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Dale Carnegie has done more than perhaps any other person to change the field of human relations and personal development. His world-famous program, The Dale Carnegie Course, has helped literally millions of people.
Looking back on his early years, Mr. Carnegie saw that worry and fear were the two forces that prevented him from achieving his own personal success. Conquering these two self-defeating emotions brought Mr. Carnegie a new perspective and new success. As a result, he made it his mission to help others overcome worry and fear so they could achieve their dreams.
Now, with this book, you too can benefit from the nine decades of insights into human relations that millions of people have discovered from Dale Carnegie Training. After experiencing The 5 Essential People Skills: How to Assert Yourself, Listen to Others, and Resolve Conflicts, you'll gain the ability to focus on the factors that will move you and your organization forward. You'll discover and be able to apply these proven practices, which will assist you in feeling empowered, respected, and at ease in any business or personal communication. They will improve your confidence while training you in the ways to get your message across with greater esteem, power, and clarity.
The primary achievement of this book is to identify and explore five essential people skills: rapport building, curiosity, communication, ambition, conflict resolution. But this is really just the beginning. As you'll see, a number of chapters extend and develop the five skills in new and exciting directions. So, as you move through these pages, be flexible in your thinking and proactive in applying the information you gain. Starting right now!
To achieve maximum benefits from this book, don't procrastinate. We suggest that you simply devote five minutes (or more) to begin reading. As you proceed through the book, be sure to complete the Action Steps section at the end of each chapter. These exercises are practical steps you can take immediately — in your work or with your family and friends.
Whenever possible, give yourself a deadline, and hold yourself accountable for following through on that deadline. If you do not implement the action steps that you have mapped out for yourself, this book simply becomes an exercise in reading. While this is definitely effective, you will gain the full benefits that this valuable book has to offer you by working through the action steps. Make the life-changing choice to act upon your insights, ideas, and strategies, and you will achieve results that you never dreamed of.
Text edition copyright © 2009 by Dale Carnegie & Associates, Inc.
An Introduction to Assertiveness
Just over seventy years ago, Dale Carnegie published a book that remains one of the most influential works of the past hundred years. What's more, it will probably be one of the most influential in the next century as well. That book is called How to Win Friends and Influence People. The title could not be much clearer, could it? The ideas that it contains are every bit as clear, and as valid, today as they were in 1936, when the book first appeared. Although How to Win Friends and Influence People is a monumental document in the history of personal development, it was a true groundbreaker when it first appeared. Before the publication of Dale Carnegie's book, the whole concept of people skills didn't really exist. Yet today we take it for granted that some approaches are better than others in human interactions.
Dale Carnegie's book put forth timeless human relations principles that remain essential today. In fact, their influence is greater than ever before. With the advance in technology and the speed of business, those who master interpersonal skills not only are a greater asset in today's workplace but achieve greater success. Computers and cell phones have made a big difference in our lives, but the importance of effective people skills has not diminished and it never will.
It really is impossible, however, to discuss a topic like people skills (especially in a business environment) without referring to the Internet, cell phones, and emails. These things are everywhere. Where you go, they go. The new technologies have certainly sped up the way things get done in the modern workplace, but they've also raised the expectations of how fast things need to get done. Today, people don't say they need something done tomorrow. They need it "yesterday." It's strange but true, and it's also something of a paradox. Work in many ways has become easier and faster, but work-related tensions are probably higher than ever before. Stress is everywhere and always — and we all know that when tensions are high, the potential for friction between individuals rises proportionately.
This is the reality we're living in. There's no getting around it. This is the environment in which we must learn to succeed. And when I say "we," I mean "you," no matter who you are or what your career path might be. It doesn't really matter what area of the economy we are in, because the same forces are at play everywhere. So you'd better get on board. Dale Carnegie said it very well: "No matter what your line of work, even if it's in one of the technical professions, your degree of success depends on your ability to interact effectively with other people." Despite the fact that the technical professions are now the most potent sector of the American economy, those words still hold true.
Exploration and Selection
In the chapters that follow, we're going to be looking closely at exactly what's involved in assertive interactions. Our exploration will be quite selective. We've deliberately tried to make the subjects covered in this book very specific and sharply focused. The purpose here is not to say everything but to say a relatively small number of things very well. There are already fine books on the market dealing with conventional topics like effective listening or the keys to making a good sales presentation. But why cover ground that's been thoroughly explored? Instead, we're going to be looking at new areas, including five in particular: rapport building, curiosity, communication, ambition, and conflict resolution — plus other topics that are natural extensions of these.
