Over the last few months, I hear my boss say to me more and more that I need to well...grow a pair. I'll tell my boss about a situation with a direct, that I felt I handled the best that I could and sometimes will mention that I wished I would have said "x". After I state this to my boss, they say, "why didn't you say that!! You need to grow a pair." 

An example would be recently, I had an employee that was having a slight meltdown about working with a particular person. This employee continued to complain about the other person, even after they were coached to go talk with the person they are having an issue with. During the meltdown the employee said, "I know you told me take the high road, but I'm not going to. I don't care what they think, I want nothing to do with them." The unreasonable behavior continued and I was almost at the point of sending the person home but realizing that if I sent them home it would dramatically affect the shift because we would have no coverage. I just soothed them to get them through the night, knowing I should have done the right thing, made a point and sent them home that they can not behave the way they were behaving.

Today, I had a highly compensated senior team member snap at me infront of the team when one of the night shift team members called in. The senior team member stated - "She's in charge of employees, she can take the call from him!" (Another team member was calling in to say they were going to be late and protocol states they are to speak with a senior team member or one of the office managers - if I wasn't there, the person that snapped would have been the person to take the call) I was already in the middle of dealing with two client issues at that time and when this team member stated that infront of others, I was floored and didn't know how to respond quickly or appropriately. I just walked off but after the fact I knew I should have said something like - "Yes, I'm in charge of employees, but right now I'm handling two customer service issues and you are a senior team member, so please handle the call it will take just a few moments." Granted that was my well thought out response way after the fact. The only reason she stated for me to take the call was because I was there in front of her, in the building. When I came around the corner her response was getting ready to be my name but it quickly changed to something much more inappropriate.

It's like I can't think quickly on my feet of what to say so I walk away feeling less of a manager and then when I have a minute (after the situation) know what I would have said. When these situations happen I always end up having that frozen feeling. Almost like - did that person really just say that to me?

I'm tired of being disrespected but I just can't seem to come up with a timely response when it happens. I have found when I know a situation through and through I can respond appropriately - like in a disciplinary meeting - I know the facts, I can stick to the points and usually I can't get thrown from that horse too easily. I might get flustered but I stay calm. Where as these like sorta off the cuff moments, I just freeze and can't figure out what to say to stop the disrespect. 

I'm concerned that my constant lack of assertiveness is what will break me as a manager. I don't want to fail just because I continually don't speak up for myself or for the situation when the time is right. 

Anyone have experience with this, or a great way to think on your feet in these situations? 


Solitaire's picture

Sounds like you struggle when you are put on the spot, but are fine when you are prepared.

There are many situations where you can build in a delay, so that you can prepare a response. You just have to practise so that your immediate response to the situation becomes something like "give me a minute" or "I'll come back to you on that" etc. The more you practise these responses the better you will become at handling the situations.

For example when the senior team member had the other person on the phone, you could have asked them to take a number so that you can call them back and then think about what you wanted to say to the senior team member and tell them later on, it doesn't need to be an immediate response on your part to the senior team person (though don't leave it too long). And when the employee with the meltdown situation happened, you could have ask them to step into a meeting room (or somewhere separate) and then say you'll be back in a minute, so you can prepare what you want to say before coming back to talk to them. You could even offer to get them a drink to buy a little time to prepare.

Also you can carry on doing what you are already doing, analyse the situations after they've happened to see what you could have done differently, then practise what you wish you'd said out loud over and over again. The more often you do this, the easier it will be to come up with the right response at the time.

Don't worry about getting your response perfect every time, that will get better the more and more you do it. You may get to the stage where you are saying approximately the right thing straight away, but not exactly how you'd like to say it if you'd had a while to practise. Do the same thing and analyse what you'd like to have said and still practise it. Remember that if you are starting to say something approximately appropriate at the time then you are making progress!

And of course make sure that you roll out the trinity as it sounds like you haven't done this! Start with one-on-ones and build up to feedback, this will help you build relationships, meaning you can hopefully prevent some of the conflict you have mentioned.

Don't give up, keep practising & good luck!


flexiblefine's picture

It sounds to me like you are surrounded by forceful, assertive people but aren't one yourself.

There is nothing wrong with this -- your tendencies are your own, and they are perfectly natural. I would recommend the DISC assessment that Mark and Mike suggest, and also the DISC-related podcasts (that list is incomplete).

As long as we are not talking about situations where people are being verbally abusive, it's a matter of communication styles. They are more direct, you are more reserved, and their force tends to win over more often than you would like.

I know where you are coming from, because I score a 1 on the D (dominant) scale in the DISC assessment. I regularly feel unheard and unappreciated. I know how having the "right comeback" five minutes later feels, and it's never encouraging. You may also be a high S, given your stories about soothing someone and keeping them around in order to keep the team from feeling over-extended.

It's a matter of communication styles -- knowing your own, knowing others, and knowing how to bridge the gaps. If your relationship with your boss is good, you might ask for some advice. "Grow a pair" sounds like the sort of cut-and-dried thing a high D would say as if it's the solution to the problem. Perhaps you could find the right time and place to demonstrate some role power, to remind your team members that you have it.

Whatever you do, Jane's suggestion of "after-action" thinking is a great place to start. Figuring out what to do in situations that have already happened will help you when those situations come up again, and it can help you develop plans and ideas for similar situations.

Houston, Texas, USA
DISC: 1476

SamBeroz's picture

If you find yourself not able to respond because you're searching for the exact right words you may want to try some general standbys.  Cliches like "grow a pair" became cliches for a reason.  They're easy to say and they quickly communicate a general and understood message.  After all, if it's stupid but it works ...

Hope that helps - Sam