Mohicans Do Not Call Themselves Subject to Much at All

Mohican wisdom – at least how it is presented in the Last of the Mohicans movie – features heavily in our communication workshops. With fierce independence in mind, this blog post follows on from my 5 Assertiveness Techniques post, and includes assertive power words that you can adopt immediately as part of your efforts toward living and working in the way that suits you just like the Mohicans did.

Mohicans and Freedom

In my favourite film, Last of the Mohicans (which includes some blood-stirring assertive lines), the hero Hawkeye answers a tricky question with:

I do not call myself subject to much at all. Hawkeye

Fear not. I am not advocating anarchy (except maybe in your mind). Far from it. I am, however, advocating freedom to make your own choices (and take the consequences responsibly without blaming others); freedom from blame and being asked to live someone’s wasted life over again for them; and freedom from guilt bestowed by unrealistic expectations of your role, whatever that might be.

“I” Statements

Compare You have not spoken all morning with I notice that you have not spoken all morning. “I” statements show three things:

  • It’s your observation
  • It affects you, personally
  • Therefore, it’s non-negotiable

I ain’t your scout. And we sure ain’t no damn militia. Hawkeye

Combining “I” statements, in order under the following headings, can be very powerful:

  • Situation.
    I have noticed that you talk loudly over me, when I’m trying to respond to your comments, in project planning meetings.
  • Interpretation.
    I conclude from this that you are not interested in my priorities and concerns when planning projects.
  • Feelings.
    I feel undervalued and embarrassed infront of the team, when this happens.
  • Wants.
    I want you to give me opportunity to express my suggestions and viewpoints and listen more patiently.
  • Future (consequences).
    I am not prepared to be involved in future projects with you, if this continues to be the case.

Use “I” statements when you want to assert yourself in a conflict situation, or one where you feel you are not normally or likely to be listened to. It is a great way to start a conversation, especially when you are expecting it to be awkward. It sets a straightforward, direct and personal tone. It is difficult for people to get around what you are saying.

Saying No

Why do we find this word so hard to say? Probably because people are not used to being denied their wishes, we are not used to putting ourselves first in any situation and we want to be liked. Consider all the negatives. This is what we are afraid of. And, this might often be what we get.

Decide what you want in the workplace, and say “No” to the rest.

For those of you who are looking to develop a long-term strategy for how to survive at work, assertive behaviour is the only thing that will work. Aggression will alienate you from many, and you’ll be feared or tolerated rather than truly listened to. Passivity will mean people won’t know what you stand for, and will tend to take you less seriously as an effective member of the team.

Avoid saying No+.

What’s No+? No+ any excuses, apologies, equivocations or meandering explanations. In a situation where you need to put over a strong image, you will only weaken your message. And, you may create an opening for someone to solve that problem for you, thus leaving you in a situation where you can do nothing but revert to “Yes”.

Finally, it’s clever to consider the pros and cons of saying “No”. How much will it cost you? How much will it benefit you? It may be easier to say yes, all things considered. Just make sure that it is your choice.

The Conditional “If”

There is great widsom on qualifying what you say. In that way, you will avoid equivocation. Clear and direct communcation is what assertiveness is grounded in. Think carefully about what you will say, and preface it with an If statement a condition that must be met before you will do what you say. It is implied that if what you ask does not happen, then you will not follow through with your side of the bargain either.

This power word leaves little room for misunderstanding. It is direct, and you may not win any popularity competitions.

Yes I do, I know exactly what what I’m saying, and if it is sedition, than I am guilty of sedition too! Cora Munroe

However, remember, someone’s negative response or feeling to your assertive power words is their responsibility. Do not attempt to pacify someone who is angry because you are using assertive language.

If you prepare the budget, I will deliver the presentation and field questions.

If you continue to yell at me, I will walk away. We can discuss this later.

The Conditional “When”

In the same way, “when” is a mightly little word. It pins the person down. It doesn’t let them go until they’ve answered. And, there really is little scope for them to be vague and general.

I’ll get the report done.


It’s simple, it gets straight to the point. You can also use it to make conditional threats. We recommend removing all tomahawks from the vicinity!

When the Grey Hair is dead, Magua will eat his heart. Magua

The Assumptive “Thank-you”

Do you ever remember your art teacher at school asking you to put away the paints at the end of the day?