But there is one aspect of people skills that can never really receive enough attention, because it's the foundation of every kind of effective human interaction.
We're referring to assertiveness: the ability to speak and act in ways that naturally cause people to respond attentively and positively. It is the basic core element that is at the center of each of the five essential people skills. If you're not prepared to assert yourself in a positive and proactive manner, nothing else can possibly happen. So let's begin by looking at the real meaning of assertiveness in today's work environment — where you really must make yourself stand out in order to get any attention at all. As this discussion goes on, we'll see how assertiveness differs from other, less effective forms of interaction.
There are a few things we can take for granted. Every human being, for example, has the desire to be treated fairly. We may not feel like fairness is happening, but at least fairness is something we want. What's more, when we feel we are not being treated fairly, we should insist on being treated fairly. We shouldn't just roll over on our backs and play dead, although that's more or less what many people do. To be treated fairly we must clearly, tactfully, and effectively express our preferences, needs, opinions, grievances, and other feelings. Nobody else should have to do this on our behalf. We have a responsibility to express our own needs. We also have a further responsibility to do so in an appropriate and productive way. If we don't do that, we are not only depriving ourselves of what we deserve, we are also depriving the people around us of the real contributions we have to make.
Putting Our Rights and Responsibilities into Action
Establishing reasonable parameters for being treated fairly is what assertiveness really means. These are like traffic laws: Getting where you want to go is important, but that doesn't mean you can run all the red lights. Assertiveness is the middle ground between the two extremes of reckless aggressiveness and defeatist passivity. The genuinely assertive person is neither one of these. Aggressive people are self-centered, inconsiderate, hostile, and arrogantly demanding. They drive people away. Passive people are weak, compliant, and disrespectful of his or her own best interests. They also drive others away — except perhaps for aggressive people! Between these two poles, however, are people who know how to make their ideas known without preventing others from doing likewise. Your task is to become one of those people. Men and women who can do that are assertive people, and the purpose of this book is to show you how to become one of them. Once you master this skill, you will be doing what's best for yourself and for everyone around you.
That's the broad overview. When we begin to look more closely at assertiveness, however, the picture becomes more complex and even paradoxical. It's much easier to see what assertive isn't than what it is. While it's easy to characterize people who are blatantly aggressive or extremely passive, it's not always simple to express exactly what constitutes assertive behavior. This isn't really an unusual situation when talking about people's behavior. Like many other important human qualities, assertiveness is easier to recognize than it is to define. So let's look at the evidence. We'll begin by looking at some real-life situations in which the quality of assertiveness can come into play.
A Real-Life Example of Effective Assertiveness
Imagine that you've just completed an important project at work that consumed several weeks of your time. What a relief ! The project involved working together with a large number of other people, and in the end it all went quite well despite the many different personalities involved. Everyone made a contribution, and the result was very successful. But the story doesn't end there. Now you find out, unfortunately, that one member of the team has been singled out for special praise by your supervisor. This seems totally arbitrary and unfair. For some reason, only this one person was called into the supervisor's office to receive a personal congratulation.
How would you feel when you heard about this? Not good, obviously. But more important, how would you respond? Would you respond at all? An aggressive person, of course, would feel hostility toward the manager and to the person who was singled out for praise. There would be angry feelings, and there might also be harsh words at some point. A passive person, on the other hand, would probably refuse to admit that anything questionable had taken place, and would certainly not take any action.
The assertive response is somewhere between those two extremes. To see what this involves, we have to begin with a principle that will influence all of the lessons throughout this book. Our focus here will be primarily on assertiveness and people skills in a business setting. We must, therefore, consistently have a professional viewpoint, as opposed to a personal one. In the situation we've just described, an assertive response involves knowing how you really feel and then finding a way to express those feelings in the context of a business environment.
Suppose, for example, you make an appointment with the manager in question to air your feelings. Even if you're personally hurt by the fact that someone else seems to be getting too much credit for the work your whole group performed, it would be a mistake to start by bringing those personal feelings into the discussion. This is a business setting, so keep the focus on business. No matter what you may think, it's going to sound like you're whining if you talk only about your personal feelings. "If you say something like, "I did just as much work as George, and now he's getting all the credit," you'll sound very unprofessional.
