Become A CPA

Become A CPA

DESC: Your Script for Becoming More Assertive

by Monette Anderson | Jan 23, 2018
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A co-worker keeps interrupting you during your presentations, and undermining your authority. An office-mate is throwing you some serious shade every morning when you arrive to work. Your teammate on an out-of-town assignment keeps suggesting Italian restaurants, and you are gluten intolerant.

How you respond to situations like these can mean the difference between managing partner and office doormat. The key is to assertively establish and maintain boundaries. Assertive people stand up for their rights, needs, and wants without infringing on the rights of others. They look for win-win outcomes and approach conversations and negotiations in a calm and positive way. They know that being too passive leads to less confident decision making in social relationships, as well as lower achievement and promotion in a workplace environment. They also know that being overly aggressive by blowing up easily, failing to show appreciation of others’ efforts, or failing to respect others’ rights and opinions is a surefire way to earn the reputation of office bully. Being assertive is all about finding the middle ground between these two extremes.

How can you learn to be assertive? The first step is being willing to speak up for yourself. While it may be tempting to say nothing and just move on, remember that it is difficult to excel at your career if you’re exhausted and harboring resentments. Establishing and maintaining boundaries protects you by allowing you to focus on your values and preserve your energy, both physical and emotional. Most of the time, an infraction of your boundaries is not a personal insult, and, with the right approach, it can be a valuable opportunity to stand up for yourself by having an open conversation and finding a positive outcome for everyone involved.

The DESC Method of Conflict Resolution

The DESC method can help you frame these conversations for success. The DESC method is a script created by Sharon and Gordon Bower in their book Asserting Yourself that is now widely taught in communication courses. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Describe the behavior or situation. Be objective and keep it to the facts.
  • Express your feelings or observations about the behavior. Keep in mind that using “you” statements is judgmental and immediately puts the other person on the defensive. Try to use “I” statements to describe how you feel.
  • Specify what the ideal outcome would be. What do you want or desire from this scenario or the other person? Remember to consider their thoughts and motives.
  • Consequence or compromise. Explain what the consequences will be should the offending behavior persists. Positive or negative consequences may be appropriate. It may also be appropriate to suggest a compromise.

How to Use DESC

To get started, think of a conversation you need to have with someone. You may think of a professional or personal example. Write out what you would like to say according to the steps in this script. Then, use what you wrote to practice the confrontation with a friend or family member. Try to find someone who can be objective about the conflict that you trust to give you honest feedback. Bonus points if the person you practice with is someone you respect for being assertive.

As an example, consider a situation where you and a coworker are giving a presentation, but your coworker keeps interrupting you. Before putting pen to paper, put yourself in the other person’s shoes and gauge their motives for the behavior. Was there a lack of coordination prior to the presentation? Could they have been concerned that you weren’t going to relay the necessary information or give them an opportunity for input? Once you’ve gotten a sense for why they might have been interrupting you, approach your coworker and say, “I wanted to talk to you about this morning’s presentation. Is now a good time?” Assuming you have the green light you may proceed:

Describe: This morning in the presentation, I noticed that you interrupted me several times.
Explain: I am feeling frustrated because it is not the first time it’s happened. I think these interruptions undermine my position and make us look disorganized.
Specify: In the future can we agree that you’ll wait until I’ve finished before adding your thoughts and comments, and I’ll be sure to ask if you have anything to add before I move on to the next section?
Consequences: I really think this will enable us to work better as a team. I enjoy working with you, and I don’t want this to get in the way of our success on this project.

What to Do When You’re Not Sure What the Problem Is

Some situations might require a more open-ended approach. For example, if you feel a coworker is being rude to you every morning, it can be helpful to approach the conversation in an open-ended fashion. In this scenario, you don’t know their motive for their behavior, so it’s a good idea to find out. You may approach them by saying:

“Hi Samantha. I’ve noticed that you seem on-edge when I arrive at work in the morning. Have I done something to upset you?” This gives Samantha a chance to clarify or explain. Samantha may remind you that she has a new baby that isn’t sleeping through the night yet, and she’s still a little on edge first thing in the morning. Your response can then be more empathetic. You might add, “I am so sorry to hear that, but I am relieved that it isn’t personal! I’ll wait to approach you with questions until I’m sure you’ve had your coffee to give you time to get your bearings.” Samantha may not have realized she was being terse, and this gives her an opportunity to set some boundaries.

A Few More Tips

When you speak, remember to make eye contact and convey your message with confidence and an even, controlled tone. Refrain from habits that undercut the authority of your message such as inserting the word “just,” or making your statements sound like questions. It’s also important to choose your battles and know when to let things go. Not every office annoyance is worth a heart-to-heart.

If these tips are failing to have an impact at your workplace and you find your message is not getting across, consider speaking with a trusted confidant at work to ask for their feedback about your approach. Alternately, consider that the company culture may not be a good fit for you. In that case, head on over to the WSCPA Job Board to start searching for your next opportunity.

Monette-Anderson-HeadshotMonette Anderson is the WSCPA Manager of Student Initiatives. You can reach her at manderson@wscpa.org.

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