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Love this question Carol!  So many of my workshop participants struggle with this same problem.  Often ,when someone’s behaviour offends us personally, we lose our composure, and sometimes our emotional control.  In those moments it’s really tough to be eloquent! 

Here’s my recommendation:  Memorize an intro line, that you can just whip out without struggling.  In fact, I strongly recommend you memorize this 3 step formula for asserting yourself on the spot…

  1. The first line – Memorize these 2 words:  “When you…or “When people…”(then describe what they’ve said or done)… 
  2. The second line – Memorize these 2 words:  “I feel…or “I think…”(then share 1 or 2 feelings words that describe the impact  their behaviour has on you)….You can also tag on an optional “Because” statement to explain your position.
  3. Then tell them what you want. “Please do not…”, or “Next time…”,  

I should clarify, that Step 2 – is all about your feeling response to their behaviour.  So the focus is you.  Don’t fall in the trap of saying something like “I feel you’re an idiot!’  or “I feel you don’t respect me.”  No.  This isn’t about them, this is about you.  Only describe your feelings.  And do not use more than 2 feeling words.

Strung together, the formula flows together quickly and easily.  Here are a few examples:

“When you call me that name, I feel offended.  Please do not call me by that name again.”

“When you are late for meetings, I feel annoyed.  Because it is disruptive.  I need you to be on time in future.”

“When you share inappropriate jokes, I feel embarrassed.  Please do not share jokes like this with me in the future.”

“When people speak about women in that way, I think it is disrespectful.  Please do not speak that way in my presence again.”

“When you speak to me in that manner, I feel angry and disrespected.  Please do not speak to me in that manner again.” 

“When you gossip about other people, I feel worried.  Because I wonder what you may be saying about me when I am not present.  Please don’t share this type of information with me again.”  

“When people talk about others behind their back, I worry.  Because I wonder what may be said about me when I am not present.  So I’ve made it my policy not to get involved in this type of discussion.  (same scenario, less direct)

“When you yell at me, I feel angry and defensive, and I stop listening.  Lower your volume, or I will exit the room.”

By the way, consider the “please” in these statements optional.  Omit it, and it will sound firmer.

Now, if you are thinking “this sounds harsh”, let me assure you that being direct is the most appropriate way to stand your ground and set boundaries or rules of conduct.  Assertive communication is direct.  It is firm.  And it is respectful.  And when compared to the alternatives (saying nothing, or exploding), it’s significantly more effective.

When you are speaking, make direct, but not glaring, eye contact.  Lower your tone of voice – a baby voice will weaken your message.  And watch your body language.  Don’t clench your teeth, or your fists, and don’t tense your neck.  These are hostile body movements and they will be perceived as aggressive.  

When you are done speaking – STOP!  Resist the urge to say anything else – it will weaken your message.  Stop and listen to their response if they have one.   If they apologize, accept it graciously – resist the urge to say “it’s OK”  Resist the urge to repeat yourself. 

Hope this helps Carol.

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Well this certainly is a universal problem isn’t it Ron! OK, so I’m picturing a conversation where you are listening  politely to someone who is going on and on and on.  All because you made the mistake of asking them how they were.  And they thought you meant it!

The key Ron is to be direct but polite by using a graceful exit line.  Or, use avoidance strategies to prevent getting caught in a long winded conversation with someone you know is a “windbag”. 

Here are a few strategies for you to consider:

  1. Try non-verbal cues.  If you are in physical rapport with them (facing them with eye contact locked on), step out of rapport.  Reduce eye contact.  Change your body position – step back, turn so that you are standing sideways to them, or stand up if you are sitting.  Look at your watch repeatedly.
  2. With an employee, interrupt them when they take a breath and tell them directly “What you have to say is important, and you deserve my attention.  Right now I’m thinking about the priorities on my desk.  Can we continue this conversation later?” Or “Ron this sounds important, but right now I have a meeting to prepare for.  Let’s meet for coffee later.”  Or “Excuse me for interrupting you Ron, but I have an appointment in 10 minutes (or an important deadline to meet).  Let’s finish this at another time.” Or “I want to listen but this is not a good time for me.  Book 15 minutes with me this afternoon.”  Note that setting a time frame to the meeting is important.  And when the meeting starts, state, “OK we have just 15 minutes together, what can I help you with?”
  3. You can also use avoidance strategies when you see them coming.  Avoid eye contact, keep working, even if they start talking to you.  Respond minimally, if at all.  They should get the hint.  If they don’t, say something like “Sorry Ron, nothing personal, I’m trying to meet an important deadline here.” And keep working.
  4. Do not ask them any open ended questions.  Instead of “How was your vacation“, say something like “Glad you’re back Ron.  You look well rested.  I won’t keep you because I’m sure you have a pile to catch up on.”  And then walk away.
  5. Interrupt them the moment they start talking with the stop sign hand and say “Before we start talking, I should let you know that I only have four minutes before I have to head out.  We have to make this fast.”
  6. As much as possible, try to have meetings in their workspace versus yours.  It’s easier to get up and walk away then try to shuffle someone out of your space.
  7. If it’s a work related conversation, where someone is going on and on about a work problem, you could say “I think I see what you’re getting at, but summarize it for me in a few sentences.”  Or “Put this in writing to me so that I have time to review your recommendations.”
  8. Finally, let’s make sure that we’re not the windbag!  Pay attention to the body language clues of other people.  When they retreat, look at their watch, and disengage, we have a responsibility to set them free.

These strategies work Ron, the key is to know your audience, and to be prepared.  Good luck!

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