16 Mar 2015

on being assertive: tips + advice from two top agency executives

Working Desk

For most of my career my mentors and sponsors have been men. In 1997, I entered the workplace in an age where women were just starting to experience the taste of leadership, when they were told by various books and handsomely-paid speakers that they could “have it all” if they were ambitious enough. We had finally recovered from the cruel sartorial joke that were shoulder pads, yet most women still wore tights and sneakers on the subway. Having studied business with both men and women, have interned at some of the most prestigious investment banks alongside men, I didn’t yet understand that there was an invisible line between men and women. In the age of Bill Clinton and this burgeoning phenomenon called the Internet (we had one Internet terminal at Chase when I started and nearly all of us used Lotus Notes for email), I walked into the workplace blind. It was only when I noticed that I was one of few women in banking, it was only when I noticed the ascension of men to higher ranks with ease while women had to constantly prove their worth did I recognize that the divide, although in start contrast to years past, still existed.

It existed when I was #3 in an agency and I noticed that my aggressive, ambitious behavior was admonished while the same behavior from my male counterparts was praised and fostered. I felt that it was not only important that I be admired, but as a woman I must be liked; I must play nice. I must be the caretaker and nurturer while my male counterparts weren’t expected to assume the role of mother in the workplace. I must be assertive, but not too assertive, and after a while I started to get really frustrated.

Really frustrated.

That’s when I encountered my first extraordinary mentor, Anne Bologna. Anne is a bucket of awesome. She’s smart, passionate, assertive–all the things I want to be as a leader, but she doesn’t compromise. She refuses to play into a gendered role, and has given me confidence in my voice, my role, and more importantly, how to speak up for what I want and deserve. She was responsible for getting me involved with StraightUp, an informal organization that focuses on fostering women execs in the agency world. While I’m no longer interested in being part of the agency structure, the network and the advice are invaluable.

I’m really thrilled to share some tips and advice from a recent StraightUp discussion with Sarah Thompson (Global CEO of Droga5) + Emma Cookson (until recently Chairman of BBH New York). I was unable to make the event because I was stuck in a Miami airport, cursing out American Airlines (never again, people. NEVER AGAIN WITH THIS AIRLINE), but they were kind enough to share the notes from the meeting and they gave me permission to reprint them for you guys. Enjoy!

1. Being Assertive One-on-One (e.g. Negotiating a Raise/Promotion)

  • THINK OUTCOMES. Always decide beforehand what you want the outcome(s) to be. You’ll seem less in control if you go into a negotiation without that clarity, or if you go in thinking “I’ll see what (s)he suggests/offers after we’ve discussed everything”
  • SPELL IT OUT. Don’t assume they remember your track record or your merits. No one has time to care as much about you as you do. Remind them. Doing so is just confident and efficient. And it doesn’t have to come across as arrogant (make sure it doesn’t–you don’t need to be a d*!k) e.g. “When I look back over the last 6 months, what I feel most proud of is X, Y, Z”. “When we last talked you encouraged me to do X, Y, Z – which was really useful perspective and helped me achieve X, Y, Z”
  • GET THEM TO TALK FIRST. Typically, by asking questions upfront–even if just something like, “Before we start, can I be clear about what would you like to get out of this meeting?”/”How do you prefer to handle this sort of meeting”? etc. It is much easier to navigate a negotiation if you know the other person’s ingoing views and assumptions, and the tone they are going to adopt. So try to resist responding to questions that ask you to commit to your views before hearing a bit from the person you’re negotiating with PREP SOUNDBITES BUT NOT A SCRIPT. Have the (few – 5 or 6 ish) key points you want to make planned out in advance. In soundbites–so they are memorable and super-clear. Ready to use. It helps you feel relaxed and ready, and prevents you forgetting to cover a key point. But *don’t* plan a ‘speech’: if what you say is scripted, it will sound scripted–and sounding scripted sounds vulnerable.
  • PLANT SEEDS. Talk way ahead (months, years!) about your future ambitions–“one day I want to be head of dept”–so a path is carved out. A request is much easier to say yes to if it doesn’t come out of the blue. And a promotion/raise is much easier to give if you’ve known for months and years that the person seeking it is clearly ambitious.
  • 2. Being Assertive In Meetings

