might put the other person on the defensive. In
other words, avoid anything that might be perceived as a personal attack. De-
fense-provoking questions often begin with How could you . . . as in, How
could you possibly think that hiring Phil was a good idea? How could you
have possibly come to that conclusion? How could you have believed that,
given all the evidence? Questions like these sting. People often clam up or
go into defensive mode when their conclusions or actions are questioned in
critical-sounding ways. stay clear of defensive-provoking questions.
Our culture and most other cultures value reciprocity. If you are given some-
thing, theres an expectation that youll give something in return. reciprocity
shows respect and builds trust.
The ethic of reciprocity extends to our communication. Once someone
reveals his or her concerns or interests to you, its customary to reciprocate
by revealing your own. The trust that emerges from reciprocity can open the
door to further discussion. Lets say, for instance, that a prized but passive em-
ployee comes to you and reveals that hes upset about having been passed over
for a promotion. You listen politely and ask probing questions. The employees
answers reveal that he believes hes in a dead-end job and needs a new chal-
lenge. You reciprocate by sharing your view, saying Yes, I feel badly about
that, but you didnt show an interest in the position when it was posted. You
also point out that the position requires managerial skills he hasnt yet mas-
tered. You pause and let your employee fill the silence.
I thought my work spoke for itself, he says, but I now realize that I should
have been more direct in going after the job. He goes on to say that hes eager
to learn management skills so he can be promoted the next time around.
At this point, youve exchanged your views in an open and nonjudgmental
way. The stage is now set for finding solutions that will satisfy or partially sat-
isfy both parties.
Exercise 6-4 continues on next page.
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
Be proactive
When engaging other people, dont limit the exploration of concerns to brain-
storming and problem-solving sessions, or to times of disagreement and con-
flict. Be proactive and call out an emotion you see reflected in another persons
body language and tone of voice, as in the following example:
Helen appears upset after the team voted to contract with a different
vendor than the one she wanted. You turn to her and say, You look
angry, and then wait for a response. It doesnt matter if you identify
the emotion correctly. The other person will usually let you know.
she might say, Yes, Im angry, because . . . . If she says that shes
angry and says no more, follow-up with a probing question: Well,
whats the problem?
Being observant and proactive in this way allows you to catch emotions
such as anger, irritation, dissatisfaction, stress, and so on, and address them
before they play out in unproductive ways. If you do nothing to draw out the
person, those negative emotions are bound to simmer and build into poten-
tially destructive energy.
The techniques for being proactive, reciprocating, asking clarifying and
probing questions, and ensuring a safe environment should help you engage
other people in affirmative and assertive ways. The more you practice these
techniques, the more youll develop trusting and productive relationships at
work and in your private life. Those relationships will make you stand out
among your peers.

This exercise challenges you to use your listening and probing skills when dealing another person,
preferably a workplace peer with whom you sometimes disagree. Begin a conversation about an
issue that matters to both of you, but on which the two of you have a difference of opinion (such
as the best formula for allocating year-end bonuses). As you move through the conversation, apply
listening skills. Although youll most likely agree with each other on many points, the conversation
should bring your differences to the surface. Use those differences to explore the other persons
interests and concerns. Once youve finished the conversation, return to your workplace and an-
swer the following questions:
1. Check off the listening skills you used:
Strong eye contact _________
Clarifying questions __________
Paraphrasing _________
You let the other person fully express his or her views before you responded. ________
You gave the person your complete attention throughout the discussion. _________
Exercise 6-4
Digging for the Concerns and Interests of Others
AMACOM Self Study Program
118 AssErTINg YOursELf AT WOrk
2. On which points did you two disagree? Explain.
3. Did you use probing questions to understand the reasoning behind the other persons view-
point? (Y/N) _________ If you did, what were those questions?
4. Did any of your questions provoke a defensive response? (Y/N) ________ If yes, explain.
5. Did you assert your concerns or identify issues that were important to you? Explain.
6. What could you have done to make your discussion with the other person more effective in
terms of getting everyones interests, concerns, etc. onto the table?
Repeat this practice session as often as you wish.
Exercise 6-4 continued from previous page.
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
CulturAl BArrIErs tO
Human migration has brought different cultures faces-to-face on a scale never
before experienced. By one reckoning, upwards of 190 million peoplealmost
three percent of the global populationare now living outside their native
countries. Most have moved in search of economic opportunity, from poor
regions of the world to the more affluent regions of North America and Eu-
rope. The capital-rich emirates of the Middle East have also attracted workers
from every part of the globe.
Economic migrants bring languages and cultures that often differ sharply
from those of their adopted countries, creating communication challenges
where they live and work. At the same time, the globalization of trade and
business activity has brought many millions of people from distinctly different
cultures into contact with each other. A project manager in Boston, for exam-
ple, now finds herself on the telephone at 10PMspeaking with a supplier team
of software developers in the Philippines. A New York-based IBM product
designer and his engineering team collaborate with other IBM personnel in
the companys r and D center in germany. In these cases and thousands like
them, the people involved must break through the barriers of language and
culture to assert their own needs and interests, and align them with the needs
and interests of their partners. It isnt always an easy task. Most North Amer-
icans and Europeans, for instance, are very up-front people. In most cases,
they have no reluctance to speak their minds. freedom of speech and expres-
sion, and the notion that one person is inherently as good as another, are part
of their cultures. Other cultures are not as open.
This section focuses on the challenges of cross-cultural communication
and offers some practical solutions for overcoming them. While the subject is
large, well limit our focus to just a few areas: time and trust-building, the cul-
tural dimensions of power distance, uncertainty avoidance, and individualism
versus collectivism.
time and trust Building
The ratio of time to trust-building is an important dynamic in interpersonal
relationships. While this ratio varies from culture to culture, it plays out within
two broad geographical areas: Western, or developed cultures, and non-West-
ern, or developing cultures.
Time and Trust in Western Cultures
People from many Western nations, such as the united states, are impatient
when it comes to time. Timebeing on time and minding the clockis a
prime value, one thats tightly wedded to efficiency. In the business world of
these nations, an inefficient use of time means a loss of money. Consequently,
people are expected to stick to timelines and to meet deadlines. Meetings
move forward with a minimum of small talk; networking functions focus on
business and career goals. Business relationships are often viewed as a means
to an end.
Time and Trust in Non-Western Cultures
In contrast to people in Western cultures, people from many non-Western
cultures and many parts of Latin America view time in terms of relationships
and the time it takes to develop them. In these cultures, relationships, inter-
connectedness, and respect are primary values. These values transcend time
or at least the time thats bound to the clock.
Cultural anthropologist Edward T. Hall described people from these cul-
tures as having a flexible attitude toward time. for them, life is not a big rush.
They linger over meals to enjoy the food and friendship. They adjust schedules
rather than strictly enforce deadlines. They may be late to a meeting because
they took time to console a friend with a sick family member. for them, trust
comes from relationships that evolve over time. According to Halls research,
people who view time as linked to relationships and trust-building are likely
to come from Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and the Western nations
of Ireland, france, and spain (Tuleja, 2005).
Of course, there are exceptions to the way these cultural dynamics play
out. The Japanese, for example, value being on time for meetings which is a
Western cultural trait, but almost always engage in small talk about family,
sports, hobbies, world events, and so on before addressing business issues. for
the Japanese, it often takes more than one meeting to get to important agenda
items (Ibid). They also take the time to resolve issues through consensus rather
than majority rule because consensus is an important cultural value.
By understanding the relationship of time to trust building, you will help
your multicultural teammates and employees feel safer and more comfortable
in disclosing their interests, needs, and concerns. As a practical first step, dont
get right down to business, as is our habit in North America. Instead, take
time to get acquainted. Arrange an informal lunch or coffee as a preliminary
to any important exchanges of views. Ask about their families and talk about
yours. Build a web of connections to the other person. Above all, show respect,
be true to your word, and be consistent in what you say and what you do.
until you establish trust in these ways, the other person may politely balk
at disclosing needs and interests or hold back information by telling you only
those things that seem safe to disclose. Once you get the person talking, avoid
the following behaviors:

Demanding a response

raising your voice

Interrupting, or looking at your watch

Criticizing or diminishing the persons interests or concerns

Criticizing the persons family or culture

Punishing the person for something he or she disclosesor chooses not to

Any of these behaviors will destroy the foundation of trust youre trying to
build with the other person.
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Think about someone from your own culture (in this case, Western) with whom you have a good,
trust-based working relationship (a co-worker, teammate, business partner, etc.). How long did
you interact with this person before you trusted him or her? What was that trust based on (suc-
cessfully meeting deadlines, quality of work, apparent integrity, mutual values, etc)?
Did your earlier interactions involve learning about the other persons family and outside interests?
Now, think about someone from a non-Western or developing nation whom youve developed a
trust-based working relationship. Did it take a longer, shorter, or about the same length of time to
develop that trust? What was that trust based on (successfully meeting deadlines, quality of work,
apparent integrity, mutual values, and so on)?
What, if anything, was different about your early conversations with this person relative to earlier
conversations with people from your own culture?
Cultural Dimensions
some of the pioneering work in cross-cultural studies was done by geert Hof-
stede of Hollands Maastricht university. from the late 1960s through the
early 1970s, Hofstede researched cultural differences within IBM and its sub-
sidiaries in 53 countries. That research identified five cultural dimensions
(Chaney and Martin, 2004), three of which are relevant to our discussion of
Think About It . . .
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
a persons needs and interests: (1) power distance, (2) uncertainty avoidance,
and (3) collectivism.
Power Distance
Power distance involves the distribution of power within a culture. The dis-
tribution may be more hierarchical or egalitarian. According to Hofstede, hi-
erarchical cultures are top-down, with a substantial gap between people who
hold the most power and those who have the least power. Hofstede calls these
high power distance cultures. By contrast, low power distance cultures
distribute power more equally. Their organizations are flatter (with fewer tiers
of management) and more egalitarian (Tuleja, 2005).
More specifically, high power distance cultures are a feature of authori-
tarian societies where power is controlled by the few at the top and where the
people below accept their unequal status. Power, for those who have it, comes
from a persons position, gender, family status, age, religion, and ethnicity. Au-
thority figures, whether in government, business, education, or families, have
great decision-making powers over those under their control. People in these
cultures tend to be paternalistic. They also tend to cling to tradition and are
wary of change. Interestingly, those without power expect to be taken care of
in return for their compliance. Hofstede found that businesses that reflect a
high power distance culture have a command-and-control structure in which
those with power determine the rules and procedures for others to follow. In
these businesses, a wide gap exists between superiors and subordinates, each
of whom views those in a higher position as people who both control and are
responsible for them. (Hofstede, cited in Tuleja, 2005)
If youre working with someone who comes from a high power distance
culture, understanding its dynamics will help you recognize and respond to
his or her expectations. Countries that have high power distance cultures in-
clude Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Peru, Mexico, West Africa, and China.
A low power distance culture, in contrast, distributes power more evenly
among its people. These cultures often have representative forms of govern-
ment that promote individual liberty and freedom of expression. Their people
move more fluidly between classes. Those in the middle or bottom levels of
society and organizations have decision-making power, in addition to those
at the top. People in low power organizations ask questions, give feedback,
work independently of their supervisors, and interact with each other, includ-
ing superiors, on a first-name basis. People earn their power; it is not handed
to them. The united states, Canada, great Britain, New Zealand, and the
Netherlands, and Australia are low power distance cultures.
If youre a supervisor, manager, or an executive in a superior position and
youre exploring the interests and concerns of people from a high power dis-
tance culture, you can be sure that theyll tell you what they think you want to
hearthat is, until youve had enough time to develop a relationship of mutual
trust. How, then, can you arrive at the truth? for one thing, avoid probing for
feelings. People from high power distance cultures have been acculturated to
conceal their feelings from authority figures. A display of emotions is impolite
(and risky). Instead, use objective language to probe for what matters to the
person. If you think you still havent arrived at the truth, try the following
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suggestions. List a series of alternatives and ask the person to order them in
terms of preferences. You might frame if-then constructs (another way of
looking at alternatives) and ask what the person sees as the outcome if the
team, department, or company were to move in a particular direction.
In terms of voice and body language, maintain an assertive posture (not
a slouching or rigid one), a steady voice (not a weak or demanding one), and
strong eye contact (not an avoiding or piercing one). You may also find it pro-
ductive to use collaborative body language, for example sitting next to the
person, rather than behind your desk, and using a welcoming expression,
rather than a stern one.
In addition, monitor the other persons body language and tone of voice
to determine if he or she might be resisting or holding back information, or if
the person might be fearful or uncomfortable. You may decide to rephrase your
questions, use silence, or stop and continue the discussion at another time.
Also, listen for indirect communication. In high power distance cultures,
delivering bad or unpleasant news to people in charge is unwise. Instead, the
person might shift to another topic or sidestep the issue. In countries, such as
Japan, its impolite to tell someone (especially the boss) no. Instead, the per-
son might mention another option or preference.
Here are some things to avoid when you want people from a high power
distance culture to share their interests and concerns:

standing while the other person is sitting; that puts you in the commanding
position and may work against disclosure.

using a loud voice; this will be interpreted as aggressive.

Exploring personal needs and feelings; these are often closely held and pri-

Pointing at the other person; thats aggressive and accusatory in any cul-

Words, body language, or voice tone that ridicules, humiliates, or shows

Uncertainty Avoidance
According to Hofstede, uncertainty avoidance is the degree to which a culture
tolerates uncertainty and ambiguity. This has to do with how readily a culture
is open to change, differences, and contradictions (Tuleja, 2005).
Cultures with high uncertainty avoidance tend to have more rules, laws,
regulations, and rituals than do low uncertainty avoidance cultures (Ibid.).
These cultures often have low crime rates, which are the result of a highly
structured society that imposes and enforce rules on behavior. People in high
uncertainly avoidance cultures:

Are extremely polite.

favor consensus in decision-making.

Dislike dissent.

feel especially uncomfortable with change and the prospect of it.

Countries that seek to avoid change and uncertainty include Portugal,
Belgium, greece, Chile, and Japan.
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
While it is human nature to resist change, people in low uncertainty
avoidance cultureswhich include the united states, Canada, sweden, great
Britain, Denmark, and Indiahave learned how to cope with it. They know
that change can produce better results and ultimately, more satisfying lives.
People in low uncertainty avoidance cultures:

Accept contractions and ambiguity.

Are willing to live with fewer rules in return for greater freedom.

Are more apt to accept dissent.

Not surprisingly, these cultural differences have an impact on the open-
ness of interpersonal communication. People from high uncertainty avoidance
cultures will most likely feel stressed when asked to open up about their needs,
interests or concerns, especially if theyre uncertain about the consequences
or see themselves as out of step with the majority point of view. rather than
speaking up, theyll be quiet and play by the rules, viewing that as less risky.
Thus, its important that you:

first, establish trust.

Explain your purpose for seeking his or her needs or concerns.

Provide a safe environment.

Be precise in your language, so that you avoid ambiguous words and phrases.
When you begin your inquiry, lay out the guidelines or steps for the dis-
closure process and be sure to follow them. Be consistent and true to your
word. When you do this, youll help reduce the other persons reservations.
Collectivism and Individualism
The third cultural dimension that has an impact on disclosure is collectivism.
Collectivism is the degree to which a persons identity is shaped by and at-
tached to groupshis or her family, community, company, friends, and social
class. Collectivism can be defined as connection with the power of the group
(Tuleja, 2005). Individualism, on the other hand, is the degree to which a per-
sons identity is shaped by his or her sense of self, apart from groups. Nations
with collectivist cultures include most of the south American, Central Amer-
ican, Asian, Arab, and West and East African nations.
Collectivist cultures place a high value on harmony, interconnectedness,
and group achievement. Therefore, peoples decisions and self-perceptions
are highly influenced by their family and other relationships. for example,
rather than going off on their own by a given age, children in collectivist cul-
tures are expected to live with their families until they marry and start a family
of their own (Ibid).
In business, people from collectivist cultures put the interests of their
company and team ahead of their own. That means that success, in their view,
flows from the cooperative efforts of the group as a whole, not as the result of
a particular persons contribution. In fact, people in collectivist cultures shy
away from offering or accepting individual praise, because it singles them out
and places them above the group.
In contrast, individualistic cultures place a high value on independence, self-
reliance, and personal achievement. Countries that have individualistic cultures
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include the united states, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Britain, the Nether-
lands, and other countries in Western Europe. People from these cultures are
emotionally independent from group membership, according to Hofstede, self-
actualization is at the forefront of identity (Hofstede, quoted in Tuleja, 2005). In
individualist cultures, parents raise their children to go off on their own and take
responsibility for their lives, financial support, decisions, and careers. The focus
is on individual performance and success, which is reflected in the competitive
nature of schooling, careers, athletics, media, and politics. Even in team-oriented
businesses, the individual is not subservient to the group, but expects to make his
or her unique contribution to the teams success and be recognized for it. Those
who make a special contribution will most likely want to be singled out for praise.
Collectivism and individualism have an impact on workplace communi-
cations. Because people from collectivist cultures seek harmony and consen-
sus, they prefer to go along with the group and blend in rather than stake out
a contrary position or point of view. They are more likely to say what they
believe the group wants to hear and keep their personal opinions and expres-
sions of concern to themselves. This makes the task of exploring needs, in-
terests, and concerns more difficult.
To get a more accurate picture of what matters to a person with a col-
lectivist orientation, its a good idea to frame your inquiry in terms of the
group. for example:

Tell the person that his or her interests and concerns are important to the
groups (or departments or companys) success and long- term harmony.

use the collaborative we and our, rather than the individualistic I:

We are interested in knowing what matters to you. Its important to the
group as we move forward on our project.

Ask for ideas in connection to the group: What steps should the team take
to bring this client on board? What priorities should the group set for the
next month, etc.?

Avoid using phrases such as: What do you think about . . . ? These stress
individual thoughts and feelings and move away from the group identity.

Avoid singling the person out for praise or criticism in front of the group.

