Ki Moments Blog

Support for life’s “key” moments.

October 2, 2012

A Culture of Advocacy: How to Be Strong AND Kind

A Culture of Advocacy: How to Be Strong AND Kind

G: I'm sorry but that visitor is not dressed appropriately. I can’t take her through.

J: She is so dressed appropriately. There is no problem here. Let her through.

G: I will not let her through. And (standing up; increasing volume) I don’t appreciate you addressing me that way. It’s embarrassing, and you are disrespecting me.

J: (Also standing up) If you want to talk about embarrassing, take a look at yourself. You are disrespecting me!

At about this time in the workshop, I made the sign for a time out, and fourteen correctional officers, counselors, and case managers from a federal prison facility in the Midwest spontaneously erupted in laughter. “Workplace Conflict: Transforming the Energy” was our topic that day, and how to be more assertive -- while being understanding and kind -- one of the more requested desired outcomes of the group.

This group of emerging leaders deal daily with the most difficult of difficult people: federal inmates on their way to court or serving sentences for crimes from bank robbery to rape and murder.

How do you stay strong, assertive, and in control with others who are not in control, have few if any coping skills, and whose actions are hostile, antagonistic, and potentially dangerous?

And, they said, it's easier in some ways to manage conflict with inmates than coworkers. With inmates, you have authority and consequences. With coworkers, you want to maintain a good working relationship.

In a Culture of Advocacy: Move From Contest to Curiosity

As our laughter subsided, I asked if the visitor garb situation was real. Could it happen? The answer was a resounding “Yes!”

I invited the two women up front and we did the role play again, adding a physical Aikido technique to their verbal enactment. I asked one of the women to grab the other’s wrist and begin the same “conversation.”

In a federal prison, power is always at issue and being heard signifies respect and rank. You must stay in control, but in control of what?

aikido-wrist-grabAs the two actors spoke, the conflict began to escalate again: the two women facing each other and physically struggling over the wrist--the “issue.” They were visually, and in every other way, in contest mode.

After some coaching, it went more like this:

G: (facing J) I’m sorry but that visitor is not dressed appropriately. I can’t take her through.

J: She is so dressed appropriately. There is no problem here. Let her through.

G: I will not let her through. And I don’t appreciate you addressing me that way. It’s embarrassing.

J: (This time, J. pivots to stand side by side with G): You sound upset (Acknowledgment). Can you tell me how I embarrassed you (Inquiry)?

G: You made me look unprofessional, like I don’t know my job. I’m the one who makes the final decision about what is appropriate.

J: But if I don’t agree with you, what should I do? (Inquiry)

G: Tell me in private.

J: I can do that. I also have a request. (J turns and invites G to see her view) When you don’t agree with me, would you also do the same--address the issue in private. Can we agree to respect each other in this way? (Assertiveness)

G. Yes. I can do that.

Strong AND Kind

When people see the visual demonstration of the Aikido activity together with its verbal counterpart, it becomes clear that the more you advocate--the more you push for your way--the less likely you are to get what you want.

But when one of the partners moves to a side-by-side stance, everything changes. We become listeners and problem-solvers.

Would you describe J’s actions as assertive? Kind? Both?

Each officer wanted respect. Only one needed to change to facilitate a win for both.

What is Assertiveness?

Workshop participants often ask: When am I being aggressive? Assertive? Passive? Passive-aggressive?

A Simple Formula: The Difference Between Aggressive, Assertive, Passive and Passive Aggressive

Assertive = Win/Win

  • Attitude: Let’s solve this. Let’s work this out. Interested in the long term; in the relationship.
  • Thought process: Tell me what you’re thinking. Here’s what I’m thinking.
  • Boundaries are respected.
  • Example: I’d like to talk about what just happened. Please tell me how you see it, and then I’d like to share my view.

Aggressive = Win/Lose

  • Attitude: Interested in winning. Relationship is secondary.
  • Thought process: I want to win the argument; be right.
  • Boundaries not respected.
  • Example: Just listen to me and do what I say and we’ll get along just fine.

Passive = Lose/Lose

  • Attitude: Non-involvement. I ignore or avoid conflict.
  • Thought process: I care about the issue but not enough to take action.
  • Boundaries aren’t important.
  • Example: Whatever you say.

Passive-Aggressive = Win/Lose

  • Attitude: Interested in winning; manipulative.
  • Thought process: “Whatever!” But I will find a way to get what I want.
  • Boundaries not understood or respected.
  • Example: Sure, whatever you say. (But I will work to disrupt and sabotage the idea.)

Assertiveness requires a different kind of power—power to:

  • Manage yourself and make wise choices under pressure.
  • Be more interested in solving than in winning and being right.
  • Return to a higher purpose.

We all live in a Culture of Advocacy. Most of us are more interested in being heard than in hearing. When a coworker trespasses on your territory, your sibling pushes your buttons, or your 15-year-old shuts down, make solving the problem your focus and invite your conflict partner to help.

Move from being right to a place of exploration. You have more power than you think.

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