Category Archives: myths and rants

Assertiveness vs aggression vs arrogance vs real life!

The difference between being aggressive and being assertive is an interesting one and it’s sometimes a challenge for anyone who isn’t used to being either. All too often people realise that being the walked-over-passive-type isn’t working for them and flip to being aggressive… ironically becoming the very type of person that they found difficult themselves and making other people’s lives a misery.

This brief blog just highlights a few of the common misconceptions about assertive and aggressive behaviour. It isn’t intended as a full explanation!

Myth 1 – aggressive people are rude. Well true, they can be. But it’s also possible to be both polite and aggressive. The working definition of aggressive that we take in our training (which is designed for an office/workplace environment) is that aggression is when you don’t take due account of the other person’s rights and/or integrity. It doesn’t matter how politely you phrase you instruction or putdown, it’s aggression.  “You need to work this weekend” can be said in the most friendly tone of voice imaginable but if you’re riding roughshod over the other person’s right to say they don’t want to (or can’t) work that weekend, it’s aggression.

Myth 2 – aggression is the best way to get what you want. It might be in the short term, but all it does in the long term is build up resentment. People will fight you whenever they can. If they don’t feel able to stand up to you directly, they’ll find ways of undermining you indirectly. For example, following on from the example above, you might be able to force them to come into the office on Saturday, but how do you think you’re going to force them to be productive…?

Myth 3 – aggressive people are strong. Well I’m sure some of them are, but all to often aggression is brittle and is being used to hide a level of insecurity. After all, it’s easier to bully someone into doing something for you than it is to tell them you don’t know how to do it and then ask them to show you how!

In reality, no one expects you to know everything, so there’s no shame in asking for help.

Myth 4 – aggression is efficient. Really? If you force me to make you a cup of tea by being aggressive, what’s going to happen the next time you want a cup of tea? You’re going to have to bully me again. And again. And again. Annnddddd agaiiiinn… Each time you do that, you’ll find it gets harder and harder as I become more and more resistant. Even if it’s not a direct row, I’m going to spoil your cup – too much milk or too little. Even if you correct me and force me to make you a fresh one it’s taking your time and energy. Believe me, I can make you spend more time, energy and effort forcing me to make you a cup of tea than it would have taken you to make it yourself! And what about the next time? You’ve got to start the battle of attrition all over again. And I’m certainly never going to make you a cup of tea voluntarily!

Myth 5 – aggressive people are charismatic. Tosh. Sometimes charismatic people are aggressive, sure, but that’s a different thing entirely. Charismatic people are charismatic for a whole range of reasons, none of them particularly to do with being aggressive – although my experience is that they can often be aggressive if they need to be.

Myth 6 – aggression is always wrong. I believe in explaining things to people so that they’re on your side. (If you can’t do that you either need to get better at explaining things or you’re in the wrong yourself – learn from that!). However, there are times when there simply isn’t time to be reasonable – in the face of an emergency, for example. But even here, think about it – do you know the story of the boy who cried “Wolf!”? If you’re known for being aggressive, you’ll be less effective than if you’re not: in the latter case, people are more likely to realise you’re being aggressive for a reason and not fight back.

So there you go – a few aggression at work myths. There’s nothing there that’s not common sense when you think about it, is there?  So why is there so often aggression in the office?!

Here’s a thought to leave you with – You can’t control the other person. If they’re being aggressive, being aggressive back isn’t going to do much other than leave you both exhausted.  Why not try doing something different? :)


Staying positive.

speed_limit_50I’m 50, according to my Birth Certificate. As my (otherwise lovely) elder daughter just said “How does it feel to be half a century, Dad?!”

Thing is, in my head I’m about 29.

This whole ‘growing up’ thing has come as something of a shock… and it’s been a heck of a year. So much has happened, a lot of it not good, that I’m finally beginning to understand why the ancient Chinese curse of “May you live in interesting times!” is actually a curse!

Until a few days ago I felt a bit beaten up, and very, very depressed. I wasn’t fighting back much when things went wrong – except out of pure stubborn-ness.

Why? Because as I cast my mind back over the year it had been such a bad one – I’d lost friends and contracts.

Fortunately, my wife (who if she’s reading this should be a officially recognised as a saint) reminded me of my year’s log. It’s not a diary as such, just a logging of the good things.

For good evolutionary reasons we’re programmed to remember the bad times more easily than the good, so keeping a log of the good times/things/activities/outcomes/moments helps to balance this tendency. For the life of me I can’t remember the researcher who recommended it (but if I had to guess I’d say it was Prof Martin Selegman) but I’ve found it to be a remarkably useful tool for putting the negative memories in context.

Of course, it’s easier said than done, so here are some tools and tricks to help you do it.