Think about someone youve worked or studied with who comes from a collectivist culture (such
as Japan, China) where group identity is strong relative to the individualistic identity common in
the United States and many other Western countries. What country did the person come from?
Did you observe any differences between this person and more individualistic peers in how he or
she related to the group or the team? For instance, did the person with the collectivist background
strive to stand out or act more as a team player? Explain.
Think About It . . .
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
Think About It continues on next page.
Did you experience any unique problems in communicating with this person about his or her beliefs,
opinions, or concerns? Please explain.
Would you describe this person as a passive, aggressive, or assertive participant in classroom or
work activities?
While culture has a profound influence on people, avoid making assump-
tions or generalizing expectations about a persons behavior based solely on
cultural background. People are influenced by many things. keep in mind the
inherent worth of everyone you work with, and his or her potential for making
a productive contribution to your organization.
for your convenience and review, weve summarized some of the key
culture-related communication features described here in Exhibit 6-1.
Want to learn more?
To learn more about a specific country or region of the world, consult in-
ternational business books, such as Cultures and Organizations: Software of the
Mind: International Cooperation and Its Importance for Survival by geert Hof-
stede and Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands by Terri Morrison, Wayne A. Conaway,
and george A. Borden, Ph.D.; online international websites, such as Inter-
national Business Resources from Michigan state university (http://glob-; organizational websites, such as Geert
Cultural Dimensions ( which
provides a country-by-country look at Hofstedes cultural dimensions.
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Think About It continued from previous page.
INtErEsts Of OthErs
There are many ways to respond to the needs and interests of others. How
you choose to respond will say something about your assertivenessor lack
of it. You may give in, compromise, go for a win, or try to find a solution that
satisfies everyone.
What you choose to do will depend on the importance of the issue versus
the importance of your relationship. If the balance favors one over the other,
it will logically determine your response (Exhibit 6-2). savvy negotiators un-
derstand this and will often give ground on a particular issue if doing so will
protect their relationship with the other party, as in the following example:
Cynthia, the purchasing manager for a household appliance manu-
facturer, was negotiating with one of her companys key component
suppliers, Acme Assemblies. The representative from Acme was ask-
ing for a higher unit price than Cynthia was comfortable paying. I
American Management Association. All rights reserved.

xhibit 6-1
Culture Communication
Cultural Features Region
People are very up-front and get right down
to business
U.S., Canada, most European countries
Require trust-building time before discussing
important matters
Asian, Middle Eastern, and Latin American
countries, and the Western countries of
Ireland, France, and Spain
High power distance
(power controlled by a few at the top)
Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Peru,
Mexico, West Africa, China
Low power distance
(power more evenly distributed)
U.S., Canada, U.K., New Zealand,
Netherlands, Australia
High uncertainty avoidance (lots of rules) Portugal, Belgium, Greece, Chile, Japan
Low uncertainty avoidance (rules less
U.S., Canada, Sweden, U.K., Denmark, India
Collectivist (group oriented)
South and Central America, Asia, Arabic
nations, West and East Africa
(more individual than group oriented)
U.S., Australia, Canada, New Zealand, U.K.,
Netherlands, most Western European countries
know that I can get a slightly better price elsewhere, she told her-
self. But for Cynthia, more than price was at stake. Over the years,
her company had learned to value its relationships with competent
and reliable suppliers. Those suppliers did their own quality control,
were continually innovating, and routinely worked with the appli-
ance companys engineers in some aspects of new product design
and development. Cynthia could count on these suppliers for just-
in-time delivery, which kept her companys production operations
running smoothly. With that in mind, she agreed to a contract renew
with Acme. It will cost us a bit more, she reflected, but thats a
small price to pay for a solid supplier relationship.
In this example, price mattered a great deal to Acme Assemblies. Perhaps,
it desperately needs to obtain a high unit price in order to maintain quality
and support its innovative work force. To Cynthia, on the other hand, price
mattered less than the relationship with a reliable supplier. By giving in to
Acmes price demand, Cynthia wasnt being an unassertive negotiatorshe
was creating a solution that allowed each party to get what it wanted.

Perhaps, youre facing a situation similar to that of Cynthias. If the issue
is unimportant to you, but the relationship is vital, you may decide to give the
person what he or she wants. Vital work relationships are those that are on-
going, strategic, supportive, and reciprocal. Be particularly thoughtful about
your dealings with:

People you work with on a daily basis.

People who influence your career and have decision-making power over

People who provide the services and products you need to get your work
done effectively.

People you have bonded with and who support you as a trusted colleague.
xhibit 6-2
Some Issues Matter to Us More Than Others
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When both the issue and relationship are important, consider more fully
how you can take a stand for your interests and for those of the other person.
If youre on the passive side of the assertiveness scale, you may be tempted to
resolve issues by giving in too quickly. You may do this for many reasons: you
prefer to avoid conflict, you want to be thought of as a nice person, giving in
is what youre used to doing and what other people expect, or for some other
reason. But youve just spent time listening to the other person, clarifying his
or her position, determining what matters to him or her, and sharing what
matters to you. Instead of discarding that effort, consider a range of solutions,
some of which address your needs and interests.
If youre on the aggressive side of the assertiveness scale, you may be
tempted to go for a win at the other persons expenseespecially if he or she
is passive and not likely to push back. But before you do, consider the rela-
tionship. Youve just spent time listening to and exploring what matters to the
other person. Are you really going to take that information and turn it against
them? Is the relationship less important to you than winning? These are ques-
tions worth both thinking about and answering. In the end, you may choose
to win, but before you do, consider other possible solutions, ideally in collab-
oration with the other person.
think It Over
In some cases, your interactions with others may demand rapid action. gen-
erally, the person who has time pressures or is under a time constraint is in
the weaker position. This is why so many retailers advertise one-day, or week-
end sales: Act now. This special offer ends tomorrow at 6 PM.
If you are pressured to decide immediately on how youll deal with some-
ones issues, tell that person that you want to think it over (or think about it
more). Then, let the person know when he or she can expect an answer. sim-
ilarly, if the other person asks for more time, grant it, and then ask: When
can I expect your answer? In this way, youre making time an ally, not an
enemy that gives someone else the upper hand.
Once you have more time, use it to consider the consequences of meeting
the persons request:

What benefits will you and/or the other person realize?

What possible harm could result to either party?

How will your relationship with the other party be affected?

You might discuss the matter with others wholl be affected by your de-
cision, such as co-workers. Consider this example:
Your teammate, sylvia, has been invited unexpectedly to go on a
cruise to Tierra del fuego. This is a fabulous opportunity, she says.
If we can exchange our scheduled vacation days, I can take the trip.
Youre happy for sylvia, and normally would not hesitate to swap vacation
dates. But theres a wrinkleyouve already reserved a campsite on Michi-
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gans upper Peninsula for those days. Its a favorite spot for you and your hus-
band, and canceling that reservation will ruin your summer hiking plans.
As the pros and cons of sylvias request resonate in your mind, you recall
that she exchanged vacation dates at your request two years ago so that you
and your husband could celebrate your tenth wedding anniversary on Maui.
I owe sylvia, you remind yourself. But instead of saying yes right away,
you ask for more time.
That evening, you discuss the situation with your husband, and together,
you decide to grant sylvias request and exchange vacation dates. There are
other campsites to choose from and youve been looking for a way to return a
favor to sylvia. still, by holding off on a quick answer, you tended to your in-
terestsand your husbandsby including him in the decision-making. In
the end, and in the spirit of reciprocity, you tended to your relationship with
sylvia as well.
focus on the Issue, Not the person
some people can be unpleasantly disagreeable when competing ideas, goals,
and interests are at stake. In these cases, its easy to make the other person the
issue, rather than the object of conflict itself. This is what some communica-
tion experts mean when they advise us to focus on the problem, not the per-
son. Working through the uncertainties and disagreement is often difficult,
and even more vexing when we link our frustration and anger to another per-
son: If it werent for Bob, wed have this problem solved. Demonizing the
other person does nothing to resolve the conflict, nor does speculation about
that persons motives: I think hes trying to look good to his boss.
Turning a conflict over competing interests into a personal win-or-lose
contest encourages aggressiveness on both sides and assures that resolution will
be more difficult. Neither party can compromise without feeling that he or she
has been personally diminishedvanquished. And neither can recognize the
validity of the others rights or interests without appearing passive and weak.
The obvious antidote to this situation is to objectify the problemthat is, to
separate it from the conflicted parties. Instead of defining the other person as
abrasive, arrogant, rude, or hypocritical, give your attention to (1) the problem
and its parts, and (2) the interests of the disputing parties. Doing this will
move you and others toward a mutually satisfying resolution.
use Collaborative language
Another way to move toward a mutually satisfying solution for competing in-
terests is to use collaborative languagewe and our, rather than I, you,
or us versus them just as you should when communicating with some-
one from a collectivist culture. You might ask some of the following questions:

How can we move forward on this?

How can we work together to move toward a solution?

Can we agree to . . . ?

Whats in our best interest as a team?

What are our top priorities?

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Collaborative language is inclusive. It invests others in both the decision and
the outcome.
remember, though, to use I statements and direct communication
when expressing ideas, disclosing feelings, and revealing your needs and in-
terests. Throughout the problem-solving and decision-making process, you
should maintain an assertiveness level in your word choices, voice tone, and
body language.
Expand the Options
One of the most important steps we can take to arrive at a satisfying and sus-
taining solution is to expand the options. All too often, we limit ourselves to
what we want versus what the other person wants, as if nothing else is possible
and as if wants are always in opposition. upon examination, many either/or
options are found to be false choices. for example:

You can either have a large car with poor fuel economy or a small car with
high gas mileage.

You have two choices: High-quality products at high prices or low-quality

products at low prices.
Both of those either/or propositions have proven false. Youre likely to
find workplace propositions like these to be equally false. After all, few things
in life have only two options. You can avoid this pitfall by working with the
other person (or persons) to develop a larger set of options. some new options
may be combinations of the two original options; others may be variations of
one option or another; still others may be entirely new.
Many people use brainstorming sessions to generate several solution op-
tions. Do this without censuring yourself or prejudging any potential solution.
Then, once youve laid out the possibilities, you and the other person (or per-
sons) can evaluate them. Youll throw out some possibilities, prioritize others,
and add new ones to the list, without giving up what matters to you. This
method not only points you toward a better solution, it creates collaborative
energy that keeps your relationship moving forward. Consider the following
As manager of corporate communications, Ellen oversaw the
publication of her companys quarterly online newsletter. To ensure
the quality of the newsletters layout and design, she relied on the
services of Alejandra, the companys most experienced and talented
graphic artist. Alejandra delivered stellar workon timeand for
that reason, she was in high demand. Over the previous year, Ellen
had faced growing conflict with Matthew, manager of advertising
and promotions, over the use of Alejandras services. Matthews
deadlines for advertising materials often coincided with Ellens
newsletter deadlines.
During the last quarter, Matthew booked Alejandra well in ad-
vance of the deadline for his big advertising push. Ellen wanted to
talk with Matthew about their schedules to see if they could find a
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way to share Alejandras services in some mutually agreeable way.
she hesitated to approach him, however, because he often became
aggressive and hostile when under pressure, launching a tirade at
whoever stood between himself and what he felt was rightly his.
Hoping to avoid a brutal encounter with Matthew, Ellen was pre-
pared to offer a solution: use two less experienced graphic artists,
one of whom frequently missed deadlines.
Now, with a new deadline in sight, Ellen found out that
Matthew was trying to monopolize Alejandras services for the rest
of the quarter. she knew that something had to be done. shed have
to talk with Matthew about their conflicting needstirades or not.
But before setting up a meeting, she improved her negotiating posi-
tion by obtaining Alejandras commitment to work on the newsletter
for the following quarter.
In the eventual meeting, Matthew was cold and closed-lipped;
Ellen adopted assertive body language and tone of voice. When she
revealed that Alejandra was locked up for the next quarter,
Matthews face flushed and he exploded in anger. His behavior was
predictable, but Ellen had prepared for it. she didnt flinch but main-
tained steady eye contact while he vented.
When Matthew saw that Ellen was not backing down or cower-
ing, he stopped, though his arms keep flailing for the next few sec-
onds. He took a deep breath and sat down, muttering a vague apology.
Ellen acknowledged his apology and asked probing questions
to find out what his concerns were and what mattered to him in re-
gard to his advertising projects and deadlines. she shared her con-
cerns in return and asked how they might move forward to resolve
the issue.
Perhaps we can hire an outside contractor to fill the workload
gap? Matthew responded.
That something to think about, Ellen said. And as long as
were considering options, lets think of some more. Ellen wrote
their ideas on a legal pad as the two managers brainstormed the
problem. Matthew slid his chair closer so that he could read the list
(Exhibit 6-3). As this brainstorming session continued, their body
language became more collaborative and the ideas flowed.
When they finished, Ellen and Matthew were amazed at the number of
options they had decided upon. They spent the next twenty minutes dis-
cussing the pros and cons of each one and, in the end, decided to divide their
projects into smaller deadlines and assign the simpler tasks to the other two
graphic artists. That would free up Alejandra for the more complicated work.
In the end, each manager felt that his or her concerns were properly addressed.
In this case Ellen, and Matthew broke out of an unsatisfactory either/or
conflict by expanding their list of possible solutions for satisfying each persons
interests and needs. Ellen learned to be less passive and more assertive, and
Matthew discovered how assertiveness, and not aggression, would help him
get what he wanted.
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find Common ground
finding the common ground helps people to focus on the needs, interests,
and goals they share with othersfor example, on their relationships, the suc-
cess of the company, a civil and emotionally safe work environment, etc. find-
ing common ground helps people to move beyond differences toward
compromise and win-win solutions.
In their conflict over resources, both Ellen and Matthew had a vested in-
terest in the success of their company, which the quality of their product
helped ensure. That common interest gave them a reason to maintain their
relationship and work together. finding common ground and expanding their
options helped them resolve a conflict that could have damaged both careers.
Aim for Win-Win
The best selling book, Getting to Yes, by roger fisher, William urn, and Bruce
Paten, offers a compelling argument on behalf of win-win solutionsout-
comes that satisfy all parties. Consider the case of Jerry and Monique, two
dueling sales managers:
Jerry and Monique have been two of their companys top grossing dis-
trict sales managers during the past five years. They had always gotten
on well together, which was easy since no conflicting issues divided
them. However, once Harriet, the current manager of the highest pro-
ducing territory, announced her retirement, the two began waging a
fiercely competitive campaign to succeed her. Each felt that they were
the most qualified and most deserving candidate. In fact, they had
much in common: both were senior sales managers; both had won Pro-
ducer of the Year award more than once; and both had highly positive
360-degree performance reviews in their personnel files.
As their competition became more heated, the two began trad-
ing public verbal shots and lining up backers within the sales force
and in the ranks of higher management. None of this was healthy
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Hire an outside contractor.
Ask the boss to arbitrate the conflict.
Have Alejandra work one quarter on advertising materials and the next quarter on Ellens
Pool their budgets and hire a new full-time worker.
Divide all projects into smaller milestone deadlines so that the companys other two graphic
artists can do the less critical tasks.
Ask management to relax its deadlines.
Take classes to enhance their own design skills so they can do more of the work themselves.
xhibit 6-3
Matthew and Ellens Options
for the company. Daniel, the regional sales manager to whom the
two contenders both reported, understood this and held separate
meetings with Jerry and Monique to voice his concern about their
behavior. He implied that neither would get the position if that be-
havior continued. He offered the services of a third party to help
them work through their disagreement.
Jerry and Monique recognized that they had to talk. so, they
met in a small conference room, turned off their cell phones, and
instructed their assistants to hold all calls. Instead of sitting on op-
posite sides of the conference table, they sat on the same side, and
turned their chairs towards one another. Monique suggested some
ground rules: each would listen to the other and speak openly and
honestly; put-downs and interruptions would not be tolerated. Jerry
agreed and suggested that they begin by identifying their common
ground, which they agreed to be (1) maintaining sales force morale,
(2) making the companys interests the top priority, and (3) keeping
their working relationship intact. After all, Jerry said, weve
worked successfully in the past and have supplied solid leads to each
other over the years. Id like that collaboration to continue.
Jerrys suggestion was agreeable to Monique, and both agreed
they would solve their conflict without the intervention of a third
party. Well show Daniel that we can handle this matter on our own.
Once underway, each searched for the others interests and
needs. Jerry and Monique spoke calmly and confidently, maintained
eye contact and relaxed body language, and listened attentively. Jerry
was the first to open up, expressing his concerns about retirement.
Im older than you, Monique, he explained, and have a lot
less time to build up my retirement fund. The prestige of managing
our biggest sales territory would be nice, but less important to me
than an increase in commissions, which would help me maximize
my 401k plan contributions.
Monique confessed her own concern with building a retirement
nest egg. The larger issue for me, she told Jerry, is timetime
with my husband and our two young kids. As it is now, my first sales
call is typically more than an hour and a half from home. The sales
territory we both want is much closer to where I live. If I had that
territory, Id be spending less time on the road and more time with
my familymaybe an extra hour each day.
Having shared their concerns and priorities, Jerry and Monique
began to discuss options that might suit both parties. Jerry men-
tioned some gossip hed heard about the companys plan to open up
a new territory and said, But I have no idea where it would be.
They agree to find out more and called Daniel on the speakerphone.
Well, Daniel responded, its not yet official, so keep it to your-
selves, but well be opening a new territory in January. Im sorry that
I didnt mention it. I didnt think either of you would be interested.
A new territory means developing prospects from scratch. I plan to
compensate for that by offering a higher salary during the first two
134 AssErTINg YOursELf AT WOrk
AMACOM Self Study Program
years. In the long runmaybe within ten years, the territory might
be worth more than the one you two have been squabbling over.
And where is this territory, Daniel? Jerry asked.
Blue Valley.
Monique clasped her hands over her mouth to stifle a giddy
shriek, then mouthed to Jerry, Thats fifteen minutes from home!
she regained her composure and thanked Daniel for the information
and for his time. Jerry followed suit.
The two rivals hung up and each laughed in relief. so, Blue
Valley interests you? Jerry asked.
Are you kidding? she responded, Its practically in my back-
Jerry probed to be sure that his co-worker wasnt merely grasp-
ing for a quick solution or backing off in order to appear accommo-
dating. Monique confirmed that she wanted to learn more about the
opportunity and its pros and cons before she decided.
Ill talk with Daniel later in the week about the Blue Valley
territory, and Ill get back to you then. With that idea, they ended
their meeting amiably.
A week later, Daniel announced that a new Blue Valley sales
territory would be opened in January, with Monique as its manager.
At the same time, he announced that Harriet would be retiring in
July of that year, with Jerry acting as her successor.
In this case, everyone with an interest in the matter was happy with the
outcome. Jerry had a chance to significantly increase his commissions and re-
tirement contributions. Monique would be working much closer to home and,
over time, would have an opportunity to build Blue Valley into the companys
more lucrative sales territory. Daniel was also pleased as dissention within the
sales team had ended, and he had retained two of its most productive mem-
bers. In this case, taking the time and effort to explore concerns resulted not
just in a win-win, but a win-win-win situation!
In this instance, a win-lose outcome was avoided by expanding the list of
possible options. Initially, Jerry and Monique were in a zero sum game, or a contest
in which someone would win at another persons expense. The fortuitous ap-
pearance of the new sales territory added a new conflict-breaking option that
made a win-win possible.

