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If you fail to promote yourself or stop to recognize your accomplishments, we invite you to watch this three-minute video on creating short- and long-term systems to self promote:

What other techniques do you use to gain recognition?

(Our first conversation formulas were delivering constructive criticism and responding to criticism. This third conversation also has a companion video.)

self doubt spiral

Stopping the Self-Doubt Downward Spiral

Personal productivity is lessened when we’re trapped in a downward spiral of assuming the worst. Consider this formula to SNAP OUT OF IT! the next time you’re in this fix:

a. Write down the main points of the story you’re telling yourself, recognizing this is just a story, not facts.

b. Approach the main person in your story and say something like, “The story I’m telling myself is… Have I got that right?”

c. Allow the person to respond.

d. Continue the dialog, re-using the “The story I’m telling myself/hearing” phrase if necessary, until you’re both clear on how to move forward productively.

By delineating stories from facts, you’ll replace downward-spiral thinking with forward progress.

What phrases or techniques help you out of tight spots?

P.S. A Chicago PR man first introduced us to this idea. Then we read more about it in this book.

This is our second conversation formula–a structure to follow when emotions want to take over. (Our first was delivery constructive criticism. Our third is responding to self doubt.)

receiving criticism

Responding to Criticism

Accepting someone else’s feedback can trigger feelings of anxiety, anger, panic or distress for some. If you identify with those outcomes, this formula should prove invaluable. Transfer your cognitive energies toward using this technique, and you’ll dampen your emotive response.

a) Rephrase what you heard the other person say.

b) Ask questions (no statements; only questions!) to get greater clarification.

c) Thank them for the input (unless you’re not thankful).

d) After you’ve thought about it (on the spot or much later), tell them your plan for moving forward (if necessary).


a) What I heard you say is my leadership style wastes time in meetings and causes confusion for the team. b) Is that what you meant to say? Do you think this is true for all meetings, or for only those toward the end of projects? Roughly what percentage of time do you think is wasted on average? Do you think there are other contributors to this waste? What indicators are there that the team is confused? Have you experienced those indicators on projects outside of my team? c) I appreciate you bringing this up. I’m going to give it more thought.

By turning your attention to the mechanics of your response, you’ll replace involuntary responses with considered ones.

What techniques help you respond to appraisal?

Conversation Formulas

How clearly do you communicate when your emotions are intensified? How effective are you in uncomfortable moments. If you’re like most of us, your emotions try and sometimes succeed in overtaking your rationale thoughts. And that costs you in productivity, peace of mind, as well as in professional reputation.

When you have conversation formulas to fall back on, you can ground your emotions in the structure and communicate more accurately your feelings without complications.

Following is such a recipe: Delivering Constructive Criticism

Delivering constructive criticism can conjure feelings of fear, shame, guilt or worry for some. If you fall into that camp, this formula should help. Shift your brain into logically structuring your thoughts to fit this model, and you’ll suspend the emotional disorientation.

Feedback on an individual’s performance should answer these questions:

  • What are examples of what they do/say that gets in the way of achieving positive results?
  • What needs to change to achieve more positive results?
  • What’s the negative result of their not changing?

The following pattern answers the questions and makes it clear to the individual specifically what they need to change and what negative result he/she is producing:

a) Describe the current behavior
b) Describe what you’d like this person to do instead.
c) Give the person a few action-based ideas that might help them improve.



 a) During a recent production initiative, there seemed to be a lot of dissension between the different groups within your department’s team. Meetings became counterproductive when process/procedures previously agreed to were changed and roles/responsibilities were constantly shifted. Tension ran very high in the meetings.

b) I’d like to see you more involved in major agency initiatives, which will help bridge teams together in your department.

c) Take the lead in meetings, in rollouts that affect the entire agency, and reinforce roles and responsibilities in the project.

Stop self-defeating emotions in their tracks by focusing on the structure of the conversation you’re having and deliberating choosing how to respond.

What methods do you use to deliver feedback?

This formula was taken largely from a handout I received years ago in management training. The origin of the information is unknown, so I’m unable to properly source. Thanks to Vera @ Rapp Collins Chicago for sharing this valuable lesson with me.

