Five signs you’re an HR pushover

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In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Amy Jen Su outlined several signs that indicate you might be seen as a pushover in the workplace – and how to resolve this.
Su – who is the co-founder and managing partner of Paravis Partners, an executive coaching and leadership development firm – highlighted five signs that suggest you may have taken the ‘nice guy’ image too far.
  • You kick yourself after the fact for not speaking up in a meeting. You only come to realize your point of view on something after the discussion is over.
  • You blame your colleagues for not giving anyone the chance to get in a word edgewise.
  • You feel overwhelmed and pulled in multiple directions especially as emails and requests for work or input come in.
  • Your calendar is full with back-to-back meetings and no time to focus on yourself or critical priorities.
  • Your peers get promoted before you.
According to Chris Lamb, HR director at LendLease, to deploy a powerful persuasion strategy that wins over your inter-office competitors, you have to word your requests in a way that decision-makers understand.
“Create a business case that makes sense and link that to the financial drivers of the organisation,” he previously told HRM.
This means engaging your stakeholders by being clear about ‘what success looks like’, said Right Management’s Rosemarie Dentesano.
“Might [success be achieved] through decreased use of sick leave, or improvement in employee engagement? With this information, you can develop the ROI to support the initiative,” she said.

If you fit the ‘pushover’ profile, how do you turn things around? Su had the following suggestions for improving your assertiveness in the workplace.

1. Take greater ownership. Rather than changing who you are, tap into a greater sense of responsibility to the business and those around you. Too often, we assume that it’s someone else’s job to weigh in and shape key decisions. Instead, assume that it’s yours. Don’t be afraid to step on toes. There is usually plenty of room at the table for ideas and input. Let go of being an order taker. Rather than waiting to be told what to execute or standing on the sidelines, get on top of the key issues affecting the company or your team, develop a recommendation, and share it with others.

2. Prepare ahead of time. Because you are more easily swayed by the opinions of others, spend time in advance of critical meetings to decide what you think. Ask yourself: What are the top three ideas about the topic to be discussed? Write down your beliefs and convictions so that you are clear in your thinking and you can access your ideas more quickly. Think of this like a mental filing cabinet — you are taking an extra step ahead of time to pull out the file you need rather than scrambling around in your mind during the discussion. Of course, when you’re in the meeting, don’t be so wedded to your ideas that you are inflexible. Listen to others’ ideas and use your beliefs to build off of theirs.

3. Increase your ability to advocate. You may be a natural in building rapport and connecting with others, but standing your ground requires flexing a whole different set of muscles. Learn how to advocate for your perspective more effectively. Frame your messages so that people immediately understand why they should care and how your idea ties to the bigger picture. Speak in tight bullet points (rather than circling around your viewpoint) so that you are crisp, articulate, and clear. Once you’ve made your point, invite others to weigh in to further refine your idea. You don’t have to be a pit-bull to be an effective advocate. In fact, coupling your good guy or gal demeanor with a sharp approach to communications will make you even more effective at persuasion. 

4. Hold your ground. Part of making and advocating for your point is holding your ground. When others are challenging you, you might start to feel knocked off center or backed up on your heels. You may be tempted to give into their perspective but that will only relieve that anxious feeling temporarily. Ask yourself: Is guilt, a desire for being liked, or fear of rocking the boat tugging you away from your own convictions?

If a colleague starts to push, dominate, or interrupt, let them finish but then don’t drop your idea. Loop back to your point. Or, if you need to, use a non-verbal cue, such as putting up your hand up to signal you are not done speaking. You could also say, “Hang on a minute, I’d like to finish this thought.” Stack the odds in your favor. Go to the room in advance and take a seat that is more in the flow of the conversation versus one on the sidelines.

5. Learn to say no graciously. If you are easily persuaded by others, chances are that it shows up on your calendar. How often are you being persuaded to attend a meeting or change your schedule to accommodate the needs of others? Never say yes or no in the moment. Buy yourself time to make a thoughtful decision rather than saying yes out of habit. Acknowledge the request, and if you need to say no, offer other alternatives. Watch out for phrases that your colleagues have come to know can easily persuade you, such as “I’m really stressing right now” or “This is urgent for me.” Your job is not to rescue or take on others’ problems. Offer your counsel, but be careful of always being the one who gives in.

“Being less easily persuaded won’t make you appear bullheaded or unpleasant to work with – quite the opposite.” Su advised. “By standing your ground and becoming more influential yourself, you do better by your team and the business and increase the overall respect and confidence others have in you.”

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