Remember to wash the brushes thoroughly. Thank-you!

Saying thank-you in advance shows you are assuming what you ask will be done. It’s a done deal. There’s no discussion necessary. And, it’s an extremely polite way of getting what you want. It’s very powerful when combined with a command (verb, e.g “wash” or “email me”).

Consider this:

May I have a copy of your presentation?

Your listener can refuse.

Email me a copy of your presenation. Thank-you.

This makes it more difficult to refuse, since you sound as if you’re assuming they’re going to comply.

If you’d fed up “livin’ by another’s leave” (Hawkeye) and if you’d like help wth developing some powerful verbal tactics of your own, get in touch.

Photo by Lakeisha Bennett on Unsplash

How to Be Brave

Captain Frederick Marryat (July 10, 1792 August 9, 1848) was an English novelist, a contemporary and acquaintance of Charles Dickens, and is noted today as an early pioneer of the sea story. He is best known for the autobiographical novel Mr Midshipman Easy and his children ‘s novel The Children of the New Forest.

Why am I telling you this? Because it gives some context to one of the powerful quotes on courage and overcoming fear that I ‘ve ever read. These words come from Teddy Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States of America, and an incredibly brave man.

Having been a rather sickly and awkward boy, I was, as a young man, at first nervous and distrustful of my own prowess. I had to train myself painfully and laboriously not merely as regards my body but as regards my soul and spirit

When a boy I read a passage in one of Marryat ‘s books which always impressed me. In this passage, the captain of some small British man-of-war is explaining to the hero how to acquire the quality of fearlessness. He says at the outset almost every man is frightened when he goes into action, but that the course to follow is for the man to keep such a grip on himself that he can act just as if he were not frightened. After this has been kept up long enough, it changes from a pretence to a reality, and the man does in fact become fearless by sheer dint of practising fearlessness when he does not feel it. (I am using my own language, not Marryat ‘s.)

This is the theory upon which I went. There were all kinds of things of which I was afraid at first, ranging from grizzly bears to ‘mean ‘ horses and gun-fighters; but by acting as if I was not afraid I gradually ceased to be afraid. Most men can have the same experience if they choose.

So, to put it in American English, you ‘fake it until you make it ‘!

In my opinion, it offers one of the chief ways to develop confidence in yourself as an individual. And it ‘s not just fluffy sentiment and wish-fulfilment. There is a sound psychological basis for it. Read what Williams James, American psychologist and philosopher, had to say about it.

Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can regulate the feeling, which is not.

Thus the sovereign voluntary path to cheerfulness, if our spontaneous cheerfulness be lost, is to sit up cheerfully and to act and speak as if cheerfulness were already there. If such conduct does not make you feel cheerful, nothing else on that occasion can.

So, to feel brave, act as if we were brave, use all of our will to that end, and a courage fit will very likely replace the fit of fear.

These are some of my favourite quotes ever. What do you think of them?

Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash

5 Assertiveness Techniques

Last Wednesday and Thursday, Allen and I took our first, joint workshop. The topic was Assertiveness and Workplace Confidence. Assertiveness Techniques is a small part of one of eight sections which made up the workshop.

It’s all very well knowing that you have the right to express your thoughts or opinions and that by dressing right, standing tall and using your voice and tone to help your case, you are presenting an assertive image.

But, what do you SAY?

Here are five techniques for getting your point across assertively. Do we teach all we read or know about? No, we only teach what we’ve tried and proved ourselves. The following techniques work!

Repeat to Fade

You may have read about this technique before. It’s more usually known as The Broken Record Technique. The basic premise is that people will get the message after three attempts. he key is to repeat your words over and over, without substantially altering too much, and without elaborating.Sweetheart, you must come to the work dinner.

“Sweetheart, you must come to the work dinner.”

No, I am not (1) going.

Aww… Please…

No, I will not (2) be there.

We’ll all miss you…

Like I said, I am not (3) going.

In What Situation is This Useful?

Those who are extremely persistent will be less likely to hound you to do things you’d rather not, if you use this technique consistently. Avoid the temptation to give reasons why. If you do, you may find the person tries to solve the problem making the reason defunct forcing you to capitulate.

