Friday, March 16, 2007

Assertiveness Training (1)

Or: Not That You Asked (But Bad Experiences Are So Educational)

Personal Assertiveness: Common Traps to Avoid

Assert your professional competence. Total ignorance comes off as weakness. Say ‘I don't know’ and you will be steamrollered. Scientists are aggressive, type-A people, overall. Have ideas, and present them. Always have a response other than ‘I have no idea.’ Say: That's interesting, I'll have to think about it; I can't recall the exact number, but I know it's less than ten; I'll have to look that up; That's a good question; I think X is happening, can you explain your theory.

Don't let people put you down. If your advisor says something negative- 'You were really struggling your first year' say 'I've been working very hard and I'm pleased with the results I'm getting.' If someone doubts your data, explain concisely and without apology why the result is X. Don't put up with it. You're better than that. Tell them so.

Don't put yourself down. Women (and, yes, some men) put themselves down too much. Don't start sentences with 'I'm sorry'. Don't apologize for things that aren't your problem and don't say you're sorry unless you did something to be sorry for. (Setting the fume hood on fire, throwing out someone's tube by mistake, or breaking expensive equipment: that, you're sorry for.) Stand up for yourself and speak like YOU believe you're competent. Even if you don't. You're smart, hardworking, and analytical. Don't lower yourself in others' eyes. They don't need the help.

Never volunteer for anything, unless a) it’s your job, b) you get something out of it (recognition, brownie points, money), or c) it has inconvenienced you personally. You are not the lab manager, the lab mom, or a tech. Your time is for your research. If it’s not your job, it’s not your problem. You’re wasting your time.

If you do something extra, make sure you get credit for it. Ask your boss a needless question about the equipment you’re having fixed; email the lab or announce in lab meeting that the incubator is fixed.

Avoid and be aware of stereotypes. The secretary files things. The janitors clean. The lab mom bakes cookies. The lab manager nags people to put stuff away. Don't act like them unless you want to be them. Be aware that if you bake cookies all the time, or listen to Whiny Coworker's woes for more than fifteen seconds, it will have an effect on your professional persona. Work against falling into the nurturing-female stereotype; you risk assuming a role where people will dismiss you professionally. Again, it wastes your time and effort.

Think about what you wear and how you come off. Look around. How do your co-workers dress? In science, usually jeans/khakis, button-down shirts/polos/t-shirts. End of story. Dress to fit in, or be aware that if you don't, you will have to work harder to be taken seriously. Be aware that wearing overly fancy clothes to lab is seen as 'not serious about working.'

Anyone else? Helpful hints for the young and idealistic?

Intro here.
Next week, Part 2: Assertive Public Speaking!