Friday, March 23, 2007

Assertiveness Training (2)

Public Speaking, Or: How to be an assertive bitch and make people listen.

Stand up for yourself verbally.
If you're talking, you're the only one talking. When you’re giving a presentation, draw attention to yourself. Nail people who’re being rude: side conversations are not acceptable. People talking over you is not acceptable. If people interrupt, interrupt them back. Some sample responses: That's an interesting discussion. Perhaps you'd like to continue it after my talk. Next question.; Excuse me. Would you like to hear what I'm saying?; Pardon me, could I finish?

Stand up for yourself professionally. Cultivate useful replies to put-downs and dismissals. If you’re talking about something, make sure you have a theory about what’s happening: a wrong theory is better than not having a clue. If you work in a belligerent group, think about what questions you’ll get and prepare answers in advance. Learn to respond quickly and assertively to destructive criticism: I disagree because; On the contrary, this is an important finding because...; That's true, but also, X is true; That's an interesting point, but not relevant; I tried that and it is technically impossible... and so on.

Stand up for yourself personally. Own and acknowledge your accomplishments. The correct response to That was a good idea or You did a good job is Yes. Thank you. I've been working hard. Not: Oh, well, I don't know, I guess so. You worked hard. Someone is complimenting you. You deserve it. Now say thank you.

Speak with confidence. If you're going to be wrong, do it in a loud, clear voice. Imagine you say it in a whispery quaver. For one, nobody will hear you; for two, they won't listen. Acknowledge when you're wrong, but either believe you know what you're talking about, or pretend. In most settings, you'll get more respect for being wrong in a loud voice than for being right in a quiet voice.

Be as mean to people as they deserve (but as some function of what you can get away with). If the next postdoc over keeps interrupting you, tell her to please be quiet/ shut up. (Or if you're feeling nice, 'Excuse me, I'm talking.') If some professor you're never going to see again says your results are crap, say that you have complete confidence in them and he's never even done the experiment and too fireplacing bad. Don't let a fear of offending others make you lay down and take it. Talk back.

Once you've made your point, it's not up for discussion. If you have made a factual statement and you know it's right and there is no point in talking about it- and I don't mean scientific discussions of hypotheses, I mean useless conversations- don't discuss it. Walk away from pointless arguments and annoying or overbearing people who are wasting your time. You said it. They heard it. That's it.

Practice, practice, practice. If these things don't come naturally to you- and they don't to many people, including me- practice. Talk to your mirror. Mutter to yourself as you walk down the street. Think of ways people are going to criticize your research. (This is generally useful anyhow because it tells you which experiments you should be doing.) Have a friend pretend to be a mean co-worker. Say these things out loud to yourself, and you'll get better at saying them to others.

Find a mentor. If you can, find someone who’s been through the battlefield before and who can offer the occasional word of advice on how to get by. It always helps to have a sympathetic and experienced ear. They've been there; you can benefit from their bad experiences.

Overall: Stand up for yourself. Focus on your own work. Present yourself how you want to be seen: intelligent, competent, and assertive. Value your own achievements, and do your best to make sure others do.

Other advice? Add to the comments!

Part 1 here.
Intro here.