Do you know how many needles or “quills” a porcupine has on its back?
Ouch, I just got stung by one. No, I don’t know how many, but I would have looked like a porcupine had my former associates stuck daggers on my back.
Why? It’s a long story. But to make it short, as a young and ambitious engineer, they practically put a post-it on my back with the words, “overly-aggressive and arrogant SOB.”
My people skills sucked! Tweet: Tweet this!
Oooppsss! Did I touch a raw nerve? Were you in the same rut, or are you still in it?
Then you must know how it feels.
- You feel alone because people avoid you;
- They talk behind your back just for the sheer fun of it;
- Your subordinates scamper like scared rabbits when they see you coming;
- You are not invited to some meetings because you make people uncomfortable;
- No one sits with you at lunch, except when all seats are already taken;
- You get nervous each time you are called to your boss’ office, for fear of a dressing down or given the pink slip.
I felt all those and many more. I hit a huge bump when two production supervisors requested my boss for a tête-à-tête because they cannot stand my “lording it over them” anymore.
Have you hit a similar bump or are you still in the primeval ways of managing your work, your relationships?
If you are still roaring like a tiger in your organization, start learning how to “meow,” before a bigger tiger drives you out of the herd, forcing you to wander aimlessly in the wilds – friendless, jobless, and leaving a bad legacy behind.
And in the office, nobody is a bigger tiger than your boss.
The audacity of those supervisors, fed up with my aggressive behavior, was a blessing in disguise. Though it hit me in the gut with the force of a karate kick, but when the pain subsided, it made me realize the adverse effects I had on others.
It made me “re-engineer” myself – from being aggressive to assertive. I was forced to take my own bitter medicine.
I am essentially DIY (Do It Yourself) guy so I drew up a plan on getting down from my high perch to ramble it up with ordinary mortals. You can draw up your plan, too, if you are like me (aggressive people normally are). But to kick-start your own program, you can use the following as your guide:
7 Steps to Make the Tiger Behave like a Pussycat:
Changing a reputation will not happen overnight. It is not like getting into work clothes from a business suit.
People will not take you seriously. They may even ridicule you, or even be suspicious of your motives.
No matter how smooth the ride, people will never take a tank for a car, nor will they call a hawk a dove just because it is cooing.
It is not going to be easy. It takes patience, courage and the skin of a rhinoceros to take the brick-brats thrown your way. But you just have to keep on going because staying aggressive, over the long haul, is not healthy for you, the people you work with and your career.
Here they are:
1. Watch your language:
Nothing gives your character away faster than your language. So watch your gab before you blab.
This is going to be very difficult. You will bite your tongue so many times it will get calloused. But healing a tongue is easier than healing a relationship.
So practice the following:
- Refrain from dominating a discussion, no matter how heated it might be;
- Don’t interrupt when others speak, no matter how senseless he/she might be;
- When it is your turn, speak in a friendly voice. Should you be interrupted, simply say, “May I finish first?”
- Stick to issues. Never be pulled into endless arguments that can take you away from the subject at hand;
- Keep away from the word “I,” and use “We” more often;
- Rephrase your words to sound like making a request, not giving an order;
- Say “Thank you,” graciously if complimented or “I am sorry,” if wrong;
- Develop an image of a team player, not a solo performer;
- If you must disagree, disagree without being disagreeable.
2. Avoid putting labels on people:
Only objects have labels, not people.
Labels are discriminatory, unfair and highly contentious. They cloud pertinent issues, such as performance, and can be traumatic.
Common labels in the workplace are: “this job is not for women,” or “he thinks like a woman.”
Just because a guy is poor does not make him mentally-impaired or a genius because he is rich. I have seen this the other way around so many times in all my years of working.
Regardless of creed, ethnicity, sexual preferences or affiliations, people are the same.
They have the same hopes and aspirations, the same ambitions. Any disparities between them can easily be rectified with proper training or motivation.
3. Listen, listen and listen:
Listening is difficult. It is tedious sometimes. But it is one of the most important skills, if not the most important, all successful managers possess.
Listening is important in decision-making, as well as in relationship-building.
Not just listening, mind you, but active listening where all your senses are focused on the person listened to.
4. Exercise humility:
It is impossible to exercise humility and behave aggressively at the same time.
If you want to sit well with you co-workers, you need to learn to broaden your focus. Learn at accept that, no matter how good you are, you could never do anything without the help of others. No one ever did. And neither will you.
Never fear that humility will rob you of your self-confidence, decisiveness, and your gung-ho spirit. On the contrary, humility will reinforce these qualities because it makes people gravitate around you, makes them embrace your ideas as you embrace theirs, and makes it easy to get them to help you in ways you never thought possible before.
Remember that a tiger is still a tiger even it is made to roll over, to stand on its hind legs or to leap through a ring of fire. It is just behaving like a pussycat.
5. Apologize even if it is against your will:
Apologizing is difficult for most people. It is like an outright acceptance of being wrong. And nobody likes to be wrong – even if they are wrong.
It is like a lump of dirt forced down your throat, or a stinging slap on the face.
There are times, however, that we just have to take and bear it because it is the necessary thing to do at the moment. And when you do apologize, do it sincerely.
It requires courage, empathy, and a high dose of humility. But it resolves conflicts, heals relationships and allows you to go on with life. And it is a good learning experience.
6. Take negative comments in a stride:
It’s said over and over again that the surest way to fail is to try to please everyone.
There will always be people who could never see anything good in whatever you do. What makes it worse is that they hit you from the back, when you have no way to defend yourself.
Never lose sleep over these things, and don’t let them push you into going back to your aggressive ways. That may just be what they want to happen – to see you fail.
They are always found in any office, or organization. The good news is that they are always the minority, the under-performers; they are parts of the problem, not the solution. They are not worth grossing over.
7. Stay in the Middle Ground:
Assertive behavior seeks to arrive at “win-win” situations, which can be difficult if you take sides.
This is especially true where a career or reputation hangs in the balance. Issues for or against it spill over from the office or conference room to the corridors, cafeteria, locker rooms and even to the bar you normally hang out after office hours.
They may even become viral and find its way into Facebook or Instagram where it will be colored and twisted beyond recognition.
Don’t be drawn into this inter-office brawl. Listen to issues, weighing pros and cons based on merits, not on personalities, or biased perception of things.
Remember always to arrive at win-win situations Assertive behavior seeks consensus, not contentions.
Was I successful?
Yes and No.
The fact that I retired from the company after 18 years rather than be fired early on, and rising from being a mechanical technician to process engineering manager for Far East operations, can speak for itself.
But aggressiveness is a character trait which can be very difficult to change and when push comes to shove, I would rather push back than be shoved farther. When stumped with an intractable problem, I still resort to my mantra, “There has got to be a better way of doing it.” And proceed to find it – with or without the help of others.
No, my DIY way did not make me lose my aggressiveness. But it made me less abrasive to make my co-workers sought my help when a simple problem turned bad from worse, or if they wanted a frank, blunt and unbiased opinions of operational and people issues.
Try it. It worked for me. It should work for you, too.
Leave a comment and receive a gift.