We also explore formulas for responding to criticism and self doubt.

Assertiveness technique: dig deeper

This is the final post in the Dr. Manuel Smith, When I Say No, I Feel Guilty series. Following are statements and paraphrases from the book to help guide you toward a more assertive and productive posture.

Negative Inquiry

Nondefensive negative inquiry responses that are noncritical prompt who you’re communicating with to examine their own structure of right and wrong. So instead of responding, “What makes you think going fishing is bad?,” sending the conversation downward. You can say, “I don’t understand. What is it about my going fishing that is bad?,” delivering the dialog to a more authentic, open place.

This technique is especially helpful in dealing with people you are close to because:

  1. It desensitizes you to criticism from people you care about so you can listen to what they tell you
  2. It extinguishes repetitive manipulative criticism from these people so it doesn’t drive you up the wall; and
  3. It reduces the use of right and wrong structure by these persons in dealing with you, prompting them to assertively say what they want giving both of actionable information.

Here’s an example:

“Paul: Beth, you don’t look good today.

Beth: What do you mean, Paul?

Paul: Well, I noticed the way you appear today. It doesn’t look too good.

Beth: Is it the way I look or is it the way I’m dressed? [NEGATIVE INQUIRY]

Paul: Well, that blouse doesn’t look too good.

Beth: What is it about the blouse that makes me look bad? [NEGATIVE INQUIRY response]

Paul: Well, it just doesn’t seem to fit.

Beth: Do you think it’s too loose? [NEGATIVE INQUIRY prompt]

What success story can you share where you or someone you know was rewarded for digging deeper by listening and asking questions instead of becoming defensive? What phrases have you found most useful in these situations?

Because being assertive so often delivers improved personal productivity, I’m back again with the fifth post in a series reviewing Dr. Manuel Smith’s 1970 book, When I Say No, I Feel Guilty. You’ll find dialog and quotes from the book.

assertiveness tip

Negative Assertion

“As I began to teach non assertive people in nonclinical settings how to cope, it became glaringly apparent that many of us have the same difficulty in coping with our errors in everyday life…and few of us can change our beliefs that errors are wrong (we are guilty) simply by thinking about it.

“How then do you cope assertively with your errors? In the simplest manner, you verbally cope with your errors as if they are exactly that, no more or no less–errors are just errors. In the terminology of systematic assertion, you assertively accept those things that are negative about yourself.

“Although it may seem paradoxical at first glance, those of us who cannot cope assertively with criticism also seem incapable of coping with compliments.”

Following are three situations from the book to further explain:

“Assume you have agreed to leave an information file on your desk at work so a fellow employee could use it over the weekend. On Monday morning, the friend approaches you and asks where the file was on Saturday. You remember that the file was locked up on Friday night and not left on your desk. What can you say?

“Oh, my God! I forgot to leave it on my desk! What an incredibly stupid thing to do! What are you going to do now?

“You didn’t do to well in…(criticism)

“You’re right. I wasn’t too smart in the way I handled that, was I?

“…when you are genuinely complimented on your choice of clothes and you feel they suit you well, you might reply: ‘Thank you. I think it looks nice on me too.’ (Agreeing with the truth.)”

Please share situations where acknowledging a negative or a truth helped you get things done and come out ahead.

For all you When I Say No, I Feel Guilty fans, I offer another Dr. Manuel Smith’s assertiveness tip. I’ve included direct quotes and dialog from the book hoping you’ll enjoy it as much as I have.assertiveness tipsFogging

“In teaching people to cope with manipulative criticism from other people, I instruct them not to deny any criticism (that’s simply responding in kind), not to get defensive, and not to counterattack with criticism of their own…I suggested that as a rule of thumb, they might learn faster by verbally replying to manipulative criticism as if they were a ‘fog bank.’ I have used other labels…to describe this assertive skill when it is used in everyday situations to cope with manipulative logic, argument, guilt- and anxiety-inducing statements. (1) We can agree with any truth in statements people use to criticize us (AGREEING WITH THE TRUTH) (2) We can agree with any possible truth in statements people use to criticize us (AGREEING WITH THE ODDS) (3) We can