Every one of us has experienced conflict situations like the one involving Jerry and Monique. You
and someone else had your sights on a single, apparently indivisible prize: a promotion, a change
in company strategy or policy, an opportunity to be the starting quarterback in a football game,
and so forth.
Think About It . . .
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
Think About It continues on next page.
Describe one such episode from your work life and the people involved.
Initially, was this a win-lose (zero sum) situation?
Was any attempt made to expand the list of possible solutions? If yes, please describe. If not, what
other solutions might have turned a win-lose situation into a win-win?
Win graciously
Youre bound to encounter situations in which you feel you must winwhen
you simply cant give in, back off, go along, or make nice. This might happen
in an emergency situation, in which you have more experience and expertise
than anyone else and you need to take charge. It might happen when you will
never deal with the other person again, as when youre selling your house to
a stranger and moving across country. It might even happen when the rela-
tionship matters to youyou simply must win this time.
In many situations, youre expected to go for a victory: in a tennis match;
in a political campaign; when youre competing for a job; when youre com-
peting for a new client on behalf of your company; when youre competing
for product placement and shelf space against the competition, and so on.
Winning in any case must be done with observable graciousness. Doing
that can produce future benefits. for example, Alexander the great was only
in his early 30s when he conquered much of the world, but he understood the
value of winning graciously. Whenever he vanquished a foe, he praised the
valor of his defeated adversaries, took many of their leaders into his service
as soldiers and local administrators, and even sacrificed to their gods. Being
gracious in victory increased the likelihood that Alexander could move on
without fear of uprisings in conquered lands.
136 AssErTINg YOursELf AT WOrk
AMACOM Self Study Program
Think About It continued from previous page.
Like Alexander, you should acknowledge the skills and effort of your op-
ponents, thank the people who helped you win, and promise to use your vic-
tory for the common good. Avoid gloating, boasting, over-celebrating,
taunting, and ridicule. By winning graciously, youll take home the prize and
earn the respect and collaboration of otherseven those you have defeated.
In this chapter, you learned techniques that will help you ad-
dress the needs, interests, and concerns of other peoplean
important part of the assertiveness equation. You completed
an assertive listening self-assessment to evaluate your listening
skills, and practiced the three levels of assertive listening: lis-
tening to be aware, listening to learn, and listening to engage.
Besides being a good listener, you can explore the needs and
interests of others by creating a safe environment, asking
probing questions, avoiding questions or statements that might provoke a de-
fensive response, reciprocating, and being proactive in drawing people out.
A major section of the chapter was devoted to the cultural barriers that
make it difficult for people to communicate their needs and interests. These
barriers have become more important as globalization and migration of people
have intensified. Among the things to remember here are:

Time and trust-building. People in most Western and developed countries

have no trouble getting right down to business when they communicate.
People in other countries take things more slowly; they require a preliminary
period of trust-building communication before discussing serious business.

Power distance. In many countries where power is unequally distributed, peo-

ple who lack power are reluctant to openly share their thoughts and feel-
ings. You must create a safe environment if you hope to draw them out.

Uncertainty avoidance. some countries, the u.s. among them, have a low level
of uncertainty avoidance. rules are fewer and people are more willing to
open up about their thoughts and feelings. High uncertainty avoidance cul-
ture is the opposite with more rules and people who are hesitant to reveal
their thoughts and feelings.

Collectivism and individualism. Collectivism is the degree to which a persons

identity is shaped by and attached to groups. Individualism, on the other
hand, is the degree to which a persons identity is shaped by his or her sense
of self.
Once your communication style has succeeded in drawing out the needs
and interests of others, how should you respond? In some cases, it makes sense
to give in, especially if the relationship is more important than the issue. Com-
promise is another option. The best option, however, is to seek a win-win so-
lution, which can often be achieved by looking for alternatives to the win-lose
outcomes that initially present themselves. Win-win solutions can often be
found when people look for common ground and use collaborative language.
American Management Association. All rights reserved.

1. The statement Burts stubbornness and insensitivity lost us the deal 1. (c)
best represents:
(a) a search for common ground.
(b) collaborative language.
(c) focusing on the person as the problem and not on the issue.
(d) problem-solving language.
2. Which phrase best describes the skill of listening to learn? 2. (d)
(a) The ability to feedback another persons viewpoint and ask clarifying
(b) The ability to ask probing questions without putting the other person
on the defensive
(c) The awareness of all the ambient sounds in the room in which youre
listening to a lecture
(d) The ability to assimilate, abstract, and take notes on information
presented in workshops and seminars
3. In many non-Western cultures, trust comes from: 3. (d)
(a) being aggressive during an initial meeting.
(b) setting agendas for meetings and adhering to them.
(c) getting right down to business.
(d) taking extra time to establish relationships.
4. Which of the following is an example of a poor probing question? 4. (b)
(a) What concerns you about this issue?
(b) How could you possibly think that wed be interested in that proposal?
(c) What matters to you the most about the new billing procedures?
(d) What brings you to this conclusion?
5. People from high uncertainty avoidance cultures: 5. (a)
(a) may have difficulty handling ambiguity.
(b) operate with fewer rules and laws.
(c) welcome change as an opportunity.
(d) are more willing to take risks than people from low uncertainty
avoidance cultures.
Review Questions
138 AssErTINg YOursELf AT WOrk
Do you have questions? Comments? Need clarification?
Call Educational Services at 1-800-225-3215
or e-mail at
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American Management Association. All rights reserved.
Learning Objectives
By the end of this chapter, you should be able

Identify assertive boundaries at work.

Explain how boundaries of respect, ethics,

time, health and safety, and discrimination
can be maintained.
The previous chapters provided the foundation for your growing assertiveness.
They showed you how to stand up for yourself and attend to others in positive
ways. This chapter will take you to a more advanced level of assertiveness as
you identify the boundaries you need to uphold for yourself at work, and learn
how to deal with the difficult people who disregard those boundaries.
IdentIfyIngBoundArIes AtWork
In property disputes, surveyors locate and map the boundaries between abut-
ting properties. Within their respective boundaries, landowners have the right
to decide who may enter and who may not. A mans home is his castle, as the
saying goes, and even wealthy and powerful people must defer to the
landowner on his or her own turf. Unwelcome persons who cross a boundary
are guilty of trespassing and the landowner has a legal right to take action
against them.
A boundary, then, is a line of demarcation. In the case of property, that
line may take the form of a physical barrier: a wall, a fence, a sign, or some
other marking. In many cases, property lines are not obvious unless you know
where the surveyor stakes are located.
Identifying and Maintaining
Assertive Boundaries at Work
AMACOM Self Study Program
Unlike physical property boundaries, our personal boundaries are be-
havioral and psychological. We mark these boundaries with imaginary lines
that we dont allow others to cross against our wishes. These lines may be firm
or flexible, depending on the person and situation that pushes against them.
We may be passive, assertive, or aggressive in boundary defense. Just as we
identify and maintain our own boundaries, we need to avoid crossing the per-
sonal boundaries set by others because violating boundaries, as Chapter 1
points out, signals aggressive behavior.
This section describes key boundaries that must be maintained as-
sertively: boundaries of respect, ethics, time, health and safety, and boundaries
against discrimination and sexual harassment (Exhibit 7-1). Some may be
more important to you than others, depending on where you are in terms of
your assertiveness and your work situation.
Boundaries of respect
The right to be treated with respect is one of the most basic human rights and
one upon which the assertive person must always insist. According to the
Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, Each person
has a fundamental right to be respected and treated as a free, equal, and ra-
tional person capable of making his or her own decisions (Velasquez et al.,
1988). In the workplace, respectful treatment may include being:

Kept in the information loop.

Spoken to in a civil manner.

Listened to.

Given the resources needed to do his or her job.

Recognized for a job well done.

Addressed by proper title (if appropriate).

xhibit 7-1
Your Boundaries
Health and Safety
Ethics Time
and Sexual
American Management Association. All rights reserved.

Given specific and constructive feedback.


Able to choose how to do ones job (within the organizations rules and

Compensated appropriately in terms to education, experience, skills, and

In contrast, disrespect involves being yelled at, ignored or dismissed (not
being listened to), being put down, called names, discussed behind ones back,
made the butt of jokes, manipulated, kept out of the information loop, treated
condescendingly, spied upon, etc. These are behaviors that we should not tol-
erate and against which a boundary should be maintained.
Be aware, though, that people who tell you the truthno matter how
painfulexpress a contrary view, and offer constructive criticism are not
being disrespectful. If they use direct, objective language in communicating
their thoughts, theyre being frank and honest (assertive in their own way),
and showing respect for you.
Boundaries of ethics
Many organizations consider ethical behavior one of the main qualities they
look for in a job candidate, along with communication skills, problem-solving
ability, and a sense of teamwork. Indeed, ethical scandals in the United States
during the dot-com bust of 2000, at one of the major accounting firms, and in
the Enron collapse made ethics a hot business topic and a subject of study in
business school curriculums across the country.
The topic of ethics, however, has long been a part of the organizational
landscape. Companies hand out codes of conduct which employees and ex-
ecutives are expected to follow. Certain professionslegal, medical, account-
ing, architectural, military, civil service, among themhave professional
codes which their members must not violate. Still, as individuals, we face
many difficult ethical choices that affect us and those with whom we live and
work. We are tempted periodically to cross ethical boundaries for purposes
of expediency or for other reasons. In other cases, someone (perhaps higher
up in the business hierarchy) pushes us to cross an ethical boundary in the
pursuit of gain. And there are times when the ethical boundary is unclear.
Thats why we need a grounding that is:

Beyond the law; laws arent always ethical (the segregationist laws of the
old South, for example).

Beyond religious rules; non-religious people also need to be ethical.

Beyond social acceptance; what society accepts may violate ethics (racial
discrimination in the United States and elsewhere was socially acceptable
even when it was legally and ethically unacceptable).
In the workplace, ethical behavior takes the form of honesty, loyalty to le-
gitimate goals, tolerance, respect for co-workers, respect for legitimate confi-
dentiality, keeping private business to a minimum during working hours, and
truthfulness. no one would quarrel with these behaviors. The challenge comes
AMACOM Self Study Program
when one ethical standard conflicts with another. Consider this example:
Samantha, a junior management consultant, has been scrupulously
honest in tracking and invoicing clients for the time she spends on
their projects. She has also been loyal to her company and to Ron,
her boss. But now Ron is pressuring her to pad each clients monthly
bill with an extra hour of workwork she hasnt actually done. An
extra hour doesnt amount to a lot of money for these clients, and
Samantha is aware that her boss is under enormous pressure from
above to increase revenues. But overbilling is dishonest, and she
knows it.
When she protests, Ron becomes very upset, accusing her of
being disloyal and of not being a team player. Have you forgotten
all the help Ive given you since you started working for me? he com-
plains. I taught you the ropes. now, its time for you to help me.
In this example, Samantha finds her ethical sense of honesty is in conflict
with her loyalty to Ron, who has been a good boss and who has advanced her
career. Perhaps, youve found yourself in the same situation at one time or
another. What should you do?
The ethical solution in Samanthas case is not difficult to determine.
Padding client invoices is clearly unethical, and even illegal, and shouldnt be
done. Samantha owes an ethical duty of honesty to her clients; Ron, as her
superivisor, shares that ethical duty. The ethical duty of honest easily trumps
her loyalty duty to Ron, who has issued a dishonest request. Samantha should
not consider padding the invoices. The question is, how would an assertive
person explain this to Ron?
Recalling what we learned about assertiveness in earlier chapters, Saman-
tha should meet Rons request with direct, frank language supported with a
firm voice tone, eye contact, and assertive body language as indicated here:
Ron, youre asking me to do something that is both unethical and
dishonest. Thats not a fair or legitimate request. I know that youre
under pressure to increase monthly billings, and Im eager to help
you with thatif it means working long days, hunting for new busi-
ness, whateverbut dont ask me to pad my invoices. Instead of talk-
ing about doing that, lets talk about how I and the rest of the team
can legitimately increase revenues.
By resisting Rons illegitimate request, Samantha has unheld her ethical
boundary. And by asserting her eagerness to help Ron with the root cause of
the problem, she has demonstrated loyalty to her boss.
American Management Association. All rights reserved.

Can you recall a situation in which, as in the case of Samantha and Ron, you find yourself in an
ethical conflict? Please describe the situation and the ethical conflict below.
What decision did you make or what action did you take? What did you base your decision on:
your feelings, religious guidelines, professional standards, social norms?
Boundaries of time
for many people today, time is the most scarce and precious of commodities.
People face more demands on their time in their work, home, and social lives
than people faced a quarter century ago, partly because of the global economy
and a highly competitive marketplace. Cell phones, Blackberry smartphones,
and other electronic devices have put many people on-call around the clock.
Its no wonder, then, that so many of us have trouble maintaining a healthy
life-work balance. A healthy balance addresses the needs of the workplace and
the personal needs of the employee to:

Honor obligations to friends and family (for example, tend to sick children).

Have a life outside of work (such as hobbies, friendships, civic involvement,

rest and recreation).
Some workplaces burden their employees with Saturday morning meet-
ings, 12-hour days, emails, and telephone calls sent to vacationing employees.
Unless employees assert their right to a reasonable life-work balancetheir
time boundarythose companies will take as much as they can get. The ca-
Think About It . . .
AMACOM Self Study Program
reer-driven employees of some professional enterprisesconsultancies, in-
vestment banks, and so forthare often willing to participate, even though
burnout often results. one major accounting firm, for example, was so bela-
bored by worker burnout that the firm required its managers to protect those
employees from themselves. Managers did this by checking monthly time logs
to identify burnout candidates and ordering those people to take time off.
Unionized employees generally codify time boundaries through labor
contracts, but the rest of us must establish and defend our own. deadlines,
seasonal fluctuations in business activity, and other reasons make boundary
defense difficult. Still, its important to look at how we spend our time, who
makes demands on our time, whether those demands are reasonable and
whether we can live with them, and where we will draw the line. A person on
the passive side of assertiveness may allow others to draw that line: the co-
worker who pesters them to go out to lunch; the boss who likes to begin staff
meetings at 5 PM; team members who ask a vacationing colleague to partic-
ipate in telephone conferences.
In contrast, a person on the aggressive side of the assertiveness scale will
demand that others be on-call at all times and will fail to recognize that
people have lives that dont involve work. In your effort to develop greater
assertiveness, you must:

Locate a reasonable time boundarythat is, one that meets your needs and
the legitimate needs of your employer.

Hold the line against unreasonable encroachment.

Boundaries of Heath and safety
Assertive people take responsibility for their health and safety. They get the
medical care and information they need to live healthy lifestyles. They eat
well, exercise, avoid unhealthy habits, get annual physical examinations, get
sufficient sleep, and so forth. While passive people put their health and heath-
care decisions entirely in professional hands, assertive people see heathcare
as a collaborative effort involving themselves and their doctors. To that end,
they ask questions about the side effects of prescription drugs, the success rate
of medical procedures, and seek second opinions when they feel the need.
And they make the final decisions about their care because its their health
and they are the customer.