Failsafe Instruction Blueprint

Consider the scenario: you’ve just completed an important meeting. You’ve been up a few late nights, feel drained of energy and you’ve yet to chair the director’s conference on Friday.

Address the person by name. (Charlotte…)

Tell them what you want. (I want the report completely typed up, proofread and printed…)

Tell them when you want it. (… by 11am on Wednesday morning.)

Tell them why you want it. (It is for the directors’ conference on Friday morning.)

Say thank-you. (Thank-you)

In What Situation is This Useful?

Those who lack motivation or the skills to work unsupervised will respond well to this technique. Keep the communication precise and clear, so there is less room for miscommunication.

Negative Assertion

Turn the power of the opponent around to your advantage, as in martial arts!

This technique involves assenting to the part of what the person says that you agree with. You are still being assertive by not agreeing to the rest by refusing to mention it. But, you are being very clear in what you are agreeing to, by being specific.

“You’re rubbish at writing letters!”

This letter was rubbish.

In What Situation is This Useful?

Those who make broad sweeping statements like this are acting like a critical, judgmental parent would with a child. It pays dividends to act like the adult by assenting to what you can and ignoring the rest. It is not helpful to get into a discussion about the words “always” or “never”.


Create a fog around what someone says to you, by recognising their need or priority, but stating that yours is more important.

I realise this is important, but it is not as important as…

I know this is a priority for you, but my priority is…

In What Situation is This Useful?

When you want to recognise the other person’s position but force them to recognise that yours is more important for you. It is a way to avoid being manipulated.

Negative Enquiry

This is a way of focusing the negative statement back on the person. It forces them to give examples of what they mean. If they are unable to do so… then it’s probably just a nasty, personal attack.

“You’re useless.”

In what way, specifically?

In What Situation is This Useful?

It is a way to get constructive criticism, or real feedback, that you can do something with.

Do You Want to Learn How Not to be Quite So Darn Amiable!

These techniques work. In the UK, we’re taught to be amiable, often at the cost of our own comfort and mental well-being. We learn to become passive, in the light of the aggressive and unreasonable words and behaviour of others. Or, we turn aggressive ourselves, in a vain attempt to defend ourselves against attack. Neither is effective.

These techniques provide alternative methods for dealing with people we live and work with. The goal is to become assertive by being able to state our case, without being overcome with emotion or ineffective through vagueness. The assertive person has something to say, says it calmly and succinctly and then stops.

Let us know how you get on with these techniques. Check out 5 Power Words and or Assertiveness page.

Leah Totten Won

I’m no Claude, but here are a few suggestions why I think Leah triumphed over Luisa.

Leah Totton was cast as the quiet, even cold, one during The Apprentice 2013. It’s true that we’re not known for our effective assertiveness skills in NI. But, cold!?

First, let me explain why Leah may have been artlessly pegged as the quiet, cold one.

Allen‘s Granny Used to say That Everybody Has to Be *Something*

In order for the media industry to invent headlines and concoct a story, everyone has to have a character, a physical flaw, a quirk (Alex’s quirky eyebrows, Jordan’s impressive quiff, Tim’s physical energy, Myles notable “abs”).

We don’t know these people, and so we latch on to something obvious about them in order to love, hate and gossip. It’s what makes normal entrepreneurs begin to screech at the screen… “No!”, “Agrgh!” and “Oh, wise the flip up!”. Ok, that’s only at my house…

In Quietness and Confidence Shall be your Strength

This is one of my all-time favourite ancient texts, written by an eighth century BC prophet. In defence of quietness:

  • Quietness does not mean silence. Leah Totten was not silent. She was articulate. And, choosing her words carefully, spoke when necessary, avoiding the temptation to splatter the atmosphere with clich√©s, business speak and wearying truisms.
  • Volume does not invoke wisdom. That much is clear in our workplaces, cafes, homes and neighbourhoods. And, those who used volume on the show to get their point across? Did it work? On the contrary, a loud voice used consistently is boorish, intimidating and stressful. Content often gets sidelined.
  • When a quiet person speaks, people listen. Leah was listened to because she made sense, she consistently referred the team back to the point of the task (usually, selling) at key stages.
  • Lest we forget, introversion is not a disease; it is a tendency or preference.

