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.


How does he do that?

Wouldn’t it be great if every time you walked away from a conversation, you knew you’d left the other person feeling more valued, more capable and more brilliant?

I have a colleague who can do just that for me and the others who work with him. We enjoy working with this person not just because of his skills or contribution to projects, but also because of his knack for bringing out our best.

How does he do it?

The key seems to be in what he doesn’t do.

This guy actually doesn’t give a lot of input of his own. Unlike most of us, he has a remarkable lack of desire to add his two cents to every discussion. Instead, he pulls a dollar or two out of the rest of us. He is an engaged listener who asks clarifying questions. As we answer, his whole body communicates openness, interest, and the sense that he’s impressed. His eyebrows lift, he smiles, and he nods. His questions are open-ended and tend to be short and to the point. He leaves room for us to expand on our own ideas.

The truly impressive thing about this guy is that he’s not our peer – he’s our leader.  We think of the leader as the one who’s running the show, but that’s not how it feels here. It feels like we’re the MVPs. I think it’s because he really listens and chooses not to “add value” to every idea he hears.

The average leader can’t listen to someone tell them something they already know without communicating “I already knew that – I know a better way.” By listening with interest and asking insightful questions, our guy gives the opposite impression: that we’re the wisest, brightest and best around. As a result, that’s who we want to be.

Wouldn’t it be great to have that kind of impact?