Monday, January 21, 2013

On Being Assertive: Thinking Ahead to Get Ahead

After my last post about Factor X I undertook an extremely long introspection to understand how I've become so recessive, in contrast to my late teenage years in which I was more dominant in personality. Truth is, I did assert myself a lot more in my younger days, but a series of events made me transform otherwise, mainly due to my ignorance.

I think the primary factor in my recessiveness is that I've been so deeply exposed to irrational behaviors, once even trapped with it for years, that I developed a meeker personality as a self-defense against what I was going through, and it was only necessary in so far that I didn't understand the full nature of what I was dealing with. I didn't know then what I know now, so I wasn't capable of planning out the actions I shall do now.

Counted, there's really three fears that cause me to hesitate in asserting myself, and they are that 1.) I might have to deal with an emotional outburst from somebody, 2.) suffer professional consequences (such as being fired), 3.) or even be assaulted. But I realize now that some of these fears are preposterous, some of the situations I suffered in I was actually winning in, and others are knowable enough to plan around.

On the first, the primary factor in my meekness is that, back in Michigan, I was for many years surrounded -- unavoidably -- by emotionally unhealthy people who were prone to emotional outbursts. They're very passive and try to get along in life by mindlessly following popular opinions, seeking never to think for themselves, and overall never do anything unique or individualistic. I never tried to be a contrarian or go against the crowd just for the sake of it, but I did make a lot of unorthodox decisions, and that unfortunately provoked many people into becoming obsessed with my lifestyle, causing yelling at me, constantly reviving dead topics, nagging, and so forth -- pretty much making visible to everyone that they were mentally ill. I shrunk into a shell because I thought it was the only way to avoid provoking these people I couldn't avoid; I wasn't going to change my mind just because someone yelled really loud, so I resorted to hiding my decisions and thinking.

On the second, I think this is primarily a philosophical premise of ascribing more power to irrationality than it really has (which is none), and trying to be bowing polite to some irrational employers, hoping they'll do the right thing and keep their promises, when they actually can't be trusted and need a big nudge. There have been been screaming and emotionally-dominated bosses who constantly threatened punishments, which I realized I could have won out over if I stuck it out.

Lastly, I fear violence because in one workplace I was frequently bullied and intimidated by others who had their personal issues provoked by my character, so while I minded my own business they sought me out to harass me since I highlighted their insecurities and ignited envy.

Combined together, I come, after these years of development, to "feel" that evil and irrationality has this great power, at least just in its mannerisms, that I've become hesitant, quiet, and overall withdrawn in person because I don't trust that a rational influence can actually trump in people's spirits, and that I'll endanger myself physically and professionally by attempting to do so. The fear mainly came about by the first factor, where for years and years I was unable to get myself from the grips of irrational people who frequently pushed their emotional problems on me. But now I know better, and not only know that many of these fears are bogus, but also how to better deal with them in the long-term and alleviate the stress.

For one, the one thing that I realized with the mentally unhealthy people is that during their outbursts they're actually displaying weakness. They yell not because they want to be fierce, but rather because an inward force of pain has pushed them to it: The chaotic mannerisms are the result of inner chaos. Furthermore, as time passes on any given topic, they only grow weaker and weaker, and eventually defeat themselves or cast white flags.

I realized this when I reexamined past conversations where emotional outbursts occurred, and I saw that oftentimes the person would be suffering from stress to the extent that, eventually, they had to get away from it, whether it be by forcing a change in the conversation, distracting themselves, or even leaving the room while still being spoken to. Some people, I remembered, would only resort to conversation once, and then could never bear to disagree with me in person again, instead resorting to cowardly e-mail. Additionally, for anyone who chose to revive the subject -- and they would always do it to nag or repeat themselves; never fresh material or actual arguments -- they actually caved in under the stress sooner. The fact that they were evading that we've had the conversation before made their stress shoot up to max immediately, and within seconds they'd quit the conversation, walk out of the room, etc.

My ignorance in not seeing this is what made me falter: I was actually winning, but because I went through the same motions over and over again I incorrectly saw a "unsolvable" conflict that I was actually making progress in. Most of all, I didn't know how to deal with the stress of it or wipe my slate, which caused me to falter and come undone. Now I know of meditation, written therapy, and all that, that can calm me.