Think back to your most recent medical encounters. Would you describe your interactions with
your doctor or other healthcare provider as passive, assertive, or aggressive? Explain.
Think About It . . .
Think About It continues on next page.
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Safety at work is also an aspect of health. People in the building trades,
in steel-making, farming, fishing, police work, and fire-fighting face the most
obvious job-related safety issues. But office workers should also be concerned.
Ergonomically unsafe workdesks, keyboards, and chairs can result in repetitive
motion injuries and even long-term disability. So-called sick buildings can
produce immune system injuries and pulmonary problems.
Assertive people do not waste time kibbitzing with their peers about
workplace safety concerns; they do something about them. They speak up
and describe problems to whomever is in a position to do something about
them. In doing so, they dont whine or beg; they pose their concerns as problems
that need to be solved. Instead of demanding that something be changed (Look,
you have to fix this right away), they offer to collaborate in changing the sit-
uation for the better as in this example:
As Ive indicated, the type of keyboard were using is ergonomically
inferior to whats now available and used in most office settings. I can
provide you with the equipment reviews. We should replace these old
keyboards before we start seeing cases of repeated motion injury
which can put a person on disability for months and cost the company!
I will work with you in solving this problem. What do you say?
Boundaries of discrimination and sexual Harassment
finally, its important to identify your boundary lines when it comes to work-
place discrimination and sexual harassment. In the United States, the Civil
Rights Act and other federal (and state) legislation protects people from dis-
crimination based race, gender, color, religion, age, national origin, and, more
recently, disability. federal law and laws in some states also protect you from
sexual harassment. Some states require organizations to certify theyve trained
employees about sexual harassment issues, including its definition.
despite these legal protections, self-protection makes sense, especially
because complaints and legal suits can take a long time to be settled. In the
meantime, those who lodge complaints often finds themselves in an uncom-
fortable position. Thus, its often best to stand up to discrimination and ha-
rassment before it becomes a real issue. Again, that means setting and
enforcing boundaries at work.
discrimination is the negative stereotyping of people according to their mem-
bership in a group. It focuses on group identify rather than on individual merit;
Think About It continued from previous page.
AMACOM Self Study Program
that is why its so destructive. discrimination may be overtsuch as the hiring,
firing, or promotion of a certain group of people over othersor it may be
subtlesuch as a joke about a minority group.
discrimination, however, is not confined to race, gender, or age. Some
companies give promotion preference to taller people, or pass over those who
are overweight in favor of those who are slim. They may reward high-energy
people over pensive types, or blond women over brunettes, or give the best
jobs to graduates from a particular university. discrimination based on these
characteristics is not covered under the law. Take a look at who gets promoted
in your organization, and why. Look also at how your organization treats peo-
ple from various backgrounds. determine if people are promoted based more
on type than on individual skills and contribution. Most of all, evaluate how
your organizations policies, along with your co-workers, teammates, manager,
and others, treat you. decide what youll accept and not acceptand where
youll draw the line on discriminatory behavior.
Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment is about power, not about sex. It may involve unwanted
touching, invasions of personal space, lewd or suggestive language, pressure
to date, pressure to have sex, nude photographs (sexual objectivisim), exposure
of private parts, suggestive e-mails, off-color jokes, etc. Victims are often
women and perpetrators often male, but it can be the reverse or it can be
same-sex. Because sexual harassment creates a sense of shame in those being
harassed, it can deny them their sense of self and self-worthperhaps its most
devastating consequence.
As unpleasant as it is to think about sexual harassment, be aware of the
signs and know where to draw the line. Usually the signs are words or behav-
iors that make you feel uncomfortablewhether or not they fall within the
definition of the law and whether or not these same words or behavior make
someone else feel uncomfortable. Its what you perceive and feel that matters.
on the other side of the coin, avoid stepping over anyone elses sexual
boundary. If youre on the aggressive side of the assertiveness scale, you may
be doing this without recognizing how another person perceives your behav-
ior. If you have an off-color joke that you think is absolutely hilarious, think
twice about telling it at workyou may offend someone without realizing it.

In this exercise, indicate which of your workplace boundaries are being respected or breached.
1. First, for each boundary, describe how you expect your superiors, co-workers, and organiza-
tion to treat you and others.
2. Describe the reality of your workplace: how do your superiors, co-workers, and organization
actually regard your boundaries?
Two examples are provided.
Exercise 7-1
Check Your Fences
Exercise 7-1 continues on next page.
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MAIntAInIngAssertIve BoundArIes
now that youve identified your personal workplace boundaries, you need to
maintain them. Assertive people dont allow others to simply walk over them.
This section will give you ideas on how to maintain your boundaries, even in
very sensitive situationsas when your boss is the one who is invading your
Maintaining boundaries at work (and elsewhere) is key to your growth
as an assertive person. Without well-maintained boundaries, people will en-
croach on your rights and interests. Youll think less of yourself as a result,
and so will others. When you think less of yourself, you will risk slipping back
into unasssertive ways. When someone steps over a boundary line (or is about
to) you need to say no, either literally or through other words, body lan-
guage, or actions that send the same message.
Boundary Your Expectations Your Workplace Reality
to participate in decisions
that affect me
not asked to participate ;
decisions are announced
Exercise 7-1 continued from previous page.
AMACOM Self Study Program
say no Literally
When people you like or wish to please ask for a favor, or for something else
youd rather not do, saying no may be difficult. You dont want to sound
cold, hurt their feelings, damage your relationship with them, alter your rep-
utation as a nice person, or put your job at risk. Theres no guarantee that
these undesirable things will happen, of course, so before you make a decision,
weigh the consequences of saying no. There may be few or no adverse con-
sequences if you say no frankly and assertively as in the following example:
Id love to help you out, Sharon, but if your deadline for the project
is tomorrow, Im not in a position to do so. Youll need to ask some-
one else. next time, please talk to me sooner.
notice that the speaker articulates his wish to be helpful, but states
franklywithout apology or a litany of excusesthat he cant participate.
By saying, next time, please talk to me sooner, this person makes two as-
sertive statements: (1) Im open to helping you in the future, and (2) Im a
busy person, so dont expect me to drop everything to help you at the last
When your boss is involved, however, its not such an easy decision. In
that situation, its best to follow a no with a brief reason, supported by a
strong voice and assertive body language. for example, your boss wants you
to work over the weekend on a new employee manual:
You say, no, Im taking my son up north for a weekend fishing trip.
Its his birthday. She responds, This is really important to me, can
you change your plans? Id like to, you say, but I dont want to
disappoint my son. You have a good relationship with your boss, so
you soften your refusal by adding, Ill put in extra time next week
to help you out. How about first thing Monday morning? (of
course, you say this only if its something youre willing to do.) Your
boss pauses for a moment, then says, okay, Ill take you up on that
offer. Thanks. And happy birthday to your son.
notice how the reasons in this example are direct and to the point.
If you feel nervous and insecure about saying no, youll be tempted to
offer a laundry list of excuses. Avoid doing this, because every excuse opens
you up to a rebuttal and weakens your stand, as in the following example:
Your boss has asked you to work over the weekend. You lower your
eyes, fidget a bit, jangle the keys in your pocket and say, Sorry, but
Im going out of town. You clear your throat, then rattle off a list of
excuses: Its my sons birthday and Im taking him on a fishing trip.
Hes never been fishing and hed be really disappointed if I had to
call it off now. Besides, my airplane tickets are non-refundable and
my wife needs me out of the home because shes having a sleepover
with her former sorority sisters and they dont want a guy hanging
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around. So, I hope you understand. Id be glad to help out if it
werent this particular weekend.
This no response lacks the assertive frankness of the earlier example.
It is weak and rambling, and is rife with excuses. Consider these other positive
examples of people defending their workplace boundaries:
Youve been plagued by a newly-minted manager at your level who
is demanding more and more of your time. Youre at your limit and
have deadlines of your own to meet. When this person asks for help
in putting his budget together, you say: no, frank, I have a full
schedule. You avoid apologizing, yet you also say, Budgeting is a
big pain, but the best way to learn to do it is to dive in and handle it
yourself. You know he needs to take this step.
By being firm, you protected your boundaries and stopped being an en-
abler to a co-worker whos not working to his capacity.
Heres an example of how to respond to a marketing director who is pres-
suring you to oversell the benefits of the companys newest product to a re-
tailer. This violates your ethical boundary and you need to respond:
We have a quality product, you say finally. We dont need to in-
flate its benefits. Everyone does it, she responds. You reply, no,
they dont. Even if they did, that wouldnt be on the level.
You then throw out a probing question designed to put her on the de-
fensive: dont you believe in our product?
This question sends an assertive message: that you know her request is
not about the product, but about her desire to boost sales and revenues at any
cost, even ethical, and youre not going along.
These previous examples all show you how to say no in frank, direct,
and assertive ways when your boundaries are threatened.
no in other Words
once you get used to saying no literally, you can use other words to mark
your boundaries. Those may include I statements, words like stop, and
tip: shift to the offensive
Youve heard it a hundred times or more: The best defense is a good of-
fense. In some cases, you can defend your boundaries from attack by ask-
ing or demanding the offending person to justify his or her request or
behavior. If someone asks you to do something you regard as unethical,
demand that that person justfy his or her request: Can you explain to me
how doing that wouldnt violate the companys ethics policy? or Is this
something youd want the board of directors to know about?
AMACOM Self Study Program
even defensive-provoking you statements. You have a right to identify your
boundaries and indicate that you dont want them breached. To get your point
across, be bold and brief, but put your bottom line up front. Square your shoul-
ders, use a firm voice, and look the person straight in the eye. Here are some
more examples of people identifying and protecting their boundaries in work
Speaking in front of others, Carla, your co-worker, has said some-
thing that put you down. The others chuckle and you feel your blood
pressure rising. Rather than laugh it off as you have in the past, you
step toward her and say firmly, Carla, I didnt think that was funny.
You need to show more respect for others.
I was only joking, says Carla, still laughing, dont take it so
seriously. The others nod in agreement.
That was a put-down, not a joke. And its unacceptable to me.
So, stop it.
This may end the conversation or someone may tell you that youre
overly sensitive, or the gathering may break up with people going their own
ways as they chatter on about you, but you took a stand. Put-downs, especially
in public, are indeed unacceptable. They cross the boundary of respect.
If Carla is your boss instead of your co-worker, your response should be
slightly different. Meet with her privately to let her know how you feel: Carla,
I felt disrespected when you said __________________ and thats unaccept-
able to me. If she says she was only joking, you might say, That came across
as a put-down, and put-downs cross the line. I want you to stop. She may be
your boss and she may try again, but you let her know where you stand.
Here is another example of confronting a co-worker:
A co-worker claims your idea as his own in a meeting with senior
managers. You confront him afterward in private: Jay, you just took
credit for my idea in front of the bosses. That crossed the line as far
as Im concerned. If it happens again, Ill let them know exactly
whose idea it is and Ill have the evidence to back it up. do you un-
Your you statement puts Jay on notice and on the defensive. Your ques-
tion do you understand? emphasizes the fact that you mean business and
also puts him on the defensive.
If Jay is your boss, you have a more difficult situation. Still, you must tell
him that hes crossed the line. You might, for example, add options: If you
cant credit me for an idea like that, then credit the team. Say we if you must.
But if you credit yourself at my expense again, Ill speak up. notice that the
example ends with a threat. When used sparingly and at the right moment, a
threat can be effective way to stop someones bad behavior. once you issue a
threat, however, be prepared to follow through.
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Your co-worker Becky often comes to work sick, passing on her ail-
ment of the month to others in the office. Here she is today, wheez-
ing, sneezing, and coughing all over everyone. Youve reached your
limit and use a collaborative I statement in speaking assertively to
her: Becky, coming to work sick puts the rest of us at risk, so I want
you to stay home while youre contagious.
Becky seems flustered: Im sorry. I thought I was doing the
right thing. I dont want to fall behind and make others pick up the
You acknowledge her concerns and suggest that she can work
at home and coordinate by telephone and e-mail. If you do that,
you continue, you wont have to count your time at home as a sick
day. Becky agrees. She recuperates at home, while keeping up with
her work. She returns two days later in better health and spirits.
By standing up for your boundaries and listening to Beckys concerns,
you effectively said no to Beckys well-meaning but problematic behavior,
while leading the two of you toward a win-win solution.
say no right Away to sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment is the most critical boundary infringement. While youre
legally protected in the workplace, its often difficult to prove sexual harassment
since there are seldom witnesses. Its the word of one person against that of
another. Attempts to officially call the offender on the carpet often devolves
into she said/he said accusations, and gray areas of behavior are often present.
nevertheless, if you feel that youve been sexually harassed according to
the law, you have every right, and even an obligation to yourself (and future
victims), to take action. Short of legal action, you may decide to file a com-
plaint with your organization, in which case you should familiarize yourself
with the organizations policy regarding sexual harassment. Ideally, before the
harassment reaches this point, you will recognize it for what it is and say no
right away to it.
How can you know if someone is crossing the line? Its when someones
words, actions, or behavior makes you feel uncomfortable or threatened. This
may not be the legal definition or your organizations definition of sexual ha-
rassment. However, its your definition, and your definition is what matters in
this situation.
Sexual harassment often begins small: off-color remarks aimed at you;
an unsolicited hug that doesnt feel right; a request from the boss to work late
with him alone and over dinner; an unsolicited shoulder rub, etc. You may be
unsure of the intent behind these behaviors at this early stage, and so you hes-
itate to say anything, barring any escalation. At this stage, you need to be es-
pecially attuned to your feelings and be on guard. You have the right to act if
you feel uncomfortable, even if youve misread the behavior.
Here are some ways to say no, keeping in mind you need to use as-
sertive nonverbal communication (AnC) along with your words. To the co-
worker who asks you to go out when you dont want to, simply say: no. no
AMACOM Self Study Program
explanation on your part is needed. An assertive no with the appropriate
body language should suffice. dont fish for reasons, dont feel guilty about
hurting someones feelings. If he or she asks again, you can say, When I said
no, I meant no so dont ask me again.
If the co-worker persists and asks again, you must act. You might say, Ive
told you several times to stop asking me out. If you continue, Ill file a com-
plaint with human resources. of course, you can say this any time after the
first no.
In response to the off-color remark, say: Thats disrespectful and unpro-
fessional. dont do that again. If the person laughs it off and persists, make it
clear that you are documenting the what and when of each such remark.
In response to the uncomfortable hug, say: Back off. If it happens again,
say: no. I told you, I dont want you hugging me. And then say in a louder
voice: Get away from me. Its okay if others hear you. If the person persists,
your uttering the phrase sexual harassment will likely have the effect of a
cold shower. do you understand what sexual harassment means at this com-
pany? (Then, pause to let the words sink in.) If you dont, Ill make sure that
the HR department explains it to you.
To your boss who wants you to work late alone with him or her, say no
if you dont want to work late. Then, give a reason: My evenings are planned.
Id be glad to work with you tomorrow if that would help.
tip: two things to remember about sexual Harassment
1. Clear up any self-doubt. The early stages of sexual harassment often cre-
ate self-doubt: Carlas behavior seems uncomfortably friendly. Is she
hitting on me or am I imagining things? Perhaps, Ive encouraged her
in some way. This makes me uncomfortable, she being my boss and
all. This type of self-doubt may prevent a person from reacting as-
sertively. If you find yourself in this situation, heres a tip: Treat your
suspicion as a hypothesis: My hypothesis is that Carla is hitting on
me, even though I havent invited that behavior. now, test the hy-
pothesis by staying clear of Carla at every opportunity. If she keeps
after you, you can reasonably conclude that youre not imagining
things and that your hypothesis is correct. You can then confront the
situation with clarity of mind and no self-doubt.
2. Nip the problem in the bud. Sexual harassment often begins with some-
thing minor and, if the victim fails to confront it assertively, gradually
escalates. The perpetrator interprets the victims failure to confront
(that is, to say no) as an invitation for more contact. dont allow this
cycle of escalation to get underway. Stop it before it builds momentum.
If, however, you find yourself caught in an escalating situation, follow
your organizations policy on filing a complaint. If your company
brushes you off, consider consulting a lawyer. Also, report the harass-
ment to your manager (if he or she is not the offender), and alert co-
workers whom you trust so that they can watch for incidents and serve
as witnesses.
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Recollect a workplace situation in which you assertively enforced a boundary or protected your in-
terests by saying no to someoneeither literally or by implication. Use this exercise to revisit the
circumstance, who was involved, and the result.
1. Where, when, and under what circumstances did you take a stand? What did you say
no to?
2. What was your relationship to the other person (co-worker, boss, etc.)?
3. How did the other person respond to your taking a stand, and how did that affect your
4. Did saying no have the desired effect? Explain.
5. How did saying no make you feel (proud, empowered, more confident, etc.)?
Exercise 7-2
Saying No
AMACOM Self Study Program
In this chapter, you learned about the boundaries of respect,
ethics, time, health and safety, discrimination and sexual ha-
rassment. You learned why these types of boundaries are im-
portant to you, and how you can defend them against
encroachment by others. Maintaining boundaries is essential
to your growth as an assertive person. Without well-main-
tained boundaries, people will encroach upon your rights and
When someone threatens one of your boundaries, the assertive person
says no, either literally or through body language or actions. Saying no to
people you like and to your boss can be difficult. The chapter offered examples
of how you can assertively say no to these individuals without seeming de-
fiant or uncooperative.
Sexual harassment is the most critical boundary infringement and is often
the most difficult one to deal with. The best antidote to sexual harassment is
to clearly and assertively insist that the perpetrator stop right now, since failing
to take a stand may be interpreted by the perpetrator as an invitation for fur-
ther bad behavior. If your best defensive efforts fail to produce results, you
should report the matter to your boss (if he or she isnt the source of the prob-
lem), or to your human resource department. If they fail to take effective ac-
tion, consider consulting a lawyer.

1. A reasonable time boundary is one that: 1. (c)
(a) maximizes free time for you.
(b) maximizes hours for your company.
(c) meets your needs and the legitimate needs of your employer.
(d) eliminates wasted time.
2. The best point at which to assertively confront sexual harassment is: 2. (b)
(a) once it has escalated to a dangerous level.
(b) when it first begins.
(c) after you have discussed the problem with your boss.
(d) when the human resources department gives you the formal
3. The early stages of sexual harassment often create _____________, 3. (b)
which may prevent a person from reacting assertively.
(a) a romantic illusion
(b) self-doubt
(c) a sense of divided allegiance
(d) befuddlement
4. _____________ takes the form of honesty, loyalty to legitimate 4. (d)
goals, tolerance, respect for co-workers, respect for legitimate
confidentiality, and truthfulness.
(a) Subordinate assertiveness
(b) Workplace effectiveness
(c) Boundary defense
(d) Ethical behavior
5. Respect is one of the most basic: 5. (c)
(a) theories of individualism.
(b) points of negotiation in situations of conflict.
(c) human rights.
(d) limitation of free action.
Review Questions
Do you have questions? Comments? Need clarification?
Call Educational Services at 1-800-225-3215
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Learning Objectives
By the end of this chapter, you should be able

Describe and implement four techniques for

dealing with difficult and hostile people.

Describe practical methods for dealing with

workplace bullies.
Perhaps the greatest test of assertiveness is experienced when we have to deal
with difficult people. Youll encounter many difficult people in the workplace,
including the ones you said no to in the previous chapter. These people may
not have pushed you to your limit, but that may not serve your best interests.
Difficult people include:

Unreasonable and angry customers.

Uncooperative co-workers.

Temperamental and abusive bosses.

Underperforming subordinates who refuse to improve.

Combative workplace rivals.

Hardball negotiators.

Pushy sales people.

