"5 Risk-Taking Exercises for ‘Nice Girls’"

**The following is an article featuring advice from Richard E. Byrd on what women can do to reach their potential**

“When people are afraid to be assertive in meetings, it’s often because they fear being seen as obnoxious and aggressive,” says Richard E. Byrd, a Minneapolis-based consultant and pioneering advocate of personal risk taking in organizations. “But the result is they are seen as jellyfish–compliant, easily manipulated and taken for granted.”

Too many managers don’t live up to their potential contribution in the workplace and have little impact on other people because they avoid taking risks, according to Byrd, who is also an advisory board member of the 3M Company’s Meeting Management Institute. “There’s a gap between what interpersonal risks we think we can take and still be accepted and valued and the actual acceptable limits,” says Byrd.

In his book, A Guide to Personal Risk Taking (available from the Richard E. Byrd Company in Edina, Minnesota; 612-925-1757), Byrd offers five exercises to help develop your self-assertion muscles. The exercises are for those who want to stretch toward more self-confidence and assertiveness while still being good team members.

• 1 State opinions with absolute conviction. Put your feelings of doubt aside, and practice stating an opinion that you hold to be 70-percent true in a 100-percent tone of voice: “We’ll have that shipment to you in 30 days,” or “That’s a waste of money.”

If you are wrong, people Will say, “Winifred may not always be right, but you know what she thinks.” If you are right people will say, “Hey, Winifred is right again.” she thinks.” If you are right people will say, “Hey, Winifred is right again.”

If challenged, repeat your assertion. Whether challenged or not, you will have an impact because your tone will often provoke more discussion on the topic and lead to a better decision.

• 2 Stop talking to yourself. Instead of letting negative feelings fester inside, deal with them immediately. In a dull meeting, for example, you may think to yourself, “How long will this confounded meeting last?” Chances are good that other people are feeling the same way. Interrupt and ask, “Is this meeting really necessary?” or “Can we set a time limit?”

Or perhaps you feel you have been put down in a meeting or when talking with someone one-on-one. Instead of saying to yourself, “What makes that so-and-so think he can talk to me like that?” say right away, “Excuse me, I must not have made myself clear.”

Expressing your feelings on the spot prevents you from inappropriately transferring your feelings to subordinates and loved ones. It also helps you avoid stockpiling feelings that can lead to a serious outburst later.

• 3 Be a prodigal child. Demand more from others rather than try to meet their demands. For example, ask for the resources you need to do the project instead of automatically trying to make do with what is offered. Don’t make allowances for people who are late or turn in inferior work. Demand your money back when you receive shoddy goods or services.

In making demands, you may feel brazen or unkind. But you will never appear as obnoxious to others as you do to yourself. The “I want” and “I need” tendencies are often destroyed early in life by well-meaning parents and teachers. We need to reawaken the self-seeking, narcissistic part of ourselves and balance it with the self-effacing, altruistic, helpful part.

• 4 Be a lousy listener. When someone is taking up your time by talking too much, look at your watch or roll your eyes. The person talking will get the message.,Polite listeners become easy prey for inconsiderate talkers. What’s more, by trying to appear polite, you become an inactive listener and thus inconsiderate yourself.

Another way to be a lousy listener is to wait for an opening, respond briefly to what the person is saying and then quickly change the subject: “Yes those assessments seem unfair. Which reminds file, what are we going to do about the mistakes on that financial report?”

Or when someone begins to make excuses for being late or not performing at the expected level, try saying, “I don’t want to listen. Just be on time.”

As a lousy listener be selective about use of your time. Don’t start a meeting or conversation until you and the participants agree on how long it will last. “I’ve got 20 minutes. Is that enough time?”

• 5 Avoid accepting the problem. Try not to accept responsibility for everyone’s feelings, and stop letting everyone lean on you. When someone begins to dump their negative opinions, try asking, “What can you do about that?”

Let’s say, for example, that a colleague constantly complains about the “unfairness of the system” and, by implication, holds you accountable. Decide whose problem it is–yours or the colleague’s. If it’s not your problem, don’t be a garbage can. Try asking, “How would you change it?”

Of all five exercises, the fifth probably involves the most risk. While the first four can be practiced with almost anyone at almost any time, the fifth should be practiced with family and friends before trying it with coworkers and strangers. Also you may need to plan out how to avoid accepting others’ problems and practice exactly what you can say to put your plan into action.

Byrd calls these five suggestions for risk taking “exercises” because he does not intend them to become lifelong habits. In the extreme, they can turn a person into a verbally aggressive, demanding, rude and callous troublemaker, but used in moderation they will help a “too nice” person grow emotionally and uncover hidden strengths.

In doing the exercises you risk angering or offending a lot of people. At worst, you could lose a job or spouse, says Byrd, “but that is unlikely unless you are reckless. You are most likely to discover, much to your surprise, that people will respect you more, think more of your judgment and be less likely to push you around.”

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