  • START SENTENCES RIGHT. Don’t start sentences with “I think”, just make the point. Same thing with ‘Do you think that….?”. And definitely avoid, “This might be stupid but…”: we all do it, but it means you’re immediately selling short what you’re about to say and making people question your self-confidence and competence. Really: it feels comfortable but it isn’t effective.
  • SPEAK EARLY. Try to find something to say early in a meeting–even if casual/trivial. Just hearing your voice aloud will make you feel more comfortable and will transmit that you are at ease/assured. And the longer you wait to say something, the more pressure that’s put on what you actually say eventually to feel impressive. REMEMBER YOUR CONTRIBUTION DOESN’T ACTUALLY HAVE TO BE BRILLIANT OR NEW IN ORDER TO IMPRESS. You can also confirm and/or question. e.g. Say out loud that you think what X just said was exactly right, for X reason. Or ask for something to be clarified. (Come to the meeting with questions prepared.)
  • PREPARE TO BE DIRECT IF OTHERS ARE AGGRESSIVE/DOMINEERING. Prepare specific phrases to deal with times when others are talking over you or taking over. And practise saying them out loud in advance so you know they’ll feel comfortable coming out of your mouth, e.g. “I don’t think this is a productive conversation.” Or “I haven’t finished ….”. Or, “Yes, I already said that.” IF NECESSARY, LET IT GO TO SHIT. If a meeting (or indeed a bigger situation) is just totally messy, rambling and/or out of control, don’t automatically jump in to try to help. Sometimes it’s better to let it go to shit. Don’t get involved if doing so risks you getting positioned as part of the mess/confusion. Stay quiet and aloof. Then intervene right at the end–or afterwards–with a concise observation and clear proposal to get to the right outcome. IF YOU ARE PRESENTING, TRY HAVING YOUR FIRST 2-3 SENTENCES MEMORIZED VERBATIM. That way, even if you are so nervous you lose all confidence and clarity when it gets to your section, you will still start off ok. And as soon as you hear yourself sounding OK–even just for a sentence or two–it will calm you and help you get into your stride
  • 3. Being Assertive Generally, Day-to-day:

  • BE YOURSELF. Although easy to say, hard to do–this one is vital. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. It just doesn’t work: you can always tell if someone is ‘adopting’ a style consciously–‘trying to be assertive’–and it just comes across as uncomfortable and unconfident, so it undermines your credibility. You can assert yourself in so many different successful ways, find your own: feisty and pushy? cool and unrufflable (often done successfully via strategic use of staying silent)? nonchalant and genial? You have to find your own personal style for being assertive/assured and it may not be at all aggressive.
  • DON’T CRY WOLF. In general, try to stay on even keel in your daily work so that when you really need to make a point/make something to happen, you can get loud and/or stroppy and it will be meaningful.
  • PRAISE YOUR TEAM. Publicly celebrating your team’s achievements (e.g. via an email to senior management) reflects well on you as well as them. It demonstrates personal confidence/leadership. And it is just the right thing to do….(In similar vein, a great way to be assertive in a meeting is to spot some other person who’s clearly trying to make a point but not getting heard – and make space for them: “I think Karen has something she’s been trying to say – Karen, what was it you wanted to add?”)
  • BE DISARMINGLY HONEST. This doesn’t work for everyone, but sometimes if you’re nervous or stressed it can help to just own it and be honest. There is a confidence in being able to admit your vulnerabilities without fear, no-one’s perfect, e.g. “I must admit I’ve been very apprehensive about this meeting…”, “As you can probably tell, I’m finding this situation very stressful…”
  • Photo Credits: First image via; Second image: Death to the Stock Photo.

    DeathtoStock_Desk3-618x411

    0 Comments

    1. Thank you for the excellent advice! I especially like the “think outcomes” point.
      Are there any blogs and online resources that you go to for career related inspiration that you would also recommend?