In situations like these what I need to count on is that this person's irrationality will ultimately cause themselves to cave in, and over time they'll just get weaker and cave in sooner. An irrational mindset will be rife with painful emotions, and if my rational thinking ignites them into yelling and other tactics, then I should just stick to my guns since they're undergoing far more stress than I am, and if I hold tight they'll eventually have to cave in from the stress, as a person can't take it forever. That means giving up or walking away, thus living me alone and the victor. If the debate continues long-term, such as if they try to continually bring the subject up again, then I should still hold fast, for over time their stress just shoots up to maximum sooner, and they give in sooner, too. All I have to do is cleanse myself of my own stress, explicitly call out their rude mannerisms and push the topic back to civil discourse, and adjust myself according to their response.

Over the long-term, depending on how I deal with this person, I should also be very explicit as to why I'm adjusting my behavior towards them the way I am, if the negative relations continue and I have little option of getting away from it for the time being. For instance, I once lived for three years with a person who consistently pushed their emotional anxieties on me, demanding me to take make them feel better, and our relationship devolved to the point where I refused to be in the same room with them by and large. They were so heavily evasive they continued smiling and giggling at me despite the plainly obvious problems. As I adjusted my behavior, I see now that I could have perhaps kept their irrationalities more in line by explicitly stating conversation with them was too stressful, I stayed away to stay calm, that I refuse to go places with them due to their behavior, and so forth, and again I could have counted on the stress from their irrationalities to defeat themselves for me. They were very much aware of the problems, only able to ignore them since they made a deliberate effort to evade it, and calling them out explicitly for it would have collapsed their evasions and reduced their irrationalities due to all the stress. That would have been something worthwhile to try, since at the time I was unable to get away from them for some years.

As for professional consequences, I mentioned in my video that my lack of success professionally is probably due to my not asserting myself when I had the leverage, as I realized the vast majority of my bosses has always had a strange fear of me, and that I perhaps could have exploited that to nudge them. (For instance, at my last job I was virtually and almost literally the only person in the place they wouldn't yell at. When I was let go, they couldn't even do it in person and counted on a stranger to do it.)

When asking for values, such as a raise, from bosses, I was always extremely fearful and asked for very little, never pushing or pressing the issue, and, now having a lot more experience and knowledge, see that I could have gotten a lot more given what ability I contributed to the place. In many places I was absolutely essential talent, so I could have frightened them a lot more by threatening to leave than I thought I could've. The fear of consequences, such as cut hours or firing, for asking and pushing for what I deserved was bogus, for what I contributed was of such a necessity that they would have been cutting their nose off to spite their face, big time. Plus, in all that I've suffered I remain alive and well, so why not tolerate a few blows such as a slightly irritated boss to get the big prize? Next time I'll just assert what I want, hold my ground unless the boss rationally persuades me otherwise, and deal with whatever consequences there may be, for the boss will hurt himself more than I will in attempting to punish me for a rational and justified demand.

Though, what of screaming and unjust bosses in specific? At one workplace there was a boss -- *a* boss, not the boss -- who screamed at me for being unable to perform at unobtainable standards, and another boss who threatened to fire me based on distorted and dishonest points because she had a grudge against me. What to do about them?

Perhaps that's the time to just suffer the blows, for in acting on their irrationality to punish me they would have suffered more, and, in fact, even been punished for it while I could have been compensated. For instance, what if I protested against the screaming boss in a professional and justified manner and she sent me home? Well, since I was the best dishwasher there she would have had to send one, two, or even three people back to make up for my absence, perhaps even wash dishes herself late into the night. Since it was a busy meal period she would have tossed a wrench into the kitchen operations and made it harder for everyone to function, since some kitchen guys would have to go work in the dish pit and few were able to work at my speed. Best of all, the big boss would have chewed her out, even punished her for caving into her temper like that, for allowing her emotions to make her short-sighted. (She did, in fact, send me home the next day, had to have two guys replace me, and got chastised for it.) As for the irrational boss attempting to fire me, I could have easily taken the risk of offending her irrationalities and getting her to attempt it, as her action definitely would have been blocked or negated, and there's evidence she did try to fire me and the big boss declined her motion. Wallowing in her irrationality just led to impotent threats she couldn't act on, would be overturned, or get her scolded. I would have to suffer a slight lost of wages -- but it would have resulted, I think, in these bosses never bothering me again with their irrationalities. The screaming lady, in fact, treated me nicely ever after when she sent me home since she suffered professional consequences.

