He’s backpedaling, crouching, bobbing and weaving — maintaining as much distance as possible between him and the other guy.
That’s the right strategy for a prizefight but a completely wrong one if you’re trying to win an account and build a business relationship.
So why use language that creates separation?
We use distancing language when we’re anxious, uncertain, and don’t feel confident telling others what we want.
Distancing language is overly polite and formal. It’s rife with unnecessary verbal “padding” that we insert to shore up our boundaries. It’s like a buffer zone.
Phrases like, “I was wondering if…” “I’m giving you a call now because…” and the notorious, “How are you today…” all delay and dilute the real message we want to convey.
Prefacing a query with, “Can I just ask you a few quick questions?” doesn’t accomplish anything except give people a chance to say, “No.”
It’s rarely impolite or pushy to ask a question. If the other person doesn’t want to answer, it’s up to them to tell you so.
We pad our talk this way to keep us at a safe distance. Safe from what, though?
Safe from being disappointed if someone isn’t receptive, doesn’t have the time to speak with us, or simply doesn’t want what we’re selling.
We talk in roundabout ways when we’re afraid our requests will be turned down, and then what will we do?
We widen our buffer zone when we’re feeling uncomfortable about putting someone who may not agree with us on the spot.
Instead of leaning in and asking for what we want, we hold back and play it safe, thinking others’ needs are more important than ours.
If we want to succeed in selling anything, playing it safe isn’t the way to go.
Doing Away With Performance Anxiety
Communicating what we want and don’t want is an essential part of being human. But when we stifle our message because we’re wary of the responses we might get, we’re not making a genuine connection. Basically, we’re not feeling entitled to let others know what we actually need.
One thing everyone wants is to feel safe and secure. Before we’re willing to drop that protective verbal padding, we need to feel confident we’ll be safe and won’t get ‘skewed’ without it.
We’ve all grown up in a culture that associates making mistakes and not getting what we want with failure and embarrassment. But making a mistake, even lots of them, doesn’t diminish our worthiness one bit. Giving ourselves a hard time when we don’t hit the bull’s-eye adds unnecessary pain, and can turn simple disappointment into discouragement and worse.
If we see selling only in terms of win/lose and succeed/fail, we’re creating a context that’s going to breed lots of stress. But if we frame things differently – in win/win terms – we can eliminate all that performance anxiety and enjoy what we’re doing without feeling overwhelmed by worry.
Instead of every case being a “zero-sum”, win/lose proposition, we can simply focus on getting a resolution. Whatever the result of our efforts – we scored an appointment, closed a sale, or we’ve been turned down flat – there’s a clear outcome and we can move on to the next call or the next project, guilt free.
Shifting From Passive To Assertive
To meet the assertiveness challenge in this culture of hierarchical power and bias we have to be willing to step outside our comfort zone. Changing the way we respond, like breaking any habit, isn’t as simple as changing our clothes, but it’s totally doable. Everyone can learn to communicate more assertively.
The first step is simply to notice the thoughts and feelings that are deflating our natural assertiveness and acknowledge the upsetting emotions that underpin our distancing language.
Once we’re aware of those inhibiting feelings we can choose to boycott them on the spot. Instead of focusing on what makes us anxious, we can focus instead on what’s happening right here, right now and not worry about what happens next.
If we’re making cold calls we can take a few breaths and reorient ourselves before each call so we’re not “vamping” with nervous chatter (like “The reason for my call today…”) once someone is on the line.
We should know the sequence of what we want to say very well so we can listen actively and be clear and confident conveying what we want people to know.
Assertive Isn’t Aggressive
Assertive language is very different than aggressive language, which pushes others away and often, just like submissive talk, is motivated by lack of self-confidence and even fear.
When we’re feeling anxious and tentative we tend to leave everything to fate – or to others. Assertive language is about making things happen, rather than letting them happen. We’re free to express what we want without feeling anxious, embarrassed, or hesitant — and without offending others.
Speaking assertively actually increases our self-esteem and self-confidence. The more positively we act – the more capable and confident we feel.
When we really acknowledge that our needs, desires, and purposes do deserve others’ attention, we’re going to be much more at ease speaking assertively. We won’t always get our way, of course, but we’ll know and trust that we have the right and the resources to tell others exactly what we want.