Stop waiting for permission to change the world

Another read-through of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has me focusing on being proactive – the first habit. Its opposite is reactivity – responding without thought – a habit that induces a victim mentality and a feeling of powerlessness.

This concept reminded me of  the time a group of friends were lamenting to me about a situation that needed to be addressed. The problem was in their area of responsibility, but the leader of their group had made no effort to address it.

My friends were waiting to be told what to do, even though they knew both what needed to be done and how to do it. My suggestion was to go ahead and solve the problem, then report the results to their leader. I encouraged them to be proactive.

Covey said that we’re all endowed with the complex, powerful attributes of imagination, conscience, self-awareness, and independent will. Can you imagine what would happen if we all intentionally put these “powers” to work in creating solutions every day?

This quote, attributed to Napoleon Hill, describes what seems to happen when we stop waiting for permission to change the world:

“The world has the habit of making room for the man whose actions show that he knows where he is going.”

Do you have the solution to a problem in your sphere of influence? What’s keeping you from moving ahead and solving it?


Skill-building: speak with strength

Great leaders are assertive – they tell it to you straight. They’re confident and ask for what they want and say “no” to what they don’t want. You can do it too – with an assertive statement that communicates facts, feelings, conditions, and consequences. The skill-building goal is to speak with clarity and strength while respecting both yourself and your listener. 

Facts – describe the behavior that bothers you. For example, if someone often interrupts you, say: “Several times today, you’ve interrupted me before I could finish what I had to say.” You’re just stating the facts – it happened that way, and the other person can’t deny it.

Feelings – calmly and firmly express your emotional reaction to the troublesome behavior. Say: “I feel disrespected and frustrated because I can’t finish my sentences.” These are your feelings – they can’t be denied by the other person.

Conditions – lay out the specifics of what you want the other person to do. Example: “When we talk, I’d like you to let me finish my sentence before you respond.” This is the “strong” part – you’re daring to ask for exactly what you want.

Consequences – state the positive or negative results that will occur if the other person does or doesn’t agree to your conditions. Example: “When I can say what I need to say, then I’ll be glad to hear your side.” Or you might talk about a negative consequence: “If you continue to interrupt, I’m going to end our conversations.”

In four steps – maybe 15-20 seconds of talking – you’ve demanded to be heard and respectfully expressed your expectations. Here’s another example, with all the parts tied together. Say you need to talk to your neighbor about a problem with noise:

“Lisa, when you play loud music at five o’clock in the morning, it wakes up the baby. We’re frustrated because she isn’t getting the rest she needs. We would like you to keep it down until after 7. Could you do that? Great. Then you’ll have some happy neighbors and we can coexist in peace.” Or: “No you can’t? Then I’ll need to call the apartment manager to help us work this out.”

Speak with strength! Use these four steps and experiment with assertive statements. You’ll communicate in a clear and positive way that will earn respect.