A salesperson might ask you how you are going because a polite greeting can lead to a conversation with you – about their product. For them, politeness is a sales tool, not an expression of warmth. We know that, yet many of us answer politely anyway, because we are taught to be polite. We go along with their manipulation for fear of appearing impolite. Often, there is nothing wrong with that; after all, courtesy is a good thing. Besides, the salesperson has to approach us somehow, and a friendly greeting is good way to do it. But let’s be wary. Let’s not continue to allow ourselves to be manipulated. Let’s be polite on our terms. We are not obligated to answer their questions.
Freeing ourselves from the habit of answering a person’s question is powerful tool that allows the balance of power to revert to us, becasue we can then we can take charge of the conversation. When we can resist the pressure to answer questions we protect ourselves while moving towards what needs to happen.
I am not suggesting we avoid answering everyone’s questions. Nor am I suggesting we be rude. (After all, being assertive means being respectful.) I am suggesting that when someone asks us a question, we can remind ourselves that we are not obligated to answer that question. When someone we don’t know rings and asks if we have had a good day we can ignore the question and politely ask the caller: ‘How can I help you?’ That brief response tells the caller two things:
“I will not be manipulated; I want directness and honesty.”
“I am willing to remain courteous, but not on your terms.”
There are many instances in which people ask us questions, because those questions are a powerful tool in their favour. Our job is to remind ourselves that we don’t have to answer their questions. ‘Thou Shalt Answer All Questions Posed To Thee’ was not one of the Ten Commandments Moses brought down from Mount Sinai. When we fully understand and accept that, we have another strong assertiveness skill at our disposal.
Telemarketer: ‘How are you today?’
You: ‘How can I help you?’ (Good. By refraining from answering their question you have taken charge of the conversation, and remained courteous.) (In real life, I suggest you hang up.)
Telemarketer: ‘Have you had a good day?’
You: ‘Yes thank you, but . . .’ Incorrect. It’s a manipulative question and you don’t have to answer it. Just repeat,
You: ‘How can I help you?’
Telemarketer: ‘Does your telephone bill eat into your budget?’
You: ‘I’m not interested.’ (That’s good. You haven’t answered their question. Instead, you have immediately moved to what needs to happen: to let them know you’re not interested.)
Telemarketer: ‘But wouldn’t you like to halve your phone bill?’
You: ‘Of course, but I’m not interested.’ Incorrect. You are not obliged to answer the question and it’s best for you that you don’t. For a start, by not answering the question it helps you get out of the habit of automaticallly answering questions! Besides, there is a chance an experienced caller will latch onto your answer and modify their spiel to suit.
You: ‘No, I’m not interested.’ Incorrect, because you answered the question. Try:
You: ‘I’m not interested.’ (Good.)
Let’s look at examples seen in earlier keys, to see how assertiveness skills overlap.
Ben: ‘Why won’t you lend me $20?’
You: ‘The answer is no.’ Good. Again, you have refused to answer Ben’s question and avoided a debate.
Ann: ‘Your refusal to help me cheat cuts me. Why won’t you help me?’
You: ‘I understand you feel hurt, but I won’t be helping you.’ (Good, you have acknowledged Ann’s distress and refrained from answering her question. You have kept the focus on your stance.)
Sue: ‘Can you help me with my homework, please?’
You: ‘I have other plans.’
Sue: ‘What other plans?’
You: ‘Instead of asking me about my plans, how about finding a solution to your problem?’ (Good. Instead of answering her question you have held your ground.)
How might you respond if someone says this to you?
“You have told me you’re not interested in our product, but why aren’t you interested?’
‘How can I persuade you to attend our special ‘timeshare’ night?’
Why do we need to be assertive? Find out why in ‘Don’t Live in Wimp City‘.
More assertiveness tips:
1. State what needs to happen from now on.
Don’t state the obvious. Focus on the future.
2. You are not obliged to give a reason.
We are taught to justify our decisions. Forget it!
3. Show the person you understand their point of view.
When they realise you understand them, they pressure you less.
4. Don’t run away.
Life isn’t like it is in the movies.
5. You don’t need to solve the other person’s problem.
If you do, there will be more pressure on you to be the solution.
7. Ensure your question is answered.
People are good at dodging questions, and most of the time they don’t realise it. Don’t let them get away with it.
8. Don’t be a citizen of Wimp City.
Are you a ‘sorry’?
9. Don’t be an ‘Are you sure?’.
Who is afraid of being a burden?
10. Don’t be a ‘Maybe’.
Have you ever said to a salesperson, “Maybe later?”
11. Get rid of the ums & ers.
Speak like you know what you are talking about.
12. Ask why.
Don’t waste your time trying to mind-read.
13. Ask for help.
That’s one good way to take responsibility for yourself.
14. Learn to say ‘no’.
We are taught to be compliant and co-operative. But that can be a problem.
15. Ask for something in return.
Favours are not tradeable commodities.
16. Accept compliments.
It’s a classy, assertive way to respond.