As such, I think I ought to be more bold, for when I work well and really hand my ability to a workplace there's no way a boss or manager can punish me without suffering some visible consequences on his side, whether it be a dip in work quality, slow pacing, anger from coworkers, and so forth. From now on, I'll work hard on practicing all that I've learned about good work and stress-relief, and make an offer my boss can't refuse since I'll know I have the leverage.

Now, what of violence? It's a fear that lurks in me for in that one workplace (with the screaming lady) I dealt with thugs whose personal issues were provoked by my character. I minded my own business, but just looking at me act and talk to others was enough for them to seek me out and harass me. They all attempted to physically intimidate me in some way, and one even tossed dishes at me. That behavior made me really hesitant, particularly because the bosses wouldn't prevent or deal with it effectively, thus letting it be ongoing.

I'm not sure how much I am at risk for violence, but I am concerned about it in wonder that it might provoke a thug someday, so I am going to practice a fighting style and physical fitness routine to bolster my defenses, and get me to actually have something to back myself up with. Minusing extreme scenarios like gun violence, if someone threatens me for minding my business in a way that offends him, and I cannot count on the police, a present authority, or to exit the situation, then I shall push myself to fight, to pop the balloon of their ego. I shall not be treated like that.

Though, in the workplace context it's difficult to know what I should've done. If I could somehow insert my present-day knowledge into myself then, then I would have threatened to quit immediately if the bosses wouldn't stop this behavior, for now I know of all the alternatives for sustaining myself and wouldn't feel so trapped with that employer. If he isn't going to punish thugs in the workplace, then he shall lose a competent worker accordingly and justly.

Mainly, however, I'm still going to focus on fostering my fighting confidence, for even if I never have to use my skills I'll have emotional security in their being there just in case.

However, in examining myself beyond these fears I realize that there's also some other things that I need to do in order to foster assertiveness and become more influential.

The bulk of what I'll have to do, I realize, is actually just exert myself at deliberate thinking. I think the majority of my problems with people is just purely a lack of practice. I'm very introverted, and I realize that living inside my head so much leaves me unpracticed in talking, getting accustomed to expressing my views, dealing with other people's irrationality, and so forth. Developing a robust personality is simply a matter of practice, and I weaken myself by allowing myself to think so much in contexts where I should be focusing on social skills. That's not to say thinking is bad. Rather, in social contexts I just go about it in a bad way that interferes with my ability to bond with other people, such as by being too quiet.

This is the kind of situation I've invented Deliberate Thinking exactly for. In DT, I need to create a kind of "people mode" where, at the appropriate times, I'm heightening my attention to focus intensely on people's mannerisms and reactions, what they're saying, their views and statements, how I could best conduct myself, planning out what to say, and so forth, and that should render my introspective powers to the service of being a better people person at least, and push me to practice a more visible personality for people to bond to, react to, and be influenced by.

Yes, yes, I know I'm making it sound overcomplicated, but not really. Because I'm so introverted I have to make a special effort to deal with people in a different way, and consequently I'll have to put far more effort into it since it doesn't come naturally or intuitively to me like it may to an extroverted person in contrast. The only thing I'll need to keep aware of is that I'll have to recharge myself competently afterwards, for dealing with people like that really taps into a special energy reserve of mine.

Additionally, here's where additional speaking and rhetoric practice may come in handy, as a mode to polishing myself to make myself more able to deal with people. The better my speaking and craft in words, the more influence and thus further ahead I can get.

So in altogether, what are going to be my concrete actions?

* I'm going to remember that when I witness irrational behaviors the person is showing his weaknesses, and that in persevering he'll eventually give up out of stress. I'll do my best to push it towards civil discourse otherwise.

* I'm going to take professional risks and nudge my bosses to get values that I deserve since, more often than not, I hold a lot of leverage in giving my competence in the way that I do, becoming essential talent, and I ought to be willing to deal with whatever blows I receive in order to get the big prize in the end.

* I'm going to practice a fighting style and physical fitness routine to bolster my confidence in my ability to defend myself and, when necessary and appropriate, not back down when intimidated, and again deal with professional risks to push bosses into doing the right thing if I deal with it in the workplace.

* I'm also going to practice some speaking mechanics (such as learning how to talk faster), rhetoric, and so forth to enable me to present myself better, increasing my ability to influence. Additionally, I'll look up recordings of people giving speeches, like the Alex Epstein, to see how the masters do it and how they handle irrationality.

There's still lots more thinking to be done, however. I will, perhaps, introspect further at length the ins and outs of dealing with other people, trumping over an introverted nature, how to identify and call out irrationality, and so forth, but this seems to be a good start at the present.

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