  • A paper diary. It’s easy to underestimate the value of good ol’ analogue. There’s something about writing things down with a good quality pen in a good quality book that feels better than just typing, no matter how cool your computer. I recommend you use a diary that has the days marked off in it, so that if you forget/miss a day you’ll see that you’ve done so. Jot down the good stuff – including (very importantly!) the days when nothing happened of particular significance. These are the days when nothing happened, when nothing went wrong. These are the days you’ll forget about otherwise, remembering only the ‘interesting/bad’ days.
  • A blog. You don’t have to publish it to the world if you don’t want to! What’s more, it’s got the added advantage of being with you everywhere you go (almost) so you can update it easily when you’re traveling etc. The downside is that it’s all too easy to neglect it if you’re under pressure – you might want to consider a plug-in that ‘nags’ you to write an entry
  • Your phone (or iPad). Speaking of nagging, why not just set your smartphone to nag you nag you when you go to bed? That way, you never forget to think about the good things at least once a day… What’s more, there are some handy apps which will help.
  • Children. If you’ve got young children that you put to bed still (bed time stories and ritual) it’s worth considering a good-things-debrief with them.  My kids are waaaaaay too old for this now (I go to bed before them) and I can’t promise it works because I’ve not tried it, but someone on one of our recent training courses recommended it – she said it worked really, really well for her. If she ever forgot, her daughter reminded her in no uncertain terms! :)
  • A simple wall calendar. Ticks and crosses on a calendar is a great visual reminder that the bad days (red crosses) are the odd-days-out when you see them surrounded by green ticks!

That’s it!  I’m sure you guys can think of a better, longer list. Whatever works for you, works!  The important thing isn’t how you record it but that you record it (in enough detail for you to get the idea of things going well and to put the bad days into context.

It’s not often we think Seth’s wrong…

… but I think he misses the mark here:

I know plenty of people who’re negative at meetings for the sake of it, but just being negative isn’t a sin. Looking at the details isn’t a sin. Checking out what could go wrong isn’t a sin. Looking at the worst case scenario isn’t a sin.

It’s just different…

It’s often very handy to have this kind of person in your meetings… they stop people like me from making decisions without thinking through the possible consequences, of shooting from the hip.

Okay, so being negative just because you can is frustrating for the rest of the people around the table, but it’s not a hanging offence!  And often being nit-picky is handy! :)


Thoughts from a cafe…. ;)

“Soft skills – ahhhhh, wish I could take time to learn the easy stuff: I’ve got too much to do, just with my real job!”

If we had a couple of quid for every time I’d heard that, or something like it, we’d barely have to work every again.

The thing is though, it misses the point.

In today’s world it’s not a question of “the real job plus…” because the soft skills are the real job.

Technical skills alone don’t cut it. Technical skills alone don’t differentiate you from the competition. Technical skills these days are taken as a starting point. They’re the baseline, they’re a given.

These days the differentiator is the so-called ‘soft skills’.

Make no mistake, by the way, soft skills are hard – but that’s a different issue, perhaps.

Think about it… if there are two people in front of you and both of them can do their job, which of them are you going to pick? The one who can talk about his job, too, of course.  And if everyone can do the job but only one of them can talk about it?

You get the idea, I’m sure.

(By the way, I’m not alone in this thought: the erudite Mind Tools site has a similar, but more in-detail post.)

So what’s the point? The point is that anyone who wants to get on in their job – particularly if that job isn’t simple repetitive/mechanical work – needs to up their game. The kinds of training you need to do your job aren’t the kinds of tools you need in management and leadership.

What got you here won’t get you there.

That means you need to get your soft skills up to spec.. .and the less you agree, the more you need to! ;)


The speed of training.

I’ve been prompted to write this by a feedback form (only 23/25, shock horror!) that suggested the the content, the materia, the most important bit of our training, could have been delivered in an hour less.

They’re right, it could have been.

Instead of finishing at half past four, we could have delivered the material more quickly and finished at half past three in the afternoon. It would certainly have been easier for us (we’d have avoided bad travel conditions) and very popular amongst the people on the course.

And it wasn’t as if we didn’t know this before we started (hey, we’re expert trainers after all!).

So why didn’t we? Why didn’t we go for the easy hit?

Because training it’s not about what we say, it’s about what people hear. It’s not about how fast we can deliver material, it’s about how fast people can receive that material. It’s not about how short a time we can make it take to get information into people’s heads – it’s about how long a time we can make it stay there!

By taking that extra hour over the day, we had time for what we call ‘embedding exercises’.

Training is only effective if it sticks – if people can not only receive it, absorb it and recall it – but only if they can then apply it. By allowing time for reflection and for having a go, for things like looking at case studies and discussing personal circumstances, we make it much (much!) more likely that what we train people in can and will be applied…

…that it will be used to make a difference in the real world.

For us, it’s all about use, not convenience.