Passive, Assertive, Aggressive: Three Ways to Deal with Disappointment

Raise your voice, not your wordsThere are three ways to deal with disappointment.

Passive:  We notice an event or relationship that bothers us or feels disappointing, but we choose not to speak up. We are valuing the rights of others over our own.  That works in certain situations, yet it can become a pattern or a way of responding that is not helpful to us.

Assertive:  We choose to engage in a conversation and explain our perspective. We think about the rights of others and about our rights. This is a mindful, balanced approach that can become a strong civility practice.

Aggressive:  We speak up in a way that values our rights above others.

In an article titled, What is Assertiveness? Dr. Mark Ettensohn writes:

When thinking about assertiveness, it is helpful to remember the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Like Goldilocks in the story, being assertive is a matter of finding the happy medium between two extremes. In this case, assertiveness lies somewhere between being passive and being aggressive.

One way to consider your own approach for dealing with disappointment is to think about the last time you experienced poor customer service. Which of the three situations is most like your experience?

  • I got frustrated and ended up telling others but didn’t say anything to the business or the people who could actually meet my needs.
  • I asked for a supervisor to explain what happened and my preferred resolution.
  • I got upset and started speaking to the customer service person and blaming them.

If your most recent experience was the first or the third response, take time to reflect. Is this your normal pattern?

When we build the skill of assertiveness over a more passive or aggressive approach at work we start to build a culture of mindfulness and civility.

Dr. Ettensohn writes:

Learning to be assertive can be difficult, especially if you’ve fallen into the habit of engaging in cycles of passivity and aggression. Often, people attempting to make changes in their behavior will encounter feelings of discomfort when they try new things. They may also notice that others resist their attempts to change established relationship dynamics. This is perfectly normal and is usually a sign of growth.

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Better Conversations: The Key to Civility

better conversationsBetter conversations are the key to civility. Imagine seeing a Facebook post of someone you work with that surprises you. You are not sure you like the fact that they support an issue that you see in an entirely different way. Then you see a few more posts that stand in opposition to your beliefs about an issue. Finally you have had enough so you unfriend them. When you see them at work, it feels awkward and you avoid conversations.

Many of us have never been that skilled in having a conversation but now, thanks to social media, we are able to steer clear of conversations with people we don’t agree. The negative aspect to this approach is that we are cutting off potential agreement, commitments or common ground.  There could be something about that person which you can relate and feel a connection. As a reminder check out the connection found by Donna Red Wing and Bob Vander Plaats, two voices on opposite sides of marriage legislation.

Consider the 10 points made in this TED Talk by Celeste Headlee. She is an interviewer by training and shares her tips on what she does to find out interesting things about other people. She invites us to apply the same practices to everyday conversation. Watch the TED Talk and decide if you could apply just one of these tips in real life in face to face conversations.


What do you think?  Do you think becoming skilled at conversation in the ways suggested by Ms. Headlee will lead to a respectful and more open workplace?

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Women in Leadership: Jann Freed

The Women in Leadership series of lunches continues on April 20th with Dr. Jann Freed. Jann is the author of Leading with Wisdom: Sage Advice from 100 Experts . She is also a leadership development and change management consultant. After a 30-year career at Central College, Jann is professor emerita of business management and the former Mark and Kay De Cook Endowed Chair in Leadership and Character Development. Dr. Freed is active at Central Presbyterian Church and a member of the Women’s Leadership Connection of United Way.

Prior to the lunch, The Wallace Centers of Iowa (WCI) reached out to Jann (JF)  with a question:

WCI:  When one looks at your background in teaching and coaching leaders we are curious, which of the eight civility practices, that are taught through Wallace Centers of Iowa programs show up in the work you do?

JF: There are two that come to mind immediately…

Listening to others and asking questions to understand his or her perspective.
I like to remind myself that “leadership is not a title and not a position. It is a relationship. And the best way to build relationships is to ask questions and to listen.  Leaders often want to do the talking and don’t make time to listen.  Leaders also feel we need to have the answers when maybe people just need us to listen.  I often reflect on this story as a reminder to listen.
When I was the Interim Vice-President for Academic Affairs at Central College, I had an older male professor who made an appointment.  I was unclear about his agenda, but I just let him talk.  He was struggling with some issues and got emotional. When there was a pause, I asked him what he wanted me to do—how I could best help him.  He replied, “Nothing really.  I just needed to talk and I thank you for listening.”
We are living and working at a time when research says more people are lonelier than in the past. We may be “connected,” but we are feeling disconnected. People would rather text than talk. We have fewer people we can count on in times of emergencies and fewer we trust.  Maybe people just need us to listen and not always try to solve all of the problems.JFquote2
Recognizing the efforts others have made by providing positive feedback.
In the early 1980s when I started college teaching, Ken Blanchard wrote the book The One Minute Manager. His main premise was to take a minute and give feedback. When you see someone doing something right, tell s/he right then and there.  Don’t wait until a performance appraisal.  When you see someone doing something that could be improved, take one minute and tell them right then so s/he can start doing it correctly. I have always tried to do this. Since making postcards is my hobby, I also write a lot of notes. Research says that easiest thing a great leader can do to increase the support and engagement of employees and that is to recognize great work. Recognition directly affects morale and engagement. Handwritten notes trump email messages and public recognition in a meeting or peer group makes people feel even more appreciated.
In times of tight resources when it is hard to offer other incentives, positive feedback and recognition only takes a little time.  It is basically free. We should use it more often, but only when it is authentic. If it is not genuinely deserved, then it will not be accepted and not result in higher morale and engagement.
While I send notes of sincere appreciation for the benefit of others, I have to say I am honored when I walk into the office and see my postcard posted on their wall or when I have students tell me they saved my cards.  It must have made an impression which is reinforcement for me to continuing to take the time to recognize the efforts of others.
WCI:  Those examples really bring the concept of civility to life. The whole I idea of a leader being a person who is building relationships is powerful. Thank you for taking time to reflect on these questions.  We look forward to your presentation on April 20th, 2016.
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