Things To Do in Barnes, Battersea, Cheam, Clapham, Epsom, Fulham, Kingston, Putney, Surbiton, Sutton, Wandsworth, Wimbledon

Say It Straight Part 3

After thirty years in business, if I had to pick one ingredient that was likely to improve management performance, it would be assertiveness.

The Say it Straight course taught me to distinguish between the hectoring, critical ‘parent’ and the supportive, nurturing one, but it took me quite a while to see the different impact of those approaches on people I worked with.

Put simply, criticising is such a minefield, that unless you do it skilfully, it’s bound to end in tears… can’t you just hear the reaction of the rebellious child or the screwed up passive aggressive response of the compliant one?
And don’t imagine that everyone in business approves of the nurturing, supportive, dare I say collaborative, approach. Oh no, that’s seen in some quarters as far too inclusive, democratic and liberal!

Somehow the boring, ‘steady eddy’ adult ego state has got to help find a balance here: between relentless critical input and wishy-washy care, support and tolerance. I stress that I’m coming at this from a business angle. Unconditional love is fine when kids are involved…

This balance, as I see it, results in my top pick coming to the fore, the trump card that all managers should have at their disposal, namely, assertiveness. It helps in all walks of life but is of particular help in managing people.

Assertiveness isn’t an easy card to play. It’s more subtle than bossiness or aggression but certainly doesn’t leave room for ambiguity and relies on an almost innate authority which can take years to develop.

It’s more than imparting information and advice (the adult ego state does that till the cows come home), it’s about achieving a determined outcome through others; and if that sounds simple, it may be harder to deliver… trust me, I’ve been trying for three decades!

In short, we need to get things done, we may need to criticise, but we need to do both with care and empathy. After all, who likes being criticised and bossed around? Expect positive responses from people when you apply the magic ingredient, you may be pleasantly surprised at the reaction of those you seek to manage.

It takes belief and confidence, conviction even, but in my experience, it’s worth it.

One final word of advice: wanting to be liked is often at the core of unsuccessful interactions as it can lead to a tentativeness and apologetic note, which, colleagues, (friends even,) may find uncomfortable.

Generally speaking (Margaret Thatcher haters take note), people prefer strong, authoritative, no-nonsense leaders. Assertiveness calls for a degree of compassion and empathy and, interestingly, that’s the element, or lack of, that proved her undoing.

Like so many other things, it’s about balance and moderation. Stick to the middle path as the Buddhists would have us, avoid vitriol and aggression, equally, avoid a hesitant, apologetic approach and you’ve found the Nirvana of management tools.

Mark Milton is a partner at The Depot Riverside Restaurant & Bar.

Visit the website.