A more assertive approach would sound something like this: "I understand that you're pleased with George's work on the project, and I'm really glad to hear that, because he made some important contributions. There is one thing that concerns me. This was a group effort, and all of us devoted a significant amount of time to the project, including me. When the time comes for my performance review, I want to be sure that I receive the same recognition that George does. This is really important to me. While it would be gratifying, of course, if each of us could also receive a personal thank-you, my main concern is how this will affect my career opportunities in the organization."
By focusing on the business-related aspects of this situation, as opposed to the emotional elements, a very useful effect is created. It's one that we'll refer to a number of times in the book. You see, both the overly passive response and the overly aggressive one are essentially childlike behaviors. In any business setting, the person who seems most mature always comes out best. If you pout and whine or throw a tantrum, you'll be on the losing end of the encounter. You would do best by displaying assertiveness. It is the adult response between the two poles of childish acting-out.
If we look more closely at some specific components of assertive action, you'll begin to see how this idea of the child and the adult plays out.
Breaking Down the Components of Assertiveness
Assertiveness is an antidote to fear, shyness, passivity, and even anger, all of which are childlike emotions. Assertiveness means speaking up, making reasonable requests, and generally insisting that your rights be respected as a significant, equal human beings. Assertiveness is also the ability to express negative emotions without personalizing the problem. An assertive person knows how to question, to disagree, and even to refuse without seeming childish. Assertiveness is being able to question authority from a positive perspective. It's the power to ask Why? — not just to rebel but in order to assume responsibility for making things better.
For the balance of this chapter, we'll look at four specific steps we can follow to implement assertiveness in virtually any setting. These three steps will be the foundation of all the assertive strategies we'll be discussing in the first two chapters.
Step 1: Preparing with Self-Reflection
Today there are a variety of assessment tools to help us determine our strength sand opportunities for improvement. Particularly useful are 360-degree assessments because input is received from a variety of sources and can help reveal our blind spots. Dale Carnegie Training offers a variety of assessment tools that can be found on their website, www.dalecarnegie.com/assessments.
For the purposes of this book, we will take an informal assessment as a first step toward becoming an assertive person and building assertiveness into your people skills repertoire. Once we recognize where we are right now, we can then recognize where changes are needed and believe in our ability to make those changes.
For example, are you a person who often feels that you're being taken advantage of? If so, ask yourself if this is really an accurate picture of what's happening in your life. If you decide that it is accurate, what needs to change? Chances are, you're someone who has difficulty saying no, even when "no" is exactly what's called for. It may be helpful to start writing down situations in which you've confronted this issue. Keep a diary of the times you've said no, including how you felt when you said it. If you do this for a period of time, you'll see how your inhibitions will diminish as you really begin to confront them.
Perhaps you're on the other end of the spectrum. Can you cite instances in which you've been very outspoken? Have any of these crossed the line into aggressive behavior? Be honest with yourself about this. If the answer is yes, ask yourself if this is really helping you or hurting you. Is aggressiveness something that you really want to build into your personality, or is it just a substitute for the more adult response that assertiveness represents? Once again, try keeping a log of situations in which you felt yourself becoming aggressive. Track your progress in gaining control over those feelings.
As you do this, be aware that positive change isn't going to happen by itself. You may feel some anxiety, or even real fear, about becoming an assertive person. Write about this in your diary. Is there someone you can talk with about the changes you're trying to make? Speak with that person about the specific situations and feelings that concern you.
You might also want to explore the origins of the emotions that you're feeling.
Where do your values in dealing with other people really come from? When you make a decision about how to behave in a specific situation, whose voice do you hear in your mind? Who are the people from the past who are subconsciously influencing your behavior in the present?
The truth is, as children we're bombarded with rules — don't be selfish, don't insist on being first, don't make mistakes, don't be emotional, don't be unreasonable, don't interrupt, and many more. Most of these rules are very valuable and well intentioned, but if they were downloaded into your consciousness with too much force, you may have magnified them beyond their original purpose. What's more, despite the good reasons for many of these rules, every one of them can legitimately be broken under certain conditions.
For example, you have a right to be first, at least sometimes. You are allowed to make mistakes, as long as you intend to learn from them. You have a right to say you don't have enough time for something, if in fact you really don't have enough time.
Step 2: Conducting an Honest Self-assessment
Most feelings of submissiveness or aggressiveness have their roots in early life. It's time to identify those origins and to realize that you've outgrown them.
As this process of recognition takes place, be aware also of the harm that's done when you back away from appropriately assertive behavior. When you act aggressively, for example, you're likely to incur feelings of guilt that can become very burdensome over time. When you allow people or circumstances to dominate your legitimate needs, a loss of self-respect takes place. At first you may think that not trying to assert yourself is a choice, but eventually it can translate into a belief that you really don't have any power.
