Have you ever experienced this?
You came to the office one morning and saw practically everyone gathered in front of the bulletin board as if drawn by a sidewalk hawker peddling bottled love potions.
Your curiosity piqued, you joined the group, pushing and shoving, until you get to see what they were so interested about.
There, in the familiar company stationary was a memo saying, “Congratulations to the promotion of Mr. X, to the position of Department Head for Operations…The Management enjoins everyone to give Mr. X all the help and cooperation…”
You slapped your forehead hard enough to make you dizzy and, retreating back to your cubicle in a daze, muttered, “How could they? Why him, not I?”
You dropped onto your chair, your body tingling like having seen a ghost, your arms covered with goose bumps, wondering over and over again what happened; why the position you have coveted so much, and worked so hard for was given to someone else, not you…
Things like this are not rare. They are repeated over and over again in every organization, worldwide. In fact, right now, while you are moping over your big disappointment, someone somewhere is feeling as rotten as you.
And you know why? It’s not that you are dumb or will not dig in to work, if necessary. It’s just how the statistics of promotion work.
The 80/20 Rule:
The 80/20 rule, or the Pareto Principle, states that 80% of the performance of an organization, any organization large or small, is from the efforts of 20% of its members. Well, not exactly 80/20 but very close to it. Hate it as much as you want, but rule is unerring, like one of the physical laws of Nature.
If you apply the same mathematical logic to the 20% star performers, then go down until you cannot break it down further, you will appreciate how tough the competition was for the position you were vying for.
The question is, “Where were you in the 80/20 rule?” If you are honest with yourself, you will probably know why it was given to him, not to you.
Nevertheless, to be by-passed is a tough pill to swallow. It is downright demotivating. Characteristically, setbacks like this determine whether you are a wimp or a man.
Wimps moan and complain and let others know how they feel. They talk bad of the Mr. X or their direct supervisor; they sabotage their own performance and careers. Some even leave, hoping to find better treatment somewhere else.
But that is not the solution to your woes.
The solution is to be a man and immediately seek an audience with your supervisor to know the real score; where you failed and where you stand concerning future opportunities in the organization.
When and if you do, don’t be confrontational Simple ask his thoughts on the matter.
If you have previously done this, you would know the drill. But if you haven’t, your heart-to-heart talk with your boss would come out like this (maybe not exactly, but close to it):
He would commend you of your performance, of having met your key areas, even surpassing some of them. He would give you credit for having solved some of the company’s problems, of your ability to work well vertically and horizontally.
As if on cue that the conversation is over, he would assure you that you are still a viable candidate for future promotion opportunities. As you rise to leave, he would say as an afterthought, “Work on your assertiveness more and you will surely get it next time..”
“Assertiveness? What’s that? Would I be here if I wasn’t assertive?” these questions churn in your mind.
Are You Assertive?
Sitting down with your boss was great, but that was far from being assertive.
To be assertive is to be able to “insist, in a forthright and positive manner, the recognition of your rights.”
In an organizational milieu, assertiveness is a very important personal and interpersonal skill. It can help you in all your interactions with other people because you can express yourself in a clear, open and reasonable way, without undermining or disregarding their rights.
It allows you to disagree without being disagreeable, facilitates forging win-win situations because no feathers are ruffled, no feelings hurt and everybody given the chance to be heard.
Being assertive does not guarantee success all the time, but on occasions that you are, people will thank you even if you made them dance on the palm of your hand.
Call it diplomacy in the workplace.
Assertiveness is not to be mistaken for aggressiveness, undermining and rolling over the rights of others, or passiveness, allowing others to undermine your rights.
As you start walking back to your cubicle, think of the occasions when you allowed your associates to talk you out of a potentially good idea because you were so timid to sell its merits.
On the flip side, were there occasions when you bowled over your associates, strongly insisting that your idea is the best, that they were wrong?
I am sure there have been more than once of either and they make you blush with embarrassment now that you think of them.
I once had an associate, an Indian industrial engineer based in the U.S., who was the paradigm of assertiveness.
You can sit down with him the entire day talking of the operational issues. He would never raise his voice, never disagrees, and just keeps on nodding his head in agreement, even smiles occasionally. But at the end of the day, he still got his way. It was so exasperating dealing with him, not because of his stubbornness but because he always managed to make as see the other side of things in a clear, and positive manner.
Assertiveness, aggressiveness and passiveness are all character traits which, like habits, are very difficult to break.
But if diamonds break, so can they. It depends on how badly you want to advance in your career.
Look at it this way. Which is more difficult to swallow, to learn to be assertive or to report to the office one morning, see the same scenario as before, and see history repeating itself before your eyes?
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