Workplace bullies.
Perhaps, you know of other types of difficult people you could add to
this list. These are people who show no respect but demand it from you. They
insist that you subordinate your rights and interest to their rights and interests.
They take, but give nothing in return. As far as theyre concerned, whats theirs
is theirs, and whats yours is negotiable. They ignore your legitimate orders,
or dont seem to understand the meaning of no. With some, every encounter
Assertiveness and Dealing
with Difficult People
AMACOM Self Study Program
is a test of wills, and every concession you make in pursuit of an agreeable
solution merely provokes greater demands.
Four Techniques For DeAlingwiTh
Difficult people will test everything youve learned in this course. What fol-
lows are some techniques that will help you emerge from encounters with
them with both your boundaries and your interests intact. They are:

The screaming rant defense.

The broken record technique.


Negative inquiry.
The screaming rant Defense
Its tough dealing with angry, out-of-control people who yell and scream. How
best to handle them depends on whether their target is you or something re-
lated to your company, such as its products service. Depending upon the cir-
cumstance, one of the following approaches may help you.
Let Them Vent
One staple defense is to simply allow the irate person to vent his or her feel-
ingsthat is, to blow off negative energy. For this technique to succeed, you
want to be a Teflon person and let all that hostility and negative energy
blow past you without sticking. In most cases, this person isnt attacking you
personally, and he or she will eventually run out of steam.
The best advice in these situations is to:

Remain composed; dont allow the irate persons emotions to infect yours.

Dont take it personally; its not about you.

Avoid the temptation to ask questions while the person is blowing off steam,
such as, Whats your problem, sir? That question is as likely to ratchet up
the persons anger as to dissipate it.
If you listen to the rant, youll find out the cause, and once he or she calms
down, you can work toward a resolution, such as the following example:
Were very sorry that youve missed your connection, Mr. Burke.
The snow storm in the Midwest has grounded all flights coming in
from Chicago and Detroit, including yours. Ill try to find you a seat
on another outgoing flight. This will take just a minute.
Leave the Rant if Its About You
On the other hand, if the rants about you and the person has truly lost self-
control, you may not want to stay and listen to his or her screaming attack.
Nor are you obligated as your first obligation is to yourself. Say to the person,
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lets talk about this after youve calmed down, or, Once youve calmed
down, Ill be glad to discuss this matter. Or, if the rant is particularly abusive,
Im going across the street for some coffee. If youd like to discuss this in a
civil manner, youre welcome to join me, or some similar response.
You may also leave without saying anything. Once the storm has passed,
though, arrange a time to meet. You need to find out what provoked the out-
burst, whether its valid, and whether it was about something you did or need
to correct.

Think about a time when someone yelled uncontrollably at you about a product, service, or your
company. How did you deal with the outburst? Did you yell back, listen, hint that the person was
the problem, or try to resolve the situation?
Did the situation turn out well? If not, why not? What would you do now to handle it better?
The Broken record Technique
In his groundbreaking book, When I Say No, I Feel Guilty, Manuel Smith claims
that persistence plays an essential role in assertive thought and behavior. With
that in mind, he created the broken record technique. Similar to a vinyl record
needle that gets stuck in a groove and repeats the recording over and over,
this technique repeats the bottom line, or core message, again and again. For
example, with this technique, you use the same words or slightly altered words
to reach people who arent listening to you, who are manipulating you, who
may be ignoring you, who are resisting you, or who are saying no to you
about something that matters to you. lets look at this example of this tech-
nique in use.
Think About It . . .
AMACOM Self Study Program
Julias team is discussing a plan to open a new sales territory. Shes
very concerned about some assumptions of the plan. We really
dont know how many qualified buyers are in the new territory, she
tells the others. I think we should do a demography study first
the census data were working with is already nine years old.
Wesley, who has been pushing the plan, nods. Then he starts
talking about staffing the sales effort in the new territory. Hes acting
as through Julia isnt even in the room. Undeterred, she stays on
message. Staffings important, Wes, but we need to begin with a
clear understanding of customer demographics.
No one responds to her suggestion and the team proceeds to talk
about whether to hire a new sales rep or rely on the in-house sales staff.
Unwilling to be brushed off, Julia interrupts once again, It doesnt
make sense to commit resources to this until we know more about the
demographics of the territory. Were flying blind at this point.
Thanks for your input, Julia, Wesley says dismissively, but
we need to press forward because the competition already has a head
Are we doing this because vieMart jumped the gun? she de-
mands assertively. What if theyre wrong? What if were wrong?
Wont we look foolish if we jump into this with no reliable demo-
graphical data?
Her persistence finally gets the teams attention and they agree to talk
about demographic data.
In her book, Say What You MeanGet What You Want, Jud Tingley offers
several examples of the broken record technique. One of them lays out a re-
peated message in a discussion of a companys policy. The speaker says, I
think different policies would work. The next time, the speaker states, I think
we need to change the transfer policy now. The third time, the speaker de-
livers the flip side of the message, Similar policies for different situations
isnt a good solution. This speaker successfully drives home the same message
with slightly altered words.
Most people back down when others ignore their ideas. They give up,
but you dont have to. Instead, be persistent. Use the broken record technique
to get your ideas onto the agenda. This will help you feel and be more assertive.

Put yourself in the following situation. Your desktop computer is showing signs of an impending
hard drive failure. Youre concerned about losing your data to a disk crash. Also, if the drive fails,
youll be unproductive for several days while tech support gets a new machine, loads it with your
software and backup files, and gets you back online. You dont want that to happen, but every time
you call tech support, they ignore your request with Were very busy this month.
Exercise 8-1
The Broken Record Technique
Exercise 8-1 continues on next page.
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In this exercise, your job is to become the broken record in speaking to your contact at tech
support. To do that, create a concise, clear, and compelling message that states your concern and
asks them to address it quickly. Every time your listener ignores that message, respond with a
slightly altered version.
1. Create your core message here. Keep it concise, clear, and compelling. And assertive!
2. The tech support employee says, Yeah, it could be a hard drive problem, but maybe not. I
can get someone to look at it in about two weeks. What is your response? Remember to
stay on message.
3. Well, if the drive fails before we can get to it, says the tech support employee brusquely,
well simply replace it. That will only take a few days. What is your broken record response?
Repeat what youve been saying, but in a different way.
Another technique, this one created by Manuel Smith in his book, When I Say
No, I Feel Guilty: How to Cope Using the Skills of Systematic Assertive Therapy, is
called fogging. Its particularly useful when handling someones criticism of
you. Through this technique, you create a verbal fog to shroud the criticism
and make it less sharp. You do this by agreeing to the part of the criticism
thats true. This placates your critic and leaves him or her without much else
to say, as in the following two examples:
Robert is packing his things at work and leaving early because he
needs to take his daughter to the dentist. A co-worker, les, looks at
others in the office and zings, Isnt that just like Robert, leaving
work early and leaving us to wrap up?
Robert knows that he has gone home early on occasions, but re-
ally not much more often than others. less remark is an attempt to
induce guilt or shame. Youre right, les, he say, I sometimes leave
work before the end of the day. When I do, I come in early the next
morning to make up for it.
A fellow employee criticizes you for not being a team player. Specif-
ically, she complains that youve been slow in responding to e-mails
Exercise 8-1 continued from previous page.
AMACOM Self Study Program
from team members, which delays their work. You recognize that
theres some truth to this. Youre often so caught up in your work
that you put off responding for a day or two. You say, Yes, it does
seem like Im not a team player when I dont get right back to you.
Ill answer your e-mails promptly from now on and keep you up-to-
date on my part of our projects. This response leaves the critic with
little more to say.
As these examples show, fogging can help you deflect hurtful criticism.
Yet, it also pushes you to take an honest look at yourself and your behavior.
When criticism has a kernel of truth, acknowledge it and say what youll do
to deal with the problem. Then, follow through what you have promised.
negative inquiry
A third technique Manuel Smith created is the negative inquiry. It helps you
deal with criticism while you gain more information about whats behind it.
Negative inquiry may begin with the phrase, I dont understand, followed
by a question. lets look at an example:
les says, Isnt that like Robert, leaving work early?
Robert responds, I dont understand. What is it about my leav-
ing early that concerns you? les says it means that others have to
complete more tasks, turn off the photocopy machine, and turn on
the alarm.
Robert again asks, Why does having to do those tasks on occa-
sion bother you, les? Robert keeps digging to find out what les
and his co-workers are upset about. He learns that they must do all
the office close-down chores themselves, which he seldom does. So,
he offers to do these more often.
You can also use negative inquiry by leaving off the I dont understand
part and getting right to the question. For example, So, my leaving early con-
cerns you? or What do I do that isnt being a team player? In each case, this
technique deflects the persons criticism of you as an individual to a criticism
of a particular behavior. The two of you can then talk objectively about the
behavior, taking the focus off you.
Negative inquiry is another way to ask probing questions that dig be-
neath the surface of an issue. Its an especially assertive technique because
you seek information about your job performance and show an interest in
maintaining your relationships.
DisArmingThe workPlAce Bully
Do you remember the 160-pound fifth grader who used to grab your hat and
toss it on top of the neighbors garage? So, wanna do something about it? he
would laugh. This was the same annoying moron that others would cross the
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
street to avoidthe neighborhood bully.
Bullying is intentionally causing harm to others, usually by people who
are bigger, stronger, more aggressive, or who have more social, or organiza-
tional power than their targets. It happens routinely on school playgrounds
and can also be seen in the workplace, where it is expressed through verbal
and sexual harassment, name-calling, coercion, manipulation, isolation, and
mocking of the less powerful. Criticizing the targets appearance, ethnicity,
religion, or race is also a method of bullying. The bullys motivations may be:

An inner need to dominate others.

An uncontrolled authoritarian personality.

An urge to elevate his or her public image or self-esteem by demeaning


envy or resentment of the target.

While the schoolyard bully is familiar to most people, research indicates
that bullying is also a feature of many workplaces, and usually takes place
without violating organizational rules or policies.
understand the Bullys goal
For whatever psychological reason, the goal of the bully is to control or di-
minish the stature of others. He or she seeks to do this through constant crit-
icism, diminishing or denying the targets achievements, inflicting public
humiliation, screaming, withholding resources, blaming, using the silent treat-
ment, and making threats (of job loss). Behind this aggressive behavior, how-
ever, its not unusual to find an insecure, emotionally undeveloped,
relevant stats
A poll sponsored by the Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute
(WBTI) found that bullying is three times as prevalent as illegal discrim-
ination and at least 1,600 times as prevalent as workplace violence. given
those statistics, the poll finding that 37 percent of U.S. workers have di-
rectly experienced bullying is not surprising. Other research conducted
by the Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute reveals that 81 percent
of workplace bullies are in supervisory or executive positions, which
makes it very difficult for victims to complain or obtain remedies. To get
relief and help, they must go over or around their bosses.
Demographically, half of the bullies are men and half women, al-
though 75 percent of the targets are women. That doesnt tell the full
story, however. While men target women less often69 percent of the
time, women target other women 84 percent of the time (Namie, 2003).
The assumption is that women are less assertive than men and therefore,
more vulnerable. The reality is that both unassertive and assertive people
can be targets of bullying. Assertive people, though, have higher self-
awareness and self-esteem and the greater ability to stand up for them-
selves and their interests.
AMACOM Self Study Program
unempathetic person who feels vulnerable. Once you understand this weak-
ness and recognize the bullys goal to control, youll be in a position to resist
his or her intimidation and the negative self-image that intimidation aims to
create within you.
Determine if youre a Target
As with sexual harassment, its crucial to recognize bullying behavior sooner
rather than later. early recognition will give you your best chance to stop it
before it becomes a real problem, or get yourself out of the line of fire. And,
like sexual harassment, you may be unsure that youre a target. Indeed, if this
person is belittling you, you may blame yourself or think that her or his per-
ception of you and your work is accurate.
To determine if youre in the bullys line of sight, go back to your bound-
aries, especially the boundary of respect. Reflect on what you should reason-
ably expect in terms of respectful treatment at work. If someone, including
your boss, habitually derides and belittles you, withholds praise when you de-
serve it, blames you, gives you insufficient resources to do your job, keeps you
out of the information loop, takes credit for your work, and so on, youre very
likely the target of a bully. And that person has crossed your boundary of re-
spect. You need to take a stand and not accept this unconscionable behavior.
Protect your self
Because the bully aims to tear you down, your goal as an assertive person
should be to build and maintain strong self-esteem and a positive self-identity.
Remember, the bully is happiest when his or her self-esteem is high and your
self-esteem is low. You must construct a protective shield around your self.
To accomplish this, follow these two steps:
Step 1. eliminate self-doubt. Begin by eliminating any self-doubt about your
worth as a person. Assess your personal strengths and weaknesses and ask
friends and co-workers whom you trust to do the same. If these assessments
are positive and the bullys are negative, you know that the bully is off-base.
He or she is the one with the problem, not you. Recognizing this fact will
erase self-doubt and provide a solid base for your assertive response.
Step 2. Muster all the assertiveness skills youve learned to this point and use
them to stand up for your needs and interests:

Say no, using assertive nonverbal communication.

Use the broken record technique to stay relentlessly on message.

If a co-worker bully criticizes you, remind that person that I dont work
for you.

If a bullying boss criticizes your work, ask for specifics about performance
shortfalls. As a boss, he or she should have developed and shared with you
a set of performance metrics linked to your job description (such as the
number of sales calls per day, timely responses to customer inquiries, etc.).
If your boss cant demonstrate that youve fallen short of these metrics, he
or she may stop.
American Management Association. All rights reserved.

Avoid using I statements that reveal your vulnerabilities, such as I feel

uncomfortable when you ________. Remember, the bully wants you to
feel uncomfortable. Instead, send the message verbally and nonverbally,
through your actions and job performance, that you dont buy into the
bullys criticisms and attempts to control you.

Develop visible links to influential people. Become a collaborator, ally, or

information source for people who have clout in the organizationthat is,
people would could either come to your support in a showdown, or make
the bully pay a high price for future misbehavior. This is the Mess with
me and you mess with my friends strategy that makes aggressive individ-
uals (and nations) think twice. NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organi-
zation) deterred aggression for half a century using this approach. Under
the terms of its alliance, an attack on any member nation is considered an
attack on all members. The same tactic can work for you.

Document every incident. You may have to take this problem to a higher
authority if you cannot settle it yourself. With that in mind, begin building
a case from the beginning. Create a record of every incident: what hap-
pened, what was said by whom, the date and time, and the names of any
witnesses. Subtlely let the bully know that you are documenting his or her
bad behavior. That alone may put an end to the problem.
Blow the whistle
If you counter with any of the tactics described above, your bully might back
off, especially if weaker, less assertive victims are available. And if youre allied
with strong people, or known to be documenting each offense, the bully may
think youre too dangerous to deal with. On the other hand, this person might
not be totally rational. He or she may consider your assertive resistance a per-
sonal challengea worthy target for domination. In that case, the bullying
will escalate.
If that happens, the best course is to report the bullying behavior. If a
co-worker is the problem, speak with your boss. If your boss is the offender,
contact the human resource department. In either case, having a well-docu-
mented record of the various incidents will help you greatly and increase the
likelihood that something will be done.
A well-managed organization has real incentives for giving cases like yours
its attention. If you are a valued employee, it doesnt want to lose you or have
your productivity impaired by a rogue employee. Further, if you are being ha-
rassed, its possible that the bully is doing the same to others, reducing produc-
tivity and workplace satisfaction more generallyand at the companys expense.
If the company does not come to your aid, consider a legal remedy. Con-
sult an attorney with experience in labor law.
get yourself out of the Bulls-eye
Unfortunately, not every organization takes employee complaints seriously.
Further, your human resources department may lack the backbone to stand
up to a workplace bully, especially if he or she is highly placed in the organ-
Think About It continues on next page.
AMACOM Self Study Program
ization. Be prepared for a lukewarm, if not cold, response.
If you can obtain no redress from company officials, and if your assertive
responses to the bully arent working, you are in a bind. You can continue to
tough it out, surrounding yourself all the more with your workplace allies, or
you can consider another option: getting yourself out of the bulls-eye.
To get yourself out of the bulls-eye, you must disappear as a target, ei-
ther by moving to another department or by taking a job outside the company.
This may be a bitter pill, and it can be costly in terms of retirement benefits,
lost seniority, and so forth. But no one should stay in a toxic working envi-
ronment. Moving on is a demonstration of self-empowerment and personal
courageboth assertive acts. And who knows, you might soon find yourself
asking (as many do), Why didnt I leave that place sooner?

Have you had any experience with a workplace bully, either as a target or as an observer? What
was this persons position relative to his or her target (boss, co-worker, peer)?
What type of bullying behavior was involved?
Was the company aware of that behavior, and if it was, what did it do about it?
What did the target do in response to this bullying? Was that response effective or not?
Think About It . . .
Think About It continued from previous page.
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Looking back on the experience, what would have been the most effective response to this persons
bad behavior?
In this chapter, you learned how to deal with difficult peo-
pleunhappy customers, aggressive rivals, and so forth, using
the following techniques:

The screaming rant defense. This defense allows the other

party to release his or her hostility and anger, taking care not
to let any of it stick to you. Once that negative energy has dis-
sipated, engage the person in an effort to solve the problem.
The broken record technique. This approach aims to get a point across to people
who will not listenwho tune you out. You break through by repeating
your point again and again in slightly altered words and sentences, always
staying on message.

Fogging. A technique in which a person agrees with the part of a critical

comment that is true. This may leave the difficult person with nothing more
to say.