For Cold, Read Calm

Business shows on the telebox past and present have included candidates who were:

  • Loud and contentless
  • Confident to the point of pantomime
  • Argumentative like it was an Olympic sport

Leah’s peaceful demeanor, physical stillness, immaculate personal presentation contributed to Lord’s Sugar’s confidence in her.

Tranquil, Self-Assured and Stylish

Though apparently maligned on the show due to her medical career (why invite her onto the show??), my guess is that the following skills are crucial in a highly-charged environment of healthcare:

  • Whose office would you rather be in when bad news is delivered? One of tranquility, or one of noise?
  • Physical stillness is one of the assertiveness techniques we teach on seminars. Those who flail around are sometimes taken as nervous, threatening or bonkers (when combined with idiotic language and contentless monologues). Keeping physically calm exudes confidence and self-assuredness. It reassures the listener. (Incidentally, Karren Brady also employs this technique.)
  • Again, in business, we select clothes, style hair and adopt a personal presentation that enhances our message, rather than detracts from it. Have you read the dress what you want to become mantra? This underscored Leah’s determination to win. She already looked like a winner.

In my book (as Nick would enunciate), despite many candidates’ best attempts, it wasn’t bombast or slickness that won the day. It was a clear-thinking communicator, with little business experience, who listened to requirements of the task and interpreted them consistently to achieve excellent results.

A Woman on a Rampage

In the final, she was “a woman on a rampage” (Alex). Hardly quiet or cold!

In true Leah Totten style, and celebrated by those on the introversion spectrum everywhere, after the final she said, “I ‘m not really a big partier.”

Well done Dr Leah. 🙂

Proof For ‘Fake It Until You Make It’!

It’s the stuff of cheesy, pop-psychology legend. ‘Fake it until you make it’! Yeah, right! Excuse me if I refuse the snake oil and select a sick bag instead. Only one problem. It seems to be true.

First there was Aristotle:

“Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting a particular way. We become just by performing just actions, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing brave actions.”

Then the experiences of Teddy Roosevelt and the observations of William James. And finally, Robert Greene’s power law 34 :

“Be royal in your fashion: act like a king to be treated like one.”

I’ve recently read an excellent book by Richard Wiseman called 59 Seconds: Think a little, Change a lot. In it he gives many examples of such ‘proprioceptive psychology ‘. Not only certain thoughts and emotions cause regular behaviours, but the causation works the other way around too! He quotes dozens of academic studies that demonstrate, among other things, that:

  • the act of smiling makes you feel happier
  • arm crossing increases persistence and performance
  • lying down increases creativity
  • increased heart rate and eye contact lead to love

In each of these cases, we’re progammed to think that the internal feelings come first, and that the body language is an expression of what already exists. Not necessarily. You – or someone else – can make these feelings occur by practising the behaviour.

I’ve found another confirmation of this in an article Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect NeuroendocrineLevels and Risk Tolerance. The gist of it is that those who adopt typical power poses – demonstrating expansiveness and openness – experience heightened levels of testosterone and lowered levels of cortisol. The first increases competitiveness and openness to challenge, while the second deals with stress.

Let me put it plainly. Adopting certain non-verbal communication patterns doesn’t just change how you feel. Deeper than that, it alters the chemistry of your body and brain.

IMHO that’s the real power of body language – what it does to you! How you then go on to influence other people is a secondary product of this.

Fake it until you make it. Easy on the cheese… heavy on the chemicals!

Image credit: gnuckx.


Since working with Aware Defeat Depression on the Mood Matters programme, I’ve been looking for another opportunity to get involved with a mental health organisation. Recently an opportunity arose for a Sessional Trainer with CAUSE. I’m delighted to announce that I’ll be working with CAUSE on two of their programmes.

Resilience for Carers

This one day course examines our ability to bounce back from setbacks and the impact that resilience and emotional intelligence can have on your role as a carer. Using real life examples, it helps us realise the skills we are currently using and motivates us to build on those to support our caring role.

Carers Course PREP

“The CAUSE Carers course consists of six short lively modular workshops with interactive discussions, guest speakers and information on the fundamentals you need as a carer of someone with a serious mental illness.”

Read more about training for carers at CAUSE.

