Would you mind reading this? - but if you’re busy, don’t worry…
Last week the 5th Wall blog focused on assertiveness – and in particular, how being assertive differs from aggression. But in our efforts to avoid sounding aggressive, we can end up at the opposite end of the spectrum, by becoming submissive. What could be so bad about submissive behaviour, and how can we avoid it?
“I’m not being submissive - I’m just polite.”
In our attempts to avoid seeming rude, bossy or aggressive, it is easy to slip into submissive behaviour. The frequency with which you hear words and phrases like ‘um’, ‘I don’t mind’, ‘I couldn’t possibly ask that’, and of course ‘sorry’, is a testament to this. What we want to know is, why should being polite be confused with lack of confidence and covering up your own wishes?
A difference in attitudes
Submissive people will typically approach a situation with the expectation that they will not get what they want, or that they must adapt to the other person’s wishes. This expectation can in turn cloud their own message, so that their expectations become a self-fulfilling prophecy. So it’s not surprising that submissive behaviour often comes hand in hand with feelings of being ignored or coerced.
By contrast, assertive behaviour, while still being considerate and friendly, corresponds to feelings of being understood and in control of decisions.
Being assertive means being polite. But you can be polite and still use strong and effective communication. In fact, in most workplaces, it’s important that you do.
“I’ve tried to assert myself - but nobody listens.”
Most of the time, we don’t even realise when we are being submissive; instead, it will appear that others are treating us unfairly. So one useful question to ask yourself if you feel like you are being strong-armed into doing something is, ‘Have I communicated what it is that I want?’ When your own reluctance or resentment is building up, it can be hard to realise that, unless you say something, no one else knows how you are feeling. Moreover, if you are prone to submissive behaviour, then even if you feel you’ve made something clear, the overall impression you make will tell a different story.
For example, you might have plucked up the courage to say that you’re willing to take on a high-profile task in which you know you can excel. When the responsibility is assigned to someone less well qualified, you end up raging inwardly: ‘They knew I was best suited to this and they deliberately chose someone else!’ The problem here is that, in fact, no one else did know. Why? Because even if, to your mind, it was perfectly obvious what you wanted and why, you communicated so submissively that your message has sunk without a trace. The more self-deprecating and submissive you are, the less likely it is that anyone will have confidence in you - or even notice that you’ve spoken out.
How can I identify my own submissive behaviour?
To help you avoid this, we’ve listed some common manifestations of submissive behaviour:
making eye contact. This
shows lack of confidence, making it harder for the person you are addressing to
have confidence in you. It also works against any efforts to build rapport, and
can even be distracting for whoever’s listening: not a good way to get your
too quietly. This
will never inspire the confidence of your colleagues. Instead, aim for an even,
clear tone of voice. This doesn’t only make you easier to understand; it
shows that you are in control of your emotions, and implies that what you have
to say is worth hearing.
getting to the point. ‘Filler’ words will cloud your message. That’s not to mention the whole background story
of why you eventually decided to say something and how you’re sure the person is terribly busy but it
would be such a help if they could perhaps just…. Think about what you want to say
beforehand, and then say it. Everyone will appreciate it.
Predictions and Assumptions. ‘There’s no point asking that, they’ll only say no’. ‘I want to do A, but I suspect they want to
do B, so I’ll just suggest that instead’. Until you’ve asked for what you want and been
rejected, you have no basis for thinking you can’t get it
- Apologising, before you’ve even said anything else. Saying ‘sorry’ too much is so common that it seems to be
an epidemic. It’s time to stop.