CONSULTATION: Assertive Challenged – And Travel Stressed

I have been told that I need to be stronger in my communication and more assertive. My company is sending me on an assertiveness course to improve my skills. I am worried as I don’t want to learn to push my weight around to get things done. Surely there is better way?

You have raised common misconception that people often have about assertive behaviour. That is, it’s about getting your own way – not! Assertive behaviour is in fact about creating win-win relationship, much as we try to do when we are negotiating.
For example, you might need to communicate with someone and you can see they may not like what you are going to say. The aim is not to push them into corner otherwise they are likely to feel trapped and come out fighting. An assertive person will leave the other person with sense they have room to move.
In this type of situation people will commonly use the word “you” in their communication as this tends to place the issue directly with the other person. For example: “You were late this morning”.
The receiver of this message is immediately placed in corner with no escape route and hence is likely to respond reactively. If you wanted to handle this in more assertive way then you could use “I” which has the effect of keeping the message with the sender and delivering much less sense of blame. For example, “I noticed that you came in at 09:30 today. Was there problem?”
This gives the other person the opportunity to hear what you are saying without immediately feeling blamed. They are definitely close to being in corner, but still have sense of space to move. The result is they are more likely to listen and respond intelligently rather than emotionally.
This is definitely not getting your own way, but neither is it being wimpy and ineffectual. It is merely owning your own words and showing respect for the other person and giving them an opportunity to respond. This is assertive behaviour. good course on assertive behaviour will definitely help you develop good communication skills.



I am having to travel lot in my current role and am often away for two to three days week. I am beginning to find this stressful and am not sure what to do. I can’t easily change my job and need to find ways to cope.

Your ability to handle extensive travel and days away from home depends very much on your own personality and your home/family situation. For example, if you handle change easily then you are more likely to survive lots of travel than person who isn’t.
Another example is if you have young family and you are away two or more nights week, it is very likely that your partner will start to become stressed and you will also start to lose contact with the family. I have seen number of people in this situation and the time needed to catch up when they return can become too great and the gap just widens.
So unfortunately there is no magic formula for working out how to handle this as there are too many variables. So how to cope? Here are some common-sense thoughts that apply no matter what the situation.
First, you should try to plan your trips as prudently as possible. For example, group your visits together if they are in the same geographical area. Try to space them out so that you have every other week in the office and hence at home. This will provide more stable base for your ongoing trips.
From personal perspective, ensure you keep healthy. When you are away it is tempting to eat and drink more than you would normally. There is always the lure to eat the wrong things like tasty steak and chips rather than salads and vegetables. Also make sure you get plenty of sleep and rest. Often people will work in their hotel room in the evenings on the basis that they are utilising their time productively. This is good for your employer but not necessarily for you. We all need time to unwind and get adequate rest. Burning the candle at both ends doesn’t work that well.
Here’s lateral thought. I know many people who bounce out of bed at around 6am when they are away and go for run or walk. There is nothing at all wrong with that, but why not consider occasionally staying in bed little longer than you would normally when you are at home. This will give you more rest and could be more bene­ficial under the circumstances. Handling constant travel demands that you develop self disciplines that ensure you, and those close to you, are okay.

Kevin Gaunt, FNZIM, FAIM, is CEO of NZIM Auckland and has been senior executive with, and consultant to, some of New Zealand’s largest companies.

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