Resilience Authors

The one of particular interest to me is the Resilience topic, since Sensei already delivers the topic to organisations across Ireland. For me, resilience is best defined using some of the most inspiring thinkers I’ve read:

  • Langer, On Becoming An Artist in which she talks about enjoying the now, without stressing about the outcome
  • Langer, Counterclockwise in which she talks about our society’s distasteful tendency to discard the old and remove all choice from their lives, and shows a better way that alleviates (and sometimes heals) the natural ageing process and fosters happiness at all stages in life
  • Goleman, Emotional Intelligence in which he posits EI as the source of success, contentment and progress in life, relationships, communication and work
  • Seligman, Learned Optimism in which he argues for a conscious route to a more productive, creative life through the discipline of optimistic approach to life

If you’d like to arrange a Resilience workshop for your workplace, contact us.

How to Create Confidence at Work

Confidence is not something that one generally develops overnight. It’s something that’s been formed through years of experiences and interactions, based on who you are, how you feel, how others respond to you, and more.

Many people suffer from confidence issues, especially in environments where they feel they don’t have a great deal of power. One of the prime examples of this is within the modern workplace, where not everyone feels valued and appreciated in such a way that breeds a confident attitude.

Confidence in the Workplace

This is a problem for a lot of people that want to get more out of their work life. The reality is that confidence is a highly valued commodity in the business world. Confident men and women tend to be able to impress their peers in such a way that they’re treated fairly and given every opportunity to succeed, while those that let their anxiety overcome them often find that they’re being overlooked for greater opportunities.

It’s important that you find a way to tap into your inner confidence. Yet often that’s easier said than done. Below are several strategies for becoming a more confident person in your office.

Office Strategies

  • Fake It The mind is an amazing tool, and one of its strangest qualities is its ability to adapt to the way you act. Faking confidence (pretending to be someone that’s confident even when you’re not) actually has the ability to create genuine confidence, because your mind adapts to that confidence level in order to be more comfortable with the way you’re acting.
  • Embarrass Yourself One of the most common anxieties people experience when they’re not feeling confident is the fear of embarrassment. To get over that fear, you need to get used to embarrassment so that it no longer affects you. A strategy would be to go to a nearby town and sing an embarrassing song for karaoke. Eventually, you get used to feeling embarrassed, so it’s not something that you’ll be worried about.
  • Start Strong Everyone has moments where they’re actively trying to be confident. The issue is that many people give themselves a “load time” where they sit and prepare themselves for being confident before they ultimately make the leap. For example, in a morning meeting, the person sits there longer and longer trying to get themselves ready to be confident. Unfortunately, this load time tends to have the opposite effect, causing the anxiety to be worse. When you know you need to be confident, the best thing to do is start strong introduce yourself loudly and openly the moment you walk in and start sharing right away. This will get you into confidence groove that is far more beneficial for improving your overall confidence levels.
  • Relieve Outside Anxiety Anxiety is a cumulative condition, so the more anxiety you experience in any one component of your life, the more anxiety you can expect to experience in another area of your life. It’s not always possible to reduce workplace anxiety, but you can cut down on your life anxiety in general. Focus on ways to become a more relaxed person and get help for your anxiety in your personal life, and your work life is certain to see the benefit.

Confidence is not always something that comes naturally, and there’s no denying that it’s not as easy as saying “speak up more” or “talk to people.” It’s something you have to essentially retrain yourself to do. So consider the above strategies for increasing that confidence, and you’ll often find that over time your overall ability to control your anxiety in your work life will be possible.

[box type=”bio”] This is a Guest Post written by Ryan Rivera. His anxiety at work was troublesome, and affected his career path and prospects. Now he talks about anxiety with others at[/box]

There ‘s More to Decisions Than Deciding


It ‘s interesting that many of the skills learned in management training classes are applicable outside the work and business environment. Communication, problem-solving, negotiation they are all intrinsic to our everyday lives in one form or another. Perhaps in no other area is this so clear as in decision-making. From deciding what to eat and when to sleep, this selective process stretches up to what to buy, where to work and how to respond to others all matters of great importance in the business realm. Continue reading “There ‘s More to Decisions Than Deciding”

There’s More to Decisions Than Deciding


It’s interesting that many of the skills learned in management training classes are applicable outside the work and business environment. Communication, problem-solving, negotiation, they are all intrinsic to our everyday lives in one form or another. Perhaps in no other area is this so clear as in decision-making. From deciding what to eat and when to sleep, this selective process stretches up to what to buy, where to work and how to respond to others, all matters of great importance in the business realm. Continue reading “There’s More to Decisions Than Deciding”

Assertiveness and Workplace Confidence

We are holding a workshop – Assertiveness and Workplace Confidence – at QUB, Belfast on Wednesday 18-19 February.