Negative inquiry. This technique uses probing questions to learn more about
the difficult behavior or performance. It may be useful when youre being
The balance of the chapter concerned bullies and how to deal with their
behavior. Bullying is a feature of many workplaces and can negatively affect
the lives of many employees. You learned about the goals and behavior of bul-
lies, and how they target individuals in order to control them and to fuel their
own fragile sense of self-esteem. You learned several ways of dealing with bul-
lies: developing supportive alliances, documenting incidents, getting out of
the bullys sights, and seeking a remedy with a higher authority.
Do you have questions? Comments? Need clarification?
Call Educational Services at 1-800-225-3215
or e-mail at
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1. Which of the following best represents a negative inquiry? 1. (c)
(a) Youre right, its not good to wait until the last minute, is it?
(b) No, I do understand, why dont you?
(c) I dont understand. What is it about my meeting management skills
that concerns you?
(d) Is it not time to move forward on our new branding initiative?
2. Which of the following is the most suitable technique for dealing 2. (c)
with a person who ignores what you say?
(a) Fogging
(b) Negative inquiry
(c) Broken record technique
(d) Screaming rant defense
3. A person who has a need to control others or to reduce their 3. (a)
self-esteem is:
(a) a bully.
(b) an angry customer.
(c) a user of negative inquiry technique.
(d) an assertive manager.
4. An acceptable technique for dealing with a screaming person who 4. (c)
has focused his or her hostility on you personally it to:
(a) make a concession.
(b) accept the hostility.
(c) walk away.
(d) scream back.
5. A technique that creates a verbal shroud around a difficult persons 5. (d)
criticism, and make it less sharp is called:
(a) obfuscation.
(b) cognitive dissonance.
(c) negative inquiry.
(d) fogging.
Review Questions
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
Learning Objectives
By the end of this chapter, you should be able

Define influence.

Describe the role of influence in the work-


Describe three building blocks of influence.

One of the consequences of transforming yourself from the passive to the as-
sertive mode is that you will have an opportunity to stand out in your organ-
ization. Instead of being a part of the background scenery, you will become
more visible. What you say and do will command greater attention from peo-
ple with whom you have contact: your co-workers, boss, customers, and sub-
ordinates. The aggressive person also stands out, but often in negative ways.
By recalling what Chapter 1 described as the characteristics of passive
and assertive individuals, we note that:

The passive person does not stand up for his or her interests or views, but
subordinates them to those of others; the assertive person speaks his or her
mind and makes clear his or her agenda.

The passive person does not share his or her views or what he or her sees
as important, and, therefore is not on other peoples radar; the assertive per-
son does the opposite.
Transforming to the assertive mode has another important workplace
benefit: it gives a person the opportunity to exercise influence. A person who has
developed assertiveness is in a position to influence people and events and to
contribute more fully to the organization and to his or her own satisfaction.
Possessing assertiveness will assure that you wont be treated as a doormat. In
From Assertiveness
to Influence
AMACOM Self Study Program
that sense, it is both self-serving and self-protecting. If you want to make a
real mark in your workplace, however, you must do more than serve or protect
yourself; you must expand that assertiveness beyond your personal needs and in-
terests to the needs and interests of the a larger organization. You will need to
develop and exercise influence. This chapter will help you understand influ-
ence, its function in the workplace, and how you can use it for the benefit of
your organization and for your own career.
WhAtIs InFluence?
Influence is the ability to change the thinking or behavior of others without
compulsion, threats, or formal orders. In this sense it is closely related to per-
suasion. Every organization, industry, and field of endeavor contains individ-
uals who have this ability. Some individuals have exercised influence on a
grand scale. Consider the late W. Edwards Deming (1900-1997), who was one
of the founders of the quality movement that transformed manufacturing and
service industries worldwide.
Deming earned a B.S. in engineering from the University of Colorado,
then went on to earn a Ph.D. in physics at Yale University. Early in his career
in industry, Deming came in contact with Walter Shewhart, a pioneering stat-
istician then working at AT&Ts Bell Laboratories. Shewhart was successfully
applying his statistical craft to quality control problems in AT&Ts manufac-
turing operations. What Deming learned from Shewhart, he further developed
and began applying to American industry. During World War II, he and his
associates trained thousands of manufacturing managers in the principles of
quality control, helping U.S.industry turn out more and better quality goods
for the war effort. Once the war was over, Deming was one of many technical
experts brought to Japan by the U.S. occupation government, which was help-
ing its leaders rebuild their war-torn economy. At their invitation, Deming
delivered a series of lectures on statistical quality control to Japanese managers
and engineers. Japanese products, he told them, had a bad reputation. (In those
days, Made in Japan meant shoddy, cheap junk.) Only the adoption of better
manufacturing methods based on quality control principles, Deming argued,
would change that reputation and put the country back on the map as an im-
portant industrial nation.
Demings lectures made such an impression that he was invited to con-
duct a series of courses for Japanese manufacturing engineers. From that small
beginning, Demings concepts were propagated around the country; almost
15,000 engineers and managers were trained in his methods of statistical qual-
ity control. The quality movement became an obsession in post-war Japanese
industry, and Deming, who was widely admired and respected, was its leading
guru. The Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers eventually established
the annual Deming Award to honor their American mentor and the corpo-
rations that embraced his quality principles. Meanwhile, across the Pacific,
American industry was basking in post-war prosperity; the quality principles
it had learned from Shewhart and Deming went slowly out of fashion.
By the 1970s, exports from Japan were coming into American markets,
Exercise 9-1 continues on next page.
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
where they enjoyed enormous success. These Made in Japan productsau-
tomobiles, motorcycles, consumer electronics, outboard motors, lawnmowers,
and so forthwere no longer stigmatized as cheap junk, but were considered
as the best-made products in the world. Products built by Sony, Toyota, nis-
san, Honda, and other Japanese companies were now taking huge chunks of
business away from their U.S. competitors. Before long, American CEOs were
begging Deming to teach his principles of statistical quality control both to
them and their managers, and Deming, already in his 70s, became the most
sought after consultant in the nation. He remained active as a consultant and
author almost to the end of his life at age 97. And wherever he spoke, he drew
large crowds.
In the world of modern industry, few people have exercised as much in-
fluence as W. Edwards Deming. As a solo consultant to industry, Deming had
no formal powerno large organization or money behind him. He had no
formal authority to command anyone to do anything. In a world that glorifies
youth, he was usually twice the age of the people with whom he worked. But
Deming was an assertive person armed with compelling ideas, which he of-
fered with disarming clarity and logic. Those qualities made him an effective
agent of change.

Its possible that you had never heard of W. Edwards Deming before reading the above passages.
However, youve probably known people who, like Deming, have wielded considerable influence
in the nation, in your community, in your industry, or where you work. Think of one person in par-
ticular, then answer the following questions:
1. Who was this person?
2. In what sphere did this person exert influence (political life, the workplace)?
3. Describe this persons personal qualities as best you understand them.
4. Did this person exhibit passive, assertive, or aggressive behavior?
Exercise 9-1
Your Experiences with Influence
AMACOM Self Study Program
5. What do you believe was the source (or sources) of this persons influence?
6. How did this persons influence manifest itself (such as, people generally went along with his
or her suggestions, etc.)?
the Role oF InFluence In the
If you visit the executive suite of your company or the human resources de-
partment, you can obtain an organization chart like the one in Exhibit 9-1,
which describes the various departments, function, and reporting relation-
ships. On paper, this shows how the parts of the company are interrelated,
who reports to whom, how orders are passed down from the top, and how in-
formation is passed up from lower levels to the top. But, as everyone who
works in organizations understands, the organization chart fails to explain the
full story, as these examples indicate:
Because of his assertive advocacy for a new product line, Bill, a mar-
ket research analyst, has influence far in excess of his organizational
stature: the vice President of Manufacturing is very interested in
Bills ideas, and even the Chief Operating Officer is talking with him.
Jill, the head of Human resources, officially reports to the Chief
Operating Officer, but the new CEO is so interested in her program
for improving employee retention that he meets with her for coffee
several times each month. If shes successful, he tells people, we
could reduce employee turnover by 10 percent and save $4 million
a year in recruiting and training costs.
vera, a new district sales manager working out of Santa Fe, has
dramatically increased sales in her district. Because of her success
and irrepressible self-confidence, other sales managers and field
sales representatives listen carefully to whatever she has to say about
selling techniques and customer service. Some have adopted her
methods. When vera talks, people listen.
Exercise 9-1 continued from previous page.
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
Hermans teammates are worried to the point of panic about
what will happen to their project if their company is acquired by a
larger corporation, as appears to be happening behind closed doors.
We could all be laid off, one team member frets. Yes, says an-
other, and this project weve worked on so long will be terminated.
All that work will go down the drain.
Herman doesnt speculate about every bad thing that could
happen. He reminds his teammates that the company hasnt been
sold, and, if it is, We have a strong project going. Any new owner
will want to reap the benefit of our workand keep us on the pay-
roll. So lets just do our jobs and not worry about things we cannot
control. His confident, positive attitude helps calm peoples nerves
and keep them focused on their work.
David is the CEO of a medium-sized company, which is faced
with a serious cash problem. The recession has cut company rev-
enues, and expenses have to be trimmed to keep the bottom line in
the black. Working through his managers, David has asked each de-
partment to find ways to reduce spending. But he has gone a step
further by visibly cutting back on his own spending. Instead of flying
to meetings, he has begun teleconferencing from his office. When
he does travel, he flies coach instead of first class and stays at budget
hotels. People notice Davids example and accept his cost-cutting
mandate without complaint. They quickly find ways to reducing
spending without damaging morale or productivity.

xhibit 9-1
Generic Organizational Chart
Board of Directors
Cash Management
nvestor Relations
Finance Manufacturing Human
AMACOM Self Study Program
In each of these examples, someone is exerting influence on the thinking
or behavior of others. notice that this influence is a function of either that
persons demeanor, ideas, know-how, or performance, and not of organiza-
tional power. This is how influence works in organizations. Its difficult to
imagine how an organization can function in the absence of the moving force
of influence, which is essential to:

gain acceptance of ideas.

Shape organization culture.

Affect change in behavior.

not all influence, of course, is positive, despite the examples given above. Your
parents understood this when they said, We dont want you hanging around
with Scruffy Jones. Hes a bad influence. In the workplace, an influential person
who has no sense of honesty can create a culture in which customers are
looked upon as sheep to be fleeced, not as people to be respected and served.

Think about your boss for a moment. Who appears to have clear influence with this boss?
What observable effect has that influence had on your bosss behavior?
What influence do you have on your boss?
thRee BuIldIngBlocks oF InFluence
Why are some people more influential that others? Why does Susan, the graphic
designer in the next cubicle, seem to have no influence while Phil, the customer
service representative working in the next office, seem to have plenty? When
we go looking for the foundations of influence, were not in physics or mathe-
Think About It . . .
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
matics, but in a subjective area of social psychology where there are no exact,
quantifiable answers. nevertheless, you can be confident that influence has at
least the following building blocks: self-confidence, credibility, and reciprocity
(Exhibit 9-2). If you can get more of these building blocks working for you, and
combine them with assertive behavior and communication, you will be more
influential and have a greater impact where you work.
now, lets turn to each of those building blocks.
Self-confident people have faith in themselves and in their beliefs and value.
When asked to make a presentation about a project they have been working on,
self-confident people are unlikely to get flustered or think, "Oh, my gosh, people
in the audience will think that my project is a silly waste of time and money." In-
stead, they will explain what they are doing and why it's important for the com-
pany. The confidence they transmit will make others say to themselves, "This is
something I must take seriously."
To build your self-confidence, reflect back on what you learned in earlier
chapters about becoming more assertive. Think about your positive qualities
and the unique contributions you make to your work team and to the com-
pany. remind yourself of the important work you do, past successes, and the
many people who depend on what you do.

xhibit 9-2
The Building Blocks of Influence
Credibility Reciprocity
AMACOM Self Study Program
When we say that someone is credible, we mean that we can believe what they
tell us. For example, if Herman has a reputation for credibility, we are likely
to believe him when he says, Ours is a strong project that the new owner of
the company will want to continue.
Credibility is a function of both trustworthiness and expertise. Trust-
worthiness is developed by consistently speaking the truth and by doing the
things that we say that we will do. If you tell your boss, Yes, I can have that
report on your desk by 11 AM tomorrow, then you must deliver. If you prom-
ise but fail to deliver, you will lose trust. Trustworthiness is also gained by
consistently respecting confidences and the interests of others.
Expertise refers to the possession or demonstration of special knowledge
or skills. For example, we might say, Mary Janes academic background and
her experience in corporate training has given her expertise in the area of em-
ployee development. She is a credible contributor to any discussion of that
subject. People with expertise are influential on matters that relate to their
expertise. When people say, When it comes to information systems, John re-
ally knows what hes talking about, they are acknowledging Johns influence
of matters involving information systems.
Credibility is something a person earns over time. It doesnt just happen.
If your goal is to increase your influence within the organization, start devel-
oping trustworthiness and expertise today. Use every opportunity to demon-
strate that you can be trusted, and use every working day to develop expertise
in an area that truly matters to your company. You want to be the go to per-
son in a subject area that other people view as very important.
reciprocity is a social norm found in all human cultures. It refers to the ex-
pectation that a favor, benefit, kindness, or hostile act will be returned in kind
by the other party. Thus, when someone invites you to a dinner party, you
feel obliged to reciprocateperhaps by bringing a gift or bottle of wine to
the dinner, or by inviting your host to a dinner at your house sometime in the
future. The notion of reciprocity may be an evolutionary survival skill that
encourages people to collaborate (Ill help put out your barn fire today if
youll help me with some emergency tomorrow) and to behave well toward
each other (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you).
You can use the human impulse of reciprocity to increase your workplace
influence. This can be accomplished by helping and doing favors for people
whom you wish to influence. Every time you do this, you create a credit in
your bank account of reciprocity that the other party will feel obliged to repay
sometime in the future. The more credits you have in your account, the more
influence you are likely to develop. Those credits will be more powerful if
you help people with the things that matter to them most. For example, if one
of your peers is in danger of missing a critical deadlineone that could make
or break his or her chance for a promotionvolunteer to help out. Your col-
league will then be likely to reciprocate in kind.
American Management Association. All rights reserved.

Now that you understand how influence works within an organization, and what enhances or di-
minishes an individuals influence, try to visualize patterns of influence where you work: within your
immediate work group, and across departmental lines. Once you understand those patterns, youll
be more aware of how influence is being applied. That may suggest opportunities for you to apply
your own influence.
In this exercise, you must graphically represent patterns of influence using an influence map
like the one shown below. In this map, influence between individuals is represented by an arrow;
the thicker the arrow, the greater the amount of influence. For example, Sam and Trish (below) in-
fluence each other, but Sams influence over Trish is much greater than the influence she exercises
over him. The CEO has heavy influence over both Sam and Trish, while their influence over the
CEO is much less.
Now, use the space below to map out the lines of influence within your immediate work group.
Exercise 9-2
Who Influences Whom in Your Organization?
AMACOM Self Study Program
Influence is a major opportunity for people who have learned to behave
and communicate assertively. If they develop and apply influence, they can
shape company processes, strategies, and policies. Through this influence,
they exercise more control over their lives. Influential people also have more
career opportunities. They are more likely to be selected for promotions, at-
tractive assignments, management training, and so forth. Is this what you want
for yourself ? If it is, put what youve learned in this chapter to work by
strengthening the three building blocks of influence: self-confidence, credi-
bility, and reciprocity. And dont forget that assertive behavior and commu-
nication are the foundation for the entire structure. Assertiveness is the
launching pad for increased personal influence at work.
Influence is to the ability to change the thinking or behavior
of others without applying compulsion, threats, or formal or-
ders. Influence can be positive or negative. The people who
have influence can, to a greater or lesser degree, shape the cul-
ture of their organizations, their work processes, strategies,
and policies.
The chapter identified three building blocks of influence:
self-confidence, credibility, and reciprocity. These rest upon
a foundation of assertiveness. Self-confidence is based on an internal sense of
self-worth. Credibility is a function of two qualitiestrustworthiness and ex-
pertiseboth of which are gained over time. reciprocity is to the expectation
that a favor, benefit, kindness, or hostile act will be returned in kind by the
other party. You can build influence by building up the credit you earn by
extending a helping hand to others. Someday, they may return those favors
to you.