In any personal or professional development effort, accurate self-assessment is the essential first step, and you should pull out all the stops to do this successfully. It's not always easy to look in the mirror and really know what you're seeing, however, and it's certainly not easy for other people to tell you. Self-awareness and self-assessment are so crucial that taking a bold step in that direction is necessary and encouraged. Having someone you can talk with about your work toward becoming an assertive person is a critical element of self-assessment. There's a way in which that person can really help you with only a minimal effort on their part. Of course, you should make it clear that you'll return the favor if and when you're called upon to do so. Here's what's involved. Write an email to your friend in which you list a number of personality characteristics. Include traits that you think you already have, as well as others that are both negative and positive. For example, you may think of yourself as a humorous person or as a very conscientious individual. Write those down at the top of your list. Then think of attributes that you'd like to have. Maybe you'd like to be known as a very happy person, or as someone who's charitable or compassionate. Put those words in your list. Finally, include some undesirable qualities, such as "angry" or "insensitive."
When you email this list to your friend, include a number of email addresses to which your friend can forward the list. Attach a brief note in which you ask the addressees to check off the qualities on the list that seem to describe you. Assure them that when they return the list to your friend, he or she will send you the results with total anonymity assured.
When you get the results, you will probably be amazed by some of the things that people see in you that you've never seen in yourself. This is a great way to get honest feedback on who you are compared to who you think you are. It may take a little courage on your part to send out a list like this, but just doing so is an act of assertiveness in its own right. So give it a try.
Step 3: Assessing Your Outer World
Once you've made some real effort toward self-assessment, it's time to turn your focus from the inside to the outside. In other words, assess the things that are going on in your life right now, especially in your working life. What specific situations are you involved with right now that will have a bearing on your career success? How are you dealing with those situations? Are you being too passive? Perhaps you're being overly aggressive?
Pick a specific circumstance that presently concerns you, and create an accurate overview of that situation. Then start making a specific, detailed plan about how to act assertively in that setting, based on the following guidelines.
First, if you were to speak directly to the other people involved in the situation, how would you describe both the situation itself and your feelings about it? You can write down this conversation, or you might want to literally act it out for your own benefit. Be very specific about what happened in the past, what's happening now, and what you'd like to see happen in the future. Don't make general accusations like "you're always hostile...you're always upset...you never take the time to communicate with me." Instead, use "I" and "it" statements, stick to the facts, and maintain emotional control.
Most important, don't enlarge the scope of the conversation beyond the circumstance you're now dealing with. It's all right to speak about the past, but only as it pertains to this particular situation. For example, you may want to say something about a discussion you had when you got started on this particular project, but don't talk about something that was said last month or last year in a completely different context. Be objective. Focus on what actually happened and what actually is happening. Don't get into issues of motivation or psychology. You only know what took place on the physical level. You can speculate about why that might have taken place, but now is not the time to do so.
If you do feel the need to talk about emotions, make sure they're your own. Use "I" statements, which show you take responsibility for your feelings. Try to focus on positive feelings related to your legitimate wants and needs, not on your resentment of another person. Describe the changes you'd like to see made. Be specific about things that you'd like to see stop, as well as things that you'd like to see start. Be sure the requested changes are reasonable. Assertiveness includes consideration of other people's needs too, along with being willing to make changes in yourself in return. You may want to speak about the consequences of change or the absence of change, but don't make threats. Threats always personalize a conflict situation. They challenge people on a deeper level than a professional situation encompasses, and that can cause someone to feel cornered and defiant.
As you create these imaginary dialogues, start your sentences with phrases like these:
"What we might do is..."
"We could do..."
"I appreciate it when you..."
"I agree with some of what you're saying, and here's what I would like to see changed...."
When you've had some practice in making up your scenarios of assertiveness, certain things will become clear to you. You'll begin to realize a few undeniable facts. You'll realize that no matter how calm and tactful you are, or how much you use "I" and "it" statements, or how much you stick to the specific situation, there will still be times when your assertiveness will be perceived as a personal assault. This perception may have no basis in reality. If the other individual happens to be an aggressive person, you may find yourself receiving just the kind of attack you're being accused of perpetrating. In order to be a really assertive person, you have to be prepared for this and know how to respond.