The realities of modern work life – flat structures, tough workloads and the need to exert influence across traditional boundaries – ensure that assertiveness skills are not an optional extra. Aggression is unacceptable; passivity is ineffective. In this workshop you will learn an powerful set of techniques and how to use them in specific workplace scenarios, such as when negotiating or influencing. also covered are the relationships between assertiveness and more general work-related issues, like the conflict created when giving criticism and receiving feedback. Continue reading “Assertiveness and Workplace Confidence”

Narcissism is Good for Business

Love, love me do. You know I love…me!

I love taking things to the extremes, adding a bit of spice to an otherwise bland, mediocre, middle-of -the road mindset. Yes, I know that everyone else says this, but I mean it. That’s why, for example, at BizCamp Newry 2012 I advised entrepreneurs to develop their narcissistic tendencies. Then I read a BBC article in defence of narcissim. Maybe I’m not so rad after all; let’s see.

Narcissism is usually defined as a mental illness or personality disorder. Some psychologists do admit that there is such a thing as healthy narcissism, “the healthy narcissist being someone who has a real sense of self-esteem that can enable them to leave their imprint on the world, but who can also share in the emotional life of others.” Without such a foundation of self-esteem, the narcissist acts from a place of resentment and repression rather than authentic self-respect.

In practical terms this means developing the constant habits of:

  • receiving positive feedback with a ‘thank you’ rather than a ‘yes, but’
  • allowing others to share in celebrating your achievements and victories
  • thinking big about what you want to accomplish in this life
  • admitting when you know more about something than others

So far, so trite? Then try these.

  • relishing those aspects of your personality, taste and style that set you apart from everyone
  • asserting your self-defined rights and values in the face of indifference or opposition
  • acknowledging that you are the centre of your universe (like everyone else!)
  • refusing to let others waste your time, contaminate you with negativity or bore you out of mere politeness
  • feeling good as you overcome obstacles and increase your power over self, circumstances and others
  • using others to achieve your goals while allowing elective reciprocation
  • constructing viewpoints that are unique and provocative
  • finding a purpose or mission that you will surrender to no-one on this earth

At least, this is what ‘healthy narcissism’ means for me (which is all that matters after all…)

Narcissism is hot topic is business since Michael Maccoby wrote an article in The Harvard Business Review called Narcissistic Leaders: The Incredible Pros, the Inevitable Cons. He also wrote a business book called The Productive Narcissist: The Promise and Peril of Visionary Leadership. Leadership is really where narcissism and business meet for most writers. For a more negative appraisal of this relationship, read the article Narcissistic Leaders: Effectiveness and the Role of Followers by Ben Brown. This is an issue with which business coaches in particular need to grapple.

Are you a narcissist? Take this free, online tests to find out – the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. My score was 25 out of 40, higher than 87.8% of the sample. The average is around 16. I scored high on authority, self-sufficiency, superiority and entitlement, but low on exhibitionism and exploitativeness, with a near zero on vanity. Now I know what I have to work on. What about you?

Image credit: centralasian.

Find a Way or Make One

Hannibal, a 3BC military leader, when faced with an apparently insurmountable problem – the Alps – said:

I will either find a way or make one.

In his mind, the answer to an obstacle in the path and the lack of means to overcome it was not to retreat, surrender, or wail. How can we imbibe some of his grit?

  1. Quit moaning and do something productive toward your goal instead.
  2. Stop agonising over the negative comments of idiots.
  3. Spend less time with those whose vocabularly is frequented by can’t.
  4. Avoid following others. Become an inventor. And, get the news out there.
  5. Don’t give up at the first failure.
  6. Take advice from experienced people, but don’t be afraid to ignore it.
  7. Trust your gut.

I’m a fan of jumping in at the deep end.

Image credit: antmoose.