      Posted on 3.16.15 · Reply to comment
      • You’re welcome! Let me put some thought into this. At this stage in my career I tend to read articles in journals rather than go to websites. I normally peruse HBR (they have the best management and leaderships articles on and off, IMO). I also really like Fast Company, Inc., Entrepreneur, Business Week, etc. I personally tend not to go to blogs for career advice, but I know a lot of women quite like Levo League. Sorry! I wish I could be more helpful. If anything comes to mind this week, I’ll update the post to include it.

        On Mon, Mar 16, 2015 at 12:08 PM, love.life.eat wrote:

        >

        Posted on 3.16.15 · Reply to comment
    2. Gabriela wrote:

      Mhm, will have to see if I hit any of those points or not and what i can improve (there’s always room, right? :)) ). Thanks for the great article, hope to see even more great advice from you in the future. 🙂

      Posted on 3.17.15 · Reply to comment
    3. bushra wrote:

      Hi Felicia! I saw your tweet for feedback on the usefulness of these posts, can I just give a resounding yes and ask that you please keep them coming? And thank you so much for sharing, it’s very generous of you.

      Posted on 3.18.15 · Reply to comment
    4. gatster wrote:

      Great tips. I’m going to share them with my daughter even though I have a feeling she may not need them. She’s an accountant and chief comptroller at a Colorado energy company and she’s been fortunate enough to have worked with and for powerful women in almost all of the jobs she’s had.

      Posted on 3.19.15 · Reply to comment

    Leave a Comment

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    Instagram

    • It may only be 5:48am, but I woke to amazing news. I’m toasting with coffee and a scone this morning. I’m partnering with brilliant friends and marketers (eh-hem, @luciaioevans) on incredible projects, my pipeline is healthy, my mental health is aces since I got off all personal social media. Granted, I won’t be able to see humans for the next two months as I’m locked down with some major projects, but I am not complaining. I’m ELATED. It’s all happening!!!! Yay! Finally!!!
    • You guys. I’m having an incredible fucking year. I’ve published tutorials, thought leadership and essays I’m proud of, I’m working with incredible clients who are breaking ranks, I’m partnering with brilliant people on projects, my pipeline is healthy, my mental health is getting back on track, and I’m reorganizing my business so I can run it more efficiently. Sometimes you have to applaud the wins, especially when they’ve been earned.
.
.
#fuckhustle #worksmarter #brandstrategist #freelancer #crushingit
    • What a day! Ive been floored and humbled by the tens of THOUSANDS who viewed my 8-part brand building series on medium (link in bio)! I’ve heard from four university professors who want to incorporate my work as assigned reading, the people who were grateful not to have to spend $2K on some wack course taught by an “expert” whose only success example is their personal brand.
.
Today, I had a day of interviews that culminated in a presentation to the executive team. After it ended, several people asked if I’d considered teaching because I just delivered a master class on brand strategy.
.
It feels good to know your stuff but still have the hunger and drive as a student!
.
.
.
.
#brandstrategy #marketing #brand #freelancer #nofauxmarketer #therealdeal #beingboss
    • After a long week of hard work, I scored two new projects, paid some bills, wrote a ton, cheered my medium series, and planned for my trip east this weekend. Sometimes, you need a little chow reward, am I right?
.
.
.
#freelance #beingboss #ladyboss #werk #friyay
    • I am OVER THE MOON, my friends. Medium just published my collection of 8 comprehensive tutorials on how to build a brand. Here's why I did it.
.

Over the past year, I've seen faux marketers charge upwards of $2000 for courses on what I'm sharing for free. The difference being is that they haven't done the thing they're teaching for no one other than themselves and their personal brand. I've been doing this professionally for 20 years. And what makes me postal is the fact that what they're teaching is WRONG. If you don't know the difference between brand, branding, and brand platform, you shouldn't be selling a course on it. .

I also created this because $2,000 courses give access to an elite group of people. Not everyone can afford that kind of coin and I think knowledge should be shared and accessible by all. Especially if you're like me, privileged. I'm passionate about this to my core, and why you may think--meh, this is just a series of posts, it's so much more to me. It means people can learn for free or on the cheap. .

