How do these principles transfer into practice? Case study
Next I would like to share one of my client’s journeys, as she learnt how to be more assertive. I’ll use this opportunity to present a few techniques borrowed from CBT that I used in our coaching partnership (during discussions or homework).
For the purpose of this case study, let’s call her Ana. She works in a multinational company, within a global team – she recently joined a training developer role; this means she is interacting with many people within the organization, including senior leaders and experts, in order to create training content and facilitate webinars. Moreover, one of her responsibilities is to find and persuade new experts to deliver training sessions. For Ana the challenge is that delivering webinars is not part of these experts’ job description and she is not in a formal authority position to ask them to perform this activity. She also has stretch targets (e.g.: number of experts invited to speak in these webinars) – that is why she decided to improve her assertiveness skills, as a key structure to meet the targets. After a 360 degree assessment, gathering feedback from her colleagues and collaborators and after reflecting on her priorities, Ana created a development plan for herself and started working with me as part of this plan.
The coaching process and tools & competencies used
I worked with Ana for 13 sessions of 1h each, spread across 3 months (via Skype). Out of those, 6 sessions were dedicated to the assertiveness area. Confidentiality was established and expectations were set during the initial discovery meeting. Then, in the first session, we established the goal and success criteria – I used facilitative and open-ended questions to support my client with her exploration. The result was an articulated goal with clarity around how she will know that she achieved it.
There are various competencies and coaching tools I used – active listening, creating trust, creating structure, powerful questioning, acknowledgement, visualization, designing actions, role play and power tools (with a focus on reframing perspectives, responding vs. reacting and respect vs. invalidation).
During the initial exploration phase we discussed about her view on this concept and the situations in which she wanted to practice this new behavior. Also, we talked about how committed she is to do the change and to keep investing time and effort to create a discipline of continuous improvement. She showed a good understanding of the assertive behavior as opposed to aggressive, manipulative or passive-aggressive behavior.
Questions to investigate the “why”:
- How would you define assertiveness?
- Can you identify specific instances at work where you feel held back because you don’t assert yourself?
- What is the cost of not asserting yourself in these situations?
- If tomorrow morning you wake up fully confident and assertive, what would change for you?
My client defined her goal in these terms – she wants to get her point across, passing the message in a non-aggressive, but still firm way, in situations like:
- expressing opinion during team meetings
- asking others to partner in her projects
- responding to other people’s requests
- saying “no” to tasks that might overwhelm her
- expressing her feelings
- make herself heard in big forums with high visibility, with senior managers in the audience
- persuade the interlocutor in high stake situations (like presenting a business case to her manager in order to get budget for a new project)
Usually, in this kind of scenarios, she feels hesitant and not confident enough to express her stand point. Also, on a personal level, she has a hard time saying “no” when asked by friends or relatives for different favors; hence, she puts her tasks away, to give priority to the respective requests. She defines this scenario as sensitive, because she doesn’t want to hurt other people’s feelings.
Example of questions to explore what assertiveness means for client:
How will people around see you when you express your dissatisfaction? Ana thinks that she would be seen as a strong person with high self-esteem, who dares to verbalize what other people avoid saying:
- What will people around say when you don’t express your thoughts? The client realized that people might see her as a nice person, but at the same time there is a possibility to be perceived as a person with no opinions, who can be easily taken for granted or pushed over
- What is the message you want to pass to your audience? Ana’s insight was: it is important to express your thoughts and feelings if you want to make a change
- When you say you should never show anger or sadness, what exactly are you saying to yourself? Ana discovered an underlying belief that disempowers her: a nice person doesn’t have or at least doesn’t express negative feelings. This is a right she has – to express her feelings, but which she denies to exert
- What are the risks when not saying what you think? At work, she might not be visible or get recognized or promoted for her results; at a personal level, people could take advantage of her, because she usually doesn’t like letting people down. Also, another risk is not getting enough time and energy left for herself.