Assertive Word-Power

AssertivenessLaura McMullen writes in an article for U.S. News & World Report, Words and Phrases That Undermine Your Authority.

Assertiveness is the quality of being self-assured and confident without being aggressive. In the field of psychology and psychotherapy, it is a learnable skill and mode of communication. Dorland’s Medical Dictionary defines assertiveness as: “a form of behavior characterized by a confident declaration or affirmation of a statement without need of proof; this affirms the person’s rights or point of view without either aggressively threatening the rights of another (assuming a position of dominance) or submissively permitting another to ignore or deny one’s rights or point of view”. Assertiveness has been increasingly singled out as a behavioral skill taught by many personal development experts and is often linked to self-esteem.

Filler words and phrases tend to make you appear less assertive in the workplace. You can be more persuasive if you reduce the number of filler words you use and make assertive statements. The words we use in the workplace are significant, and some make you sound weak.

Career and presentation experts recommend that we eliminate these words and phrases in our oral professional communications:

“I think,” “I feel” and “I believe”
Take a look at the following examples: “I think you’ll be impressed with our final product.” “I feel like option A is the better choice.” “I believe we should be able to meet that Friday deadline.” Why the buffer? In the first two sentences, of course they’re your thoughts and feelings you’re expressing, and by immediately stating the obvious, you dilute the power of the rest of your statement. When possible, omit those unnecessary conditionals for a more assertive, assured sentence: “You’ll be impressed with our final product,” or “Option A is the better choice.”

Jerry Weissman, founder and president of Power Presentations Ltd., suggests replacing “think,” “believe” and “feel” with what he calls “power conditionals,” such as: “I’m confident, convinced or optimistic we’ll meet that Friday deadline.” Alternatively, “We expect to meet that Friday deadline.”

“Just” and “I’m no expert, but … “
“Just” packs a lot of uncertainty in its four letters. Starters such as, “It’s just that” and “I just thought” downplay the significance of whatever message is forthcoming. Chrissy Scivicque, Career Coach, says, “It’s like they’re giving the listener a warning that what’s to come is trivial and irrelevant.” Similarly, she suggests that we avoid statements like, “This might sound crazy, but …” or “I may be wrong, but …” This might sound crazy, but no one is asking you to take a machete to your credibility before sharing a thought.

“Does that make sense?”
In Jerry Weissman’s 2011 Harvard Business Review article, “Never Ask ‘Does That Make Sense?'” he identifies the two negative implications of this question:

1. “Uncertainty on the part of the speaker about the accuracy or credibility of the content”
2. “Doubt about the ability of the audience to comprehend or appreciate the content.”

If you want to check in on your listeners, Weissman advises instead asking, “Do you have any questions?”

“Like,” “um,” “actually,” “pretty much” … and other filler words
These filler words and phrases include “to be honest” and “honestly” – were you lying before? – as well as “sort of,” “anyway,” “kind of,” “basically” and “really,” Weissman says. These words complicate an idea you want to be clear and weaken a statement you want to be strong. If you use these words or phrases, eliminate them and develop clearer, more specific substitutes.

Additional examples:

“Is the conference pretty much over, or is it over?”

“Were you honestly impressed by the keynote speaker, or were you impressed?”

“Was the food sort of bad, or was it mediocre?”

Weed Out These Words
In some cases, the weasel words are used to keep the conversation moving and eliminate pauses, or silence. Filler words are used to buy time. Parsing one’s words is easier said than done, given that it’s tough to recognize the quirks in a speech pattern you’ve had your whole life. Weissman suggests recording yourself while on a call or in a meeting. Then listen to the recording and transcribe what you say – including all the “ums,” “likes” and “I feels.” Once you’re aware of your penchant for fillers, you can begin to recognize and avoid them in your everyday speaking.

Related Articles: Listening For Leaders … at all levels   and   More Charisma … Who, Me?

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James E. McClain is the author of Successful Career Development: A Game Plan, the book upon which some of our training programs are based. He has over 30 years' experience as a corporate HR executive, small business owner with ongoing experience in career development and as a college instructor. His educational background includes a B.S. and Masters degrees Education and Certification in Financial Planning. Our promise is that "you can pay more for training but you can not buy better training." The mission is to deliver the most effective and cost effective training and development programs.

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