1. As described in this chapter, one of the three building blocks of 1. (a)
influence is:
(a) credibility.
(b) assertiveness.
(c) self-understanding.
(d) team identity.
2. A social norm that refers to the expectation that a favor, benefit, 2. (d)
kindness, or hostile act will be returned in kind by the other party is:
(a) expertise.
(b) trustworthiness.
(c) influence.
(d) reciprocity.
3. A(n) ______________ graphically represents patterns 3. (a)
of influence within a group.
(a) influence map
(b) PErT chart
(c) reciprocity chart
(d) organizational chart
4. The building blocks of influence rest on a foundation of: 4. (d)
(a) trust.
(b) self-confidence.
(c) formal authority.
(d) assertiveness.
5. Credibility is: 5. (b)
(a) a genetic trait.
(b) earned over time.
(c) a transferable organizational commodity.
(d) a consequence of ones position in the organization.
Review Questions
Do you have questions? Comments? Need clarification?
Call Educational Services at 1-800-225-3215
or e-mail at
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American Management Association. All rights reserved.
Your Assertiveness CheCksheet
Now that youve completed the course, take a few minutes to read the ques-
tions in the left-hand column of this checklist. Date the next column to your
right and record your answers in that column. This wont take you more than
five minutes. The questions are designed to get you thinking about your cur-
rent level of assertiveness. Once youve answered the questions, give some
thought to what you must do to further develop your level of workplace as-
Revisit the checklist every month for the next two months. Doing this
will remind you of the things youve learned and reinforce whatever modifi-
cations youve made in your behavior and style of communication. The goal
is to produce steady progress over timeto make a habit of being assertive.
Good luck!
During the previous week: Date: Date: Date:
What assertive behavior or
communication did you
consciously use?
What important opportunity to
be assertive did you pursue?
What important opportunity to
be assertive did you pass up?
During the previous week: Date: Date: Date:
How well did you maintain your
Good ____
Fair ____
Poor ____
Good ____
Fair ____
Poor ____
Good ____
Fair ____
Poor ____
How well did you respect the
boundaries of others?
Good ____
Fair ____
Poor ____
Good ____
Fair ____
Poor ____
Good ____
Fair ____
Poor ____
Your assertiveness level is:
Rising ____
Steady ____
Backsliding ____
Rising ____
Steady ____
Backsliding ____
Rising ____
Steady ____
Backsliding ____
Your success in dealing with
difficult people, on a 1-10 scale
(1 = lowest), was:
Your influence within your
immediate work group or
department, on a 1-10 scale
(1 = lowest), has been:
You made a conscious effort to
develop your influence.
(If yes, please describe.)
Yes ____
No ____
Yes ____
No ____
Yes ____
No ____
182 AsseRTiNG YOuRself AT WORk
AMACOM Self Study Program
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
Alberti, Robert and Michael emmons. Your Perfect Right: A Guide to Assertive
Living. (7th ed.) (san luis Obispo, CA: impact Publishers, 1995).
One of the seminal works in the field of assertiveness training, this book
shows readers how to think, act, and speak assertivelyand take a stand
for their interests. By becoming more assertive, the authors argue, people
develop more equal relationships in their lives.
Arredondo, lani. How to Present Like a Pro: Getting People to See Things Your Way.
(New York: McGraw-Hill, 1991).
This book offers an excellent guide to making skillful and persuasive pre-
Bailey, edward P. Writing & Speaking at Work: A Practical Guide for Business Com-
munication. (4th ed.) (upper saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2007).
This book presents guidelines for speaking and writing in a direct, clear,
and concise stylein other words, how to use plain english.
Browne, M. Neil and stuart M. keeley. Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to
Critical Thinking. (8th ed.) (upper saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice
Hall, 2006).
This popular college textbook teaches students how to evaluate the qual-
ity of oral and written arguments by asking questions, such as how good
is the evidence?
Chaney, lillian H. and Jeanette s. Martin. International Business Communication.
(3rd ed.) (upper saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2004).
The textbook presents an in-depth and practical approach to interna-
tional business communication. it uses exercises, cases, activities, and
country profiles to explore such topics as language, nonverbal commu-
nication, global etiquette, international negotiation strategies, cultural
values, and business and social customs.
Dealing With Conflict. (Carlsbad, CA: CRM films, l.P., 1992), videocassette.
This award-winning video is hosted by management professor kenneth
Thomas, Ph.D., a leading authority on conflict resolution. it features five
conflict-handling positions, which are illustrated through dramatic vi-
gnettes. Thomas argues that the positions people choose affects the di-
rection of the conflict and therefore, the level of satisfaction of the
fisher, Roger, William ury, and Bruce Patton. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agree-
ment Without Giving In. (2nd ed.) (New York: Penguin Books, 1991).
This classic book explores the nature of principled negotiation, as op-
posed to the hard or soft bargaining positions negotiators often take, and
how to arrive at win-win (mutual gain) outcomes.
fountain, eleanor M. and Diane Arthur. Getting Assertive. (2nd ed.) (New York:
American Management Association, 1990).
An earlier self-study course on assertiveness from the AMA.
Hall, e.T. and M.R. Hall. Understanding Cultural Differences: Germans, French,
and Americans. (Yarmouth, Me: intercultural Press, 1990): cited in Chaney,
lillian H., and Jeanette s. Martin. International Business Communication.
(3rd ed.) (upper saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2004), 114-
Jandt, f. e. Intercultural Communication. (Thousand Oaks, CA: sage, 2000): cited
in Chaney, lillian H., ed.D. and Jeanette s. Martin, ed.D. International
Business Communication. (3rd ed.) (upper saddle River, NJ: Pearson Pren-
tice Hall, 2004), 111.
kiely, laree. Introduction to Business Communication: Tools for Leadership. (los An-
geles: Quisic [formerly university Access, 1997]), videocassettes.
This award-winning video series and PBs telecourse features the lectures
and commentary of management consultant laree kiely, Ph.D. The
twelve videos include interviews with business and cultural leaders and
documentary featurettes to explore such topics as the power of commu-
nication, persuasion, group process, teamwork, speeches and presenta-
tions, diversity, and negotiation.
Morrison, Terri, Wayne A. Conaway, and George A. Borden, Ph.D. Kiss, Bow,
or Shake Hands: How to Do Business in Sixty Countries. (Avon, MA: Adams
Media Corporation, 1994).
A helpful primer for conducting international business trips, this book
presents the cultural backgrounds, cultural orientations, business prac-
tices, and protocols (including greeting rituals) of the worlds major coun-
AMACOM Self Study Program
184 AsseRTiNG YOuRself AT WORk
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
Namie, Gary, and Ruth Namie. The Bully at Work: What You Can Do to Stop the
Hurt and Reclaim Your Dignity on the Job. (Naperville, il: sourcebooks, inc.,
This book, from the founders of the nonprofit Workplace Bullying &
Trauma institute, addresses the growing phenomenon of bullying in the
workplace and its destructive effect on unwitting targets (and the bottom
line). The authors provide self-assessment tools and advice on how peo-
ple can best respond to bullying behavior and protect their self-identify
and self-esteem.
Peck, M. scott. The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Val-
ues, and Spiritual Growth. (New York: Touchstone, 1978).
This former best-seller explores how mental and spiritual growth helps
people gain self-awareness and stronger personal relationships in their
samovar, l.A. and R.e. Porter. Communication Between Cultures. (4th ed.) (Bel-
mont, CA: Wadsworth/Thompson learning, 2001): cited in Chaney, lil-
lian H. and Jeanette s. Martin. International Business Communication. (3rd
ed.) (upper saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2004), 111.
smith, Manuel J., Ph.D. When I Say No, I Feel Guilty: How to Cope Using the Skills
of Systematic Assertive Therapy. (New York: Bantam Books, 1975).
This classic, best-seller presents the Bill of Assertive Rights, and such
verbal assertiveness techniques as the broken record, fogging, negative
assertion, and negative inquiry. it features dialogues and scenarios that
provide concrete examples of the authors concepts.
Tannen, Deborah, Ph.D. Talking from 9 to 5, Women and Men in the Workplace:
Language, Sex, and Power. (New York: Avon Books, 1994).
in this book, linguist Deborah Tannen brings her research and observa-
tions about language and gender to the workplace. she provides scenarios
and sample conversations that show how women can more effectively
seize authority in their careers.
Tingley, Judith, C. Say What You Mean/Get What You Want: A Businesspersons
Guide to Direct Communication. (New York: Amacom, 1996).
This book applies useful assertive communication techniques to a variety
of workplace situations, including how to handle an indirect hit, how to
be taken seriously, and how to survive an aggressive attack.
Tuleja, elizabeth A.. Intercultural Communication for Business. (Canada: south-
Western, 2005).
This is the sixth textbook in the Managerial Communication Series edited
by Notre Dame professor James ORourke, iV. This volume uses graphics,
self-assessments, case studies, and cartoons to present an accessible and
lively discussion of such topics as ethnocentricity, culture and commu-
nication, and cultural dimensions.
Velasquez, Manuel, Claire Andre, Thomas shanks, s.J., and Michael J.
Meyer. Approaching ethics. Markkula Center for Applied ethics,
santa Clara university.
This Web site discusses ethical issues related to business, healthcare, gov-
ernment, technology, etc. and provides articles, resources, videos, and
links to help users better understand the philosophical basis of ethics.
__. A framework for Thinking ethically. Markkula Center for Applied
ethics, santa Clara university.
__. What is ethics. Markkula Center for Applied ethics,
santa Clara university.
Waitley, Dennis. The New Dynamics of Winning. (New York: Harper Perennial,
Dennis Waitley is a motivational speaker and author of many books. This
one outlines his proram for engaging ones inner resources and abilities
to achieve personal goals.
Walther, George R. Power Talking: 50 Ways to Say What You Mean and Get What
you Want. (New York: Berkeley Books, 1991).
This book by a leading corporate trainer provides compact lessons and
sample dialogues to show readers how to get outcomes they want through
the words they use.
186 AsseRTiNG YOuRself AT WORk
AMACOM Self Study Program
American Management Association. All rights reserved. 187
elgin, suzette Haden. The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense. (New York: Pren-
tice-Hall, 1980).
fensterheim, Herbert and Jean Baer. Dont Say Yes When You Want to Say No.
(New York: Dell Publishing Co., inc., 1975).
Hall, edward T. The Silent Language. (New York: Anchor Books, 1981).
___. Beyond Culture. (New York: Anchor Books, 1981).
___. The Dance of Life: The Other Dimension of Time. (New York: Anchor Books,
Harvard Business Essentials: Power, Influence, and Persuasion. (Harvard Business
school Press: Boston, MA, 2005).
Once a person develops assertiveness, he or she has a real opportunity
to become more visible and have a great impact on the organization and its
employees. But first, he or she must understand how to influence and per-
suade, and to use organizational power effectively. This primer on the subject
provides practice advice and strategies.
Hofstede, Geert. Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind: International
Cooperation and Its Importance for Survival. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1997).
Hollands, Jean. Same Game, Different Rules: How to Get Ahead Without Being a Bully
Broad, Ice Queen, or Ms. Understood. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002).
recommended resources
Maslow, Abraham. A Theory of Motivation, Psychological Review 50 (1943):
if you want to understand human motivation, this seminal article is the
place to start. Maslows hierarchy of human needs provide insights into what
motivates people at different stages of their development.
Walker, Robyn C., Ph.D. Strategic Business Communication: An Integrated, Ethical
Approach. (united states: Thompson south-Western, 2006).
188 AsseRTiNG YOuRself AT WORk
AMACOM Self Study Program
Web sites
Center for international Business education and Research. International
Business Resources on the WWW. Michigan state university.
This Web site presents a directory of resources for international business.
Geert Hofstede
Cultural Dimensions.
This Web site features a country-by-country look at Hofstedes cultural
International Business Etiquette and Manners.
This Web site includes Hofstedes cultural dimensions, along with coun-
try and regional information.
Workplace Bullying and Trauma institute.
This Web site provides detailed information on bullying in the work-
place, including how to recognize the bully, how to know if youre the target
of a bully, and how to respond to bullying behavior and maintain self-esteem.
American Management Association. All rights reserved. 189
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American Management Association. All rights reserved.
Active listening listening that engages us in the another persons conversation.
Aggression A mode of behavior and communication in which a person pursues his or
her own needs and interests at the expense of others. The aggressive person prefers domi-
nance rather than collaboration with others.
Assertiveness A mode of personal behavior and communication characterized by a will-
ingness to stand up for ones needs, concerns, and interests in an open and direct way.
Attending sounds in conversation, the response to another persons thoughts or ideas,
such as uh-huh, um-hum, i see, etc.
Boundaries The psychological and emotional barriers that protect a persons needs, in-
terests, and concernsand sense of self.
Broken record technique A technique for getting a point across by repeating it again
and again in slightly altered words; that is, staying on message.
Bully A person whose goal is to control another person, often through unrelenting crit-
icism and punitive action.
Clarifying questions in a conversation, questions that explore the meaning of what the
other person is saying.
Collaborative language language that uses words such as we and us to convey in-
Collectivism The degree to which a persons identity is shaped by groups.
Collectivist cultures Cultures which place a high value on groups and interconnected-
Common ground The values, interests, and goals that people share.
Cultural dimensions Contrasting views of cultures according to such characteristics as
time, distribution of power, space, individualism, acceptance of uncertainty, etc.
Direct communication The use of clear and concise language to express a thought or
idea, in which the main point is up front.
Discrimination The stereotyping and often exclusion of individuals according to their
group. legally, this is defined by race, gender, national origin, religion, age, and disability.
employee empowerment A management style that gives subordinates substantial dis-
cretion in how they accomplish their objectives. Managers explain what needs to be done,
but leave it up to subordinates to find the best way to do it.
Fairness An approach to ethics which demands the equal distribution of benefits and
burdens among all parties, except when there are justifiable differences. Those differences
include experience, education, talent, and unique skills.
Fogging A technique in which a person agrees with the part of a critical comment that
is true. its useful in stopping a put-down or other type of verbal attack.
high power distance culture A hierarchical culture in which the people at the top have
most of the power.
high uncertainty avoidance culture A culture that has a low tolerance for ambiguity
and uncertainty as expressed by a high level of rules and regulations.
individualism The degree to which a persons identity is shaped by his or her sense of
self, apart from the group.
individualistic cultures Cultures that place a high value on personal achievement and
influence The ability to change the thinking or behavior of others without applying
compulsion, threats, or formal orders.
i statement The expression of a thought, idea, or feeling that begins with the word
i. it implies that the sender takes responsibility for the message.
interests The rights people claim for themselves and will take a stand to protect.
intermediate goals Depending on a persons age, the goals he or she seeks to achieve in
the next five to ten years.
intimate space The space reserved for peoples most intimate relationships. in the
united states, its 18 inches or less.
interpersonal communication The use of verbal, vocal, and visual symbols to convey
meaning between two or more people.
intrapersonal communication The conversation or dialogue a person has with himself
or herself.
Legacy goals Achievement(s) for which a person wishes most to be remembered.
Listening to be aware A level of listening in which a person pays rapt attention to the
sounds in his or her environment.
AMACOM Self Study Program
192 AsseRTiNG YOuRself AT WORk
Listening to engage in a conversation, the level of listening in which a person is actively
focused on the other persons thoughts, ideas, body language, and vocal expression.
Listening to learn A level of listening in which a person receives information in order
to understand and abstract it.
Long-term goals Depending on a persons age, the goals he or she seeks to achieve in
the next ten to twenty years.
Low power distance culture An egalitarian culture in which power is more or less evenly
distributed between classes.
Low uncertainty avoidance cultures Cultures that tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty
in favor of risk-taking and change.
Metacommunication The implied meaning of a message beyond the actual words.
needs What a person must have to survivesuch as food, shelter, and an income.
negative inquiry When being criticized, a technique that uses probing questions to learn
more about the behavior or performance that is of concern.
negative self-talk intrapersonal communication that tears at ones self-esteem.
Paralanguage Nonverbal communication that involves the vocal aspect of a message
tone of voice, inflection, and speaking rate.
Passivity An unassertive mode of behavior and communication characterized by sub-
missiveness and a fear or unwillingness to stand up for ones needs, concerns, and interests.
Passive-aggressive Behavior in which people do not stand up for their needs, interests,
and concerns initially, but do so later in an indirectly aggressive way.
Perfectionism The need to be right or perfect all the time and to demand that of others.
Personal space The space reserved for close relationships, also known as arms-length
relationships. in the u.s., its 18 inches to four feet.
Probing questions in a conversation, questions that explore what matters to the other
Positive self-talk intrapersonal communication that builds self-esteem.
Public distance The space reserved for the most formal relationships. in the u.s., its
over 12 feet.
receiver The person or people to whom someone delivers a message.
rights An approach to ethics that focuses on individual rights, such as the right to be
treated as a fully rational human being and the right not to be used as a commodity for some-
one elses end.
screaming rant defense A technique for dealing with a difficult person. This defense allows
the other party to vent his or hostility and anger, taking care not to let any of it stick to you.
Once that negative energy has dissipated, engage the person in an effort to solve the problem.
GlOssARY 193
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
short-term goals The goals a person seeks to achieve within six months to a year.
self-esteem The way you view your worth as a human being and the rights attached to
self-confidence Your sense of abilitythe belief you have in your ability to reach a
goal or to perform a task well.
sexual harassment unwanted touching and other unwanted, and often invasive, behavior
of a sexual nature.
silence The time between verbal exchanges.
socialization The process of learning how to live and interact within ones culture and
family structure.
social space The space reserved for less personal relationships to the space used in a
job interview, for example. in the u.s., its 4 to 12 feet.
stress Tension or anxiety that, if prolonged, takes a toll on a persons physical and mental
target A person who is the object of a bullys campaign to gain control.
team-based work Work performed in a coordinated manner by a group of employees
who are often individuals with very different skills.
transference Childhood perceptions that a person carries over into his or her adult life.
uncertainty avoidance The degree to which a culture tolerates ambiguity and uncer-
utilitarianism An ethical approach that focuses on outcome and the greatest good. The
ethical behavior or decision is one that produces the greatest balance of benefit over harm.
values The abstract ideals we adhere and hold on to, and for which we wish to be known.
Typical values include integrity, trustworthiness, fairness, and loyalty.
virtue An approach to ethics that focuses on character and the development of a per-
sons highest potential through the nurture of such values as honesty, compassion, courage,
loyalty, etc.
Wants What a person desires beyond needsto own a home, to have a high paying job,
for example.
Win-win An outcome or solution that fully satisfies the needs, interests, and concerns
of all parties.
You statement The expression of a thought, idea, or feeling that begins with the word
you, often putting the receiver on the defensive.
194 AsseRTiNG YOuRself AT WORk
AMACOM Self Study Program
Do you have questions? Comments? Need clarification?
Call Educational Services at 1-800-225-3215
or e-mail at
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Asserting Yourself at Work
Course Code 97004
iNsTRuCTiONs: Record your answers on one of the scannable forms enclosed. Please fol-
low the directions on the form carefully. Be sure to keep a copy of the completed answer
form for your records. No photocopies will be graded. When completed, mail your answer
form to:
educational services
American Management Association
P.o. Box 133
Florida, nY 10921
If you are viewing the course digitally, the scannable forms enclosed in the hard copy of
AMA Self-Study titles are not available digitally. If you would like to take the course for
credit, you will need to either purchase a hard copy of the course from or you can purchase an online version of the course from
1. Which of the following is representative of a person with an assertive
mode of communicating and acting?
(a) Defends his or her personal boundaries against infringement
(b) Aims to dominate others
(c) submits to the desires of others
(d) Avoids eye contact
AMACOM Self Study Program
196 AsseRTiNG YOuRself AT WORk
2. Research indicates that non-verbal elements of communication such as
voice tone, facial expression, and posture account for ____________
percent of what a listener perceives.
(a) 93
(b) 55
(c) 20
(d) 7
3. Voice tone, speaking rate, vocal inflection, volume, energy level, and
fluency are all aspects of:
(a) paralanguage.
(b) aggressive communication.
(c) a passive speaking style.
(d) assertiveness.
4. for a high school freshman, becoming a medical doctor would be a:
(a) short-term goal.
(b) intermediate goal.
(c) long-term goal.
(d) legacy goal.
5. Active listening:
(a) aims to exert psychological control over the speaker.
(b) involves detailed note-taking.
(c) goes beyond passive absorption of information to active
involvement in communication.
(d) requires a superior/subordinate relationship between two parties.
6. Which of the following best describes the behavior or communication
of a passive person?
(a) Displays hostile facial expressions when challenged
(b) Does not attempt to influence others
(c) Will explain his or her viewpoint without coaxing
(d) is more thoughtful and observant than other people
7. A person can achieve positive visibility in an organization by:
(a) learning to disagree agreeably.
(b) tagging along with the boss whenever possible.
(c) playing up his or her accomplishments.
(d) avoiding conflict.
8. The boundary of time that must be assertively defended refers to a
persons right to:
(a) a healthy balance between workplace and personal needs.
(b) the efficient use of time spent at work.
(c) time management principles.
(d) reduce working hours as he or she approaches retirement.
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
POsT-TesT 197
9. The abstract ideals we adhere to, and for which we wish to be
known are:
(a) legacy goals.
(b) needs.
(c) values.
(d) rights.
10. ________________, or the view that the glass is half full, gives us the
courage and incentive we need to pursue what we want.
(a) Deep-seated pessimism
(b) strategic thinking
(c) self-deception
(d) Positive thinking
11. in a high power distance culture, subordinates are likely to tell their
(a) exactly whats on their minds.
(b) what they think their superiors want to hear.
(c) as much as they are asked to tell.
(d) personal confidences that their superiors may not want to know.
12. Assertiveness:
(a) is a mode of behavior that people are born with, but which they
cannot develop.
(b) is only useful for people in supervisory or managerial positions.
(c) must be suppressed when dealing with senior people in the
(d) can be developed through learning and practice.
13. To come across as an assertive communicator, you should:
(a) avoid beginning your sentences with i think . . . .
(b) give all the details, then state your key message.
(c) always put it in writing.
(d) apologize first for the problem.
14. in confronting unsafe or unhealthy workplace conditions,
assertive people:
(a) whine to their bosses.
(b) complain among themselves.
(c) pose their concerns as problems that need to be solved.
(d) look for the companys point of view.
15. An assertive person will take credit for his or her accomplishments,
but will also:
(a) avoid actively taking responsibility for failures.
(b) take responsibility for mistakes made by others.
(c) remind people of his or her successes whenever possible.
(d) acknowledge the contributions of others.
AMACOM Self Study Program
198 AsseRTiNG YOuRself AT WORk
16. in Maslows hierarchy of needs, ___________________ is a high-level
(a) food
(b) safety
(c) shelter
(d) self-esteem
17. ____________ have trouble accepting their own mistakes and the
mistakes of others.
(a) Pragmatists
(b) Objectivists
(c) Perfectionists
(d) Career climbers
18. Which of the following countries has a collectivist culture?
(a) united states
(b) united kingdom
(c) Canada
(d) Japan
19. Constant criticism, diminishing or denying a persons achievements,
public humiliation, screaming, blaming, the silent treatment, and
making threats (of job loss) are indicators of:
(a) micromanagement.
(b) excessive supervision.
(c) bullying.
(d) multitasking.
20. A situation in which aggressiveness may be appropriate behavior is:
(a) giving feedback to a subordinate.
(b) establishing a relationship with a new co-worker.
(c) taking charge during an emergency.
(d) enlisting collaboration within your team.
21. The greatest test of assertiveness is:
(a) aligning verbal and nonverbal messages.
(b) dealing with hostile or difficult people.
(c) moving from a passive to a passive-aggressive state.
(d) scoring a job interview.
22. The building blocks of influence include:
(a) cunning.
(b) substantial formal power.
(c) credibility and self-confidence.
(d) a lofty goal.