I'm sharing detailed tutorials, downloadables, graphics, and extensive vetted resources for further learning, including free online courses from MIT, Google, and more. You know, reputable brands.
.
Check out the collection via the link in my profile. If you like the tutorials, clap more than once and share. Thx!
.
.
.
#marketing #brandstrategy #branddevelopment #howto #contentstrategy #storytelling #research #freelancers #freelancerlife #beingboss
    • My freelance career is nearing its best-by date. This realization didn’t come from some climactic third act. Instead, it was an acknowledgment of a simple truth: everything expires. The shiny and new loses its sheen and pallor. What once made you bolt out of bed becomes the thing you run from screaming. You tally the things you keep losing, which loom large and incalculable. You’re bombarded by seemingly motivational Instagram quotes that tell you to keep working, keep hustling, keep pushing through it. What the platitudes neglect to add is that some battles should be abandoned. Sometimes it’s okay not to play your hand and to walk away from the table. There is a difference, albeit subtle, between what’s hard and what’s Sisyphean.
.
Yes, I want to go back to full-time. Yes, I have no idea how I’ll pay rent this week but I’m surprisingly calm because there are some things out of my control.
.
I do have a whole slate of morning interviews for a role back east later in the week so I’m pumped about that. Check out my new medium post (link in bio).
.
Image: cosmaa / Getty Images
.
.
    • I’m honestly crying tears of gratitude. I should tell you that I’m not a cryer. Unless it’s those Sarah McLachlan animal shelter commercials and then I’m a puddle. But I’m getting really excited about how this @medium series is coming together. I’ll probably top 50K words including the downloadable resources. And I’m even more humbled that my friend @lorissas (we’ve known one another since 2002 and we’ve worked together since my book publishing days) created these gorgeous custom graphics. I really want my collection branded in the blues and to reflect my vibe as much as possible. I’m spending my own $ to license photography and illustrations.
.
All because I’m really fucking tired of faux marketers who don’t know of what they teach. Or they teach what has worked for them, their blog or IG, which doesn’t necessarily translate to big brands. Then you have scammers who make it hard for the legit marketers who have to go through hoops because companies have gotten burned by incompetence.
.
I also want to make use of my educational privilege. I went to an excellent private college and Ivy League graduate school. I had the privilege of working for brilliant marketers, from whom I learned everything I know. And I want to share that as much as possible. For free. This is my goal in 2019–create and share tons of pedagogical content. For free.
.
I’m so excited!!!!! Shout out to @omgstephlol for believing in my vision and putting up with my craziness.
.
.
.
.
#fuckfauxmarketers #makinguseofmyprivilege, #brandstrategy #marketing #marketingtips #strategy #thehustle #freelance
    • THIS WEEK. Well, let’s see... I wrote a total of 32K words, accepted an offer to be one of a few operating owners of a funded content start-up (no $ now but I think this will blow up), I had another interview with an agency in Philly and we talked money, balance, neuroscience and I like their vibe. I’m not moving cross country just yet so let’s all take a pause. I finished a good book, started another. Got my mammogram results back—no cancer! I got angry with my health insurance company like the rest of America. Part of me hopes I can get a full-time job so I can enjoy a consistent paycheck for a hot second. Celebrated a month off the sauce (let’s not get telenovela about this). I cleaned my house and burst into tears talking to my bankruptcy attorney because apparently no one cares that you’ve been making on-time payments for over a year and you’re going through a rough patch. It stormed and I loved it and prayed for more rain. It’s sunny now. I have a first line for a new chapter but I can’t write because all I’m thinking about is work and how I’ll make rent. But here it is: “Love in their home had become its own form of violence.”
.
I met up with @bhatmon who always makes me smile and if I move back east she’ll be the one true thing I’ll miss. I listened to podcasts, read science articles, and wished that I could get a neuroscience degree but a kind reader pointed me in the direction of MIT’s free classes so I’m jazzed. I emailed a rescue service and filled out an adoption application but no one ever wrote my back so that made me sad.
.
I have no idea how I’ll at for anything but I can’t freak out over that which I can’t control and like that. And love is kind of violent if you really get to thinking about it.
.
I’m annoyed that I’ve lived get for over three years and I haven’t seen nearly enough. And on it goes.
.
.
.
.
#weekendvibes #weeklyrecap #realtalk #instayum #thehustle #amwriting but am I?

    Follow Me!