How to Respond to Aggression
Most of the time, simply explaining your position and standing your ground will handle the situation. You may, however, also have a strong temptation either to counterattack or to retreat. Try to resist both of these temptations. When the other person raises the stakes of the dialogue by becoming emotional, don't let that influence your behavior.
What's really happening is this: By becoming angry, the other party is implying that his or her feelings are more important than yours simply because he or she is speaking loudly or being sarcastic or even bursting into tears. Don't let that behavior diminish your own importance or elevate that of the other person. Don't respond with aggressiveness of your own. By the same token, don't simply back off. This is simply a passive-aggressive approach.
Instead, maintain an attitude that says "we both count equally." Dale Carnegie says we benefit most when we try to see things from the other person's point of view. This may not be easy if theother person starts to get emotional. Maintaining this attitude takes practice. Once again, there's a role for a close friend or a colleague here. Ask someone to role-play the conversation with you so that you can focus on keeping your poise.
This doesn't mean you should be dishonest just in order to hold your ground. If some of the criticism that you're getting is justified, acknowledge that the criticism is true. Don't make excuses. Even if you don't agree with most of the criticism, you can single out some part that you do agree with in order to lower the temperature of the discussion. Use phrases like "You could be right about that...." or "I understand how you feel...." Under other circumstances this may seem like you're backing down, but there are also times when some conciliation can be a good approach.
Remember, so far we've only been talking about how to practice and prepare for encounters in the real world. We've suggested that you keep a diary of aggressive and passive behavior on your part. We've talked about some self-assessment techniques, and we've suggested some role-playing exercises you can do with a friend. Now you're ready to "road-test" what you've been practicing.
Step 4: Taking the Road Test
As you begin to test your assertiveness in real-life situations, here are some guidelines to keep in mind. First, pick a manageable set of circumstances. Start with easier, less stressful situations. Build some confidence. As you become more comfortable, you can make adjustments in your approach and prepare for more difficult situations.
If there isn't a situation in your life right now that seems to demand assertiveness, see if you can devise one. It's just a matter of stepping slightly outside your comfort zone. If you're in a meeting, ask a question or tactfully challenge someone to explain a point. Write a note or an email to a senior manager about something that concerns you. Offer a compliment or constructive feedback in a situation where you would normally have kept quiet. Don't do anything of a high-risk nature. It's just a matter of consciously becoming slightly and increasingly more assertive. Pay attention to how this intentional shift makes you feel. As always, writing can help to clarify your thoughts, so try putting some of this down in your assertiveness diary.
As your confidence grows, you'll be ready to take on more challenging situations. Over a period of a week or two, make a list of settings in which you'd like to assert yourself more strongly. Watch how these situations develop for a while before you take any action. Then pick one and decide what form truly assertive behavior would take in that setting. In other words, what is the best way to communicate your legitimate ideas, wants, and needs? Also, what is the best way to identify and eliminate wrongful behavior by the other parties? Finally, take action based on these insights.
Here are a couple of useful thoughts to bear in mind as you do this. Although some conversations may seem to be one-sided, most business interactions consist of two or more people disclosing their thoughts, feelings, or wishes, and trying to get their way. So, as you assertively express yourself, give the other party a chance to do the same, as you listen empathetically. Recognize that a win for you and a defeat for the other person is not the ideal outcome. An all-win, or at least the perception of one, is the target to be aiming for. In many situations it may take time to work this out. Sometimes you will be justified in demanding an immediate redress of grievances, while at other times this would be counterproductive. Under all circumstances, however, remember that assertiveness is really the modern equivalent of the Golden Rule. Honor the wants and needs of others, and expect that they will do the same for you. Don't settle for anything less.
1. Reflect on an "unfair" incident in which you were involved, either in your workplace or in your personal life. How did you handle it? Write about the experience and then reflect on how you might handle it differently given the new concepts you have just learned.
2. Conduct an honest assessment of yourself. On a scale of 1 to 10, how assertive are you?
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Passive Assertive Aggressive
3. Go through the list below and mark an X beside any trait that you currently have and would like to shift. Then write out an action plan to do so.
I often feel I'm a victim of circumstances around me.
I lash out at others when I am upset or feeling unfairly treated.
I often open communications with "you make me..."
I have a difficult time admitting that I am wrong.
I overburden myself and don't say no often enough.
I am overcritical of others and myself.
I often use the illogical and extreme terms "never" and "always" when talking to another about his or her behavior.
I avoid confrontation at all costs and shy away from being assertive.
Text edition copyright © 2009 by Dale Carnegie & Associates, Inc.
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