American Management Association. All rights reserved.
POsT-TesT 199
23. A person who comes to meetings prepared and who participates
actively is likely to create _________________________
in the organization.
(a) charisma
(b) conflict
(c) enemies
(d) positive visibility
24. An assertive technique for diffusing another persons criticism of you is:
(a) negative inquiry.
(b) ranting.
(c) becoming aggressive.
(d) denial.
25. The ability to change the thinking or behavior of others without
applying force, threats, or formal orders refers to:
(a) assertiveness.
(b) influence.
(c) behavior modification.
(d) motivation.
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American Management Association. All rights reserved.
Absolutes, avoiding, 47
achieving cultures, 3
active listening, 104, 110113
adverbs, limiting, 4647
agendas, 90
appropriate situations for, 17
and assertiveness profile, 16
backsliding into, 115
and body contact, 65
and boundaries of time, 144
and bullying, 163
characteristics of, 4
and compliments, 93
and daily assertiveness plan,
definition of, 3
and eye contact, 66
and interpersonal space, 66
and meeting participation, 90
and others needs and
interests, 114, 115
and resolving issues with
others, 129
and rights/interests, 33
and speaking up, 89
and visibility, 88
and walk, 74
when addressing people from
high power distance
cultures, 123
Alberti, Robert
on cognitive interventions vs.
behavioral interventions, 31
on facial expressions, 64
on positive internal dialogue,
on right to self-expression, 34
on spontaneity of expression,
Alexander the Great, 136
anger, 4
anger management, 115
appearance, professional, 7071
Arredondo, lani, on enthusiasm,
assertive boundaries, 139152,
assertive language, 43
assertive listening, 107113
to be aware, 108
to engage, 110113
to learn, 109
moving toward, 107
three levels of, 108113
assertive mode
childhood experiences and,
21, 22
definition of, 2
influences on, 18, 22, 2425
perfectionism and, 26
and positive language, 45
superiority of, 45
transference and, 2425
building your, see building
your assertiveness
characteristics of, 4
checksheet for, 181182
creating daily plan for, 9495
definition of, 1
importance of, 17, 9
inappropriate situations for, 17
as learned behavior, 7
and the new workplace, 57
opportunities for, 8794,
as signaling mechanism, 7
assertiveness profile, 1316
assertive nonverbal
communication (ANC), 68,
aligning verbal
communication with, 8384
and controlling facial
expressions, 75
and direct eye contact, 7273
and disarming bullies, 164
and effective vocal delivery,
and giving a firm handshake,
and good posture, 7374
journal for, 82
and maintaining a professional
appearance, 7071
and purposeful gestures,
and saying no to sexual
harassment, 151152
tips for, 80, 84
and use of space, 70
assertive statements, 46
assertive verbal communication,
aligning nonverbal
communication with, 8384
and avoiding absolutes, 47
and avoiding credibility-
limiting words, 4647
and avoiding sorries, 48
AMACOM Self Study Program
constructive criticism, 9394,
core values, 34
and influence, 176
words that limit your, 4647
crisp messages, 54
criticism, 9394
cultural dimensions
and body language, 64
and communicating needs and
interests, 119127
and influences on
assertiveness mode, 18
and time, 119120
and understanding others
needs and interests,
121125, 127
Daily assertiveness plan, 9495
dealing with difficult people,
and broken record technique,
and disarming bullies,
and fogging, 161162
and negative inquiry, 162
and screaming rant defense,
techniques for, 158162
defensiveness, 116
deliberative listening, 109
Deming, W. edwards, 170171
difficult people, see dealing with
difficult people
disagreeing agreeably, 9091
discrimination, boundaries of,
disrespect, 141
distractions, avoiding, 111
documentation, 165
Email, 54
emmons, Michael
on cognitive interventions vs.
behavioral interventions, 31
on facial expressions, 64
on positive internal dialogue,
on right to self-expression, 34
on spontaneity of expression,
employee empowerment, 4
energy, 77
engagement, 110113
building blocks of influence,
building your assertiveness,
3134, 3637, 4041, 4357
and assertive verbal
communication, 4352
and assertive written
communication, 5356
and interests, 3334
and needs, 32
and positive internal dialogue,
and speaking up, 4041, 4352
and using the most effective
communication channel, 51
and values, 34
and wants, 3233
your goals in, 3637
bullies, 3, 162166
Candidness, 92
champion, being your own,
Chaney, lillian H.
on body movement, 64
on cultural dimensions of
needs and interests, 121
on interpersonal space, 66
on metacommunication, 63
on paralanguage, 68
on touching in Middle
eastern cultures, 65
childhood experiences, 21, 22, 24
clarifying questions, 112
clothing, 70
cognitive interventions, 31
collaborative language, 130131
collectivism, 124, 125
command-and-control model of
management, 4
common ground, finding, 133
communication, see also assertive
nonverbal communication
(ANC); assertive verbal
communication; assertive
written communication
aligning verbal and nonverbal,
and assertive mode, 2
and being yourself, 84
communication channels, 51
graceful handling of, 9293
and you statements, 49
conflict, 91
and avoiding words that limit
your credibility, 4647
and avoiding you
statements, 49
and directness, 43
and effective channels, 51
and i statements, 4851
and putting your main point
up front, 4445
and timing, 5152
tips for, 45, 47
and understanding your
listeners, 4344
assertive written
communication, 5356
and clear/crisp messages, 54
and having a clear purpose,
using most
effective/appropriate mode
of, 5556
AT&T, 170
attending sounds, 111
attitude, 28
authority figures, 22, 122
awareness, 108
Axtell, Roger, on touch/dont-
touch cultures, 65
Backsliding, 115
behavioral interventions, 31
being yourself, 84
Bell laboratories, 170
benchmarking your motivations,
body contact, 65
body language, 111, 123
body movement, 64
definition of, 139
of discrimination and sexual
harassment, 145146
of ethics, 141142
of health and safety, 144145
identifying, 139147
and passivity, 2
of respect, 140141, 164
of safety, 144145
and saying no, 148151
of time, 143144
tips for defending, 149
when handling bullies, 164
breathing, 76
broken record technique,
159160, 164
Browne, M. Neil, on values, 34
202 AsseRTiNG YOuRself AT WORk
American Management Association. All rights reserved.
listeners, understanding your,
listening, see assertive listening
listening skills, self-assessment
for, 104, 106108
long-term goals, 37
low power distance culture, 122
low uncertainty avoidance
cultures, 124
Makeup, 71
and employee empowerment,
and power distance, 122123
Markkula Center for Applied
ethics, on boundaries of
respect, 140
Martin, Jeanette s.
on body movement, 64
on cultural dimensions of
needs and interests, 121
on interpersonal space, 66
on metacommunication, 63
on paralanguage, 68
on touching in Middle
eastern cultures, 65
Maslow, Abraham, on hierarchy
of needs, 32
meetings, 90
Mehrabian, Albert, on
communication, 5960
metacommunication, 63
milestones, 21, 22
motivations, 1113
multi-part i statements, 4951
Nature and nurture, 18
near phase distance, 66
and assertive mode, 2
in building your assertiveness,
definition of, 32
of others, see others needs and
negative inquiry, 162
negative self-talk, 40
new workplace, 57
non-touch cultures, 65
nonverbal communication, 59
61, 6368, 7080, 8285
aligning verbal
communication with, 8384
assertive, 68, 7080
Hofstede, Geert
on cultural differences, 121
on individualistic cultures,
on power distance, 122
on uncertainty avoidance, 123
How to Present Like a Pro (lani
Arredondo), 77
Individualism, 124125
inflection, 7980
influence, 169178
building blocks of, 174176
and credibility, 176
definition of, 170
of W. edwards Deming,
and passivity, 2
and reciprocity, 176
role of, 172174
and self-confidence, 176
influence map, 177
information, asking for, 113
integrity-questioning phrases,
interests, see also others needs
and interests
and assertive mode, 2
in building your assertiveness,
definition of, 33
intermediate goals, 37
internal dialogue, positive, 4041
interpersonal space, 6667
intimate space, 66
intrapersonal communication, 40
issues, focusing on, 130
i statements, 4851, 165
i think, 47
and W. edwards Demings
influence on industry, 170
time and trust in, 120
jewelry, 71
journal-keeping, 82
Keeley, stuart M., on values, 34
Language, assertive vs.
unassertive, 43
learned behavior, 7
learning, listening and, 109
legacy goals, 37
limiting adverbs, 4647
enron, 141
enthusiasm, 77
enunciation, 79
for exploring others needs
and interests, 114115
as influence on assertiveness,
escalation of sexual harassment,
ethics, boundaries of, 141142
ethnocentric thinking, 24
expanding options, 131133, 135
expertise, 176
eye contact
for active listening, 111
and nonverbal
communication, 66, 7273
Face-to-face communication,
55, 5960, see also assertive
verbal communication
facial expressions, 75
far phase distance, 6667
and i statements, 4849
timing of, 52
fisher, Roger, on win-win
solutions, 133
fluency, 78
fogging, 161162
frankness, 92
Genetics, 18
Gestures (Roger Axtell), 65
gestures, purposeful, 7475
Getting to Yes (Roger fisher,
William urn, and Bruce
Paten), 133
and building your
assertiveness, 3637
of bullies, 163164
going along to get along, 115
Hall, edward T.
on interpersonal space, 6667
on time and trust-building in
non-Western cultures, 120
handshakes, 65, 7172
health, boundaries of, 144145
hierarchy of needs, 32
high power distance culture,
high uncertainty avoidance
cultures, 123, 124
iNDex 203
AMACOM Self Study Program
The Road Less Traveled (M. scott
Peck), 2425
Safety, boundaries of, 144145
Say What You MeanGet What
You Want (Jud Tingley), 160
screaming rant defense, 158159
self-awareness, 1113, 17, 21, 22,
2426, 2829
assertiveness profile for, 1316
and attitude, 28
and benchmarking your
motivations, 1113
and childhood experiences,
21, 22
and influences on
assertiveness mode, 18, 22,
and perfectionism, 26
and self-esteem/self-
confidence, 2829
and transference, 2425
self-confidence, 2829, 175
self-doubt, eliminating
and disarming bullies, 164
and saying no to sexual
harassment, 152
self-esteem, 2, 2829
self-improvement, constructive
criticism and, 9394
sexual harassment
boundaries of, 146
saying no to, 151152
tips for handling, 152
sharing your views, 8889
shewhart, Walter, 170
short-term goals, 37
shyness, eye contact and, 72
signaling mechanism, 7
silence, 6768
sitting, 7374
smith, Manuel
on broken record technique,
on fogging, 161
on negative inquiry, 162
socialization, 21
social space, 6667
sorry, avoiding, 48
space, 70
speaking rate
for effective vocal delivery, 78
and paralanguage, 68
speaking up, 8889
standing, 73
and daily assertiveness plan,
definition of, 2
and eye contact, 66
and interpersonal space, 66
and meeting participation, 90
and others needs and
interests, 2, 114, 115
and posture, 64
and resolving issues with
others, 129
and rights/interests, 33
and speaking up, 8889
and visibility, 88
and walk, 74
when addressing people from
high power distance
cultures, 123
Paten, Bruce, on win-win
solutions, 133
Peck, M. scott, on transference,
people, difficult, see dealing with
difficult people
perfectionism, 26
personal boundaries, physical
boundaries vs., 139
personal space, 66
perspiration, 72
positive internal dialogue, 4041
positive language, 45
positive visibility, 8794, 96
posture, 7374
power distance culture, 122123
proactiveness, 117
probing questions, 115116
professional appearance, 7071
public distance, 67
Quality control, 170
questions, asking
and active listening, 112
and defensive responses, 116
and exploring others needs
and interests, 113, 115116
Ranting, 158159
rate of speech, see speaking rate
reciprocity, 116, 176
rehearsing your message, 45
resonance, 76
and active listening, 114
boundaries of, 140141, 164
responsibility, 96100
rights, 3, 3334
body contact as, 65
body movement as, 64
eye contact as, 66
interpersonal space as, 6667
journal for, 82
metacommunication as, 63
paralanguage as, 68
power of, 5960
silence as, 6768
six dimensions of, 6468
no, saying
and disarming bullies, 164
other words for, 149151
and power distance, 123
saying literally, 148149
and sexual harassment,
Objectifying the problem, 130
offensive, shifting to, 149
options, expanding, 131133, 135
others needs and interests,
103117, 119137
and assertive mode, 2
and collaborative language,
and cultural barriers, 119127
and expanding options,
exploring of, 114117
and finding common ground,
and focusing on issues, 130
and gracious winning,
and listening skills, 104,
and passivity, 2
responding to, 127137
and taking time to respond,
and win-win solutions,
Paralanguage, 68
paraphrasing, 111112
passive-aggressive behavior, 4
continuum, 4
appropriate situations for, 17
and assertiveness profile, 16
and body contact, 65
and boundaries of time, 144
characteristics of, 24, 169
and compliments, 93
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visual component of face-to-face
communication, 60
vocal delivery
for assertive communication,
for face-to-face
communication, 60
and power distance, 123
tips for, 80
for effective vocal delivery,
and paralanguage, 68
Waitley, Denis, on winners
self-talk, 4041
walking, 74
Walther, George, on integrity-
questioning phrases, 4647
wants, 3233
When I Say No, I Feel Guilty
(Manuel smith), 159, 161
winners self-talk, 4041
winning graciously, 136137
win-win solutions, 133135
women as targets of bullying,
workplace, new, 57
written communication, see
assertive written
Your Perfect Right (Robert Alberti
and Michael emmons), 52
you statements, avoiding, 49
zero-sum game, 135
statements, unassertive and
assertive, 46
submissiveness, 2
successes, taking credit for your,
Tannen, Deborah, on meanings
of sorry, 48
team-based work, 5
boundaries of, 143144
and trust building, 119120
of communication, 5152
of feedback, 52
Tingley, Jud, on broken record
technique, 160
for assertive nonverbal
communication, 80, 84
for assertive verbal
communication, 45, 47
for defending boundaries, 149
for developing positive
visibility, 152
for discovering others real
interests, 113
for handling sexual
harassment, 152
for saying no to sexual
harassment, 152
tone for effective vocal delivery,
touch cultures, 65
transference, 2425
Truman, Harry, on
responsibility, 96
trust building, time and, 119120
Tuleja, elizabeth
on collectivism, 124
on interpersonal space, 66
Unassertive language, 43
unassertive statements, 46
uncertainty avoidance cultures,
understanding your listeners,
urn, William, on win-win
solutions, 133
Values, 34
venting, 158
verbal communication, see
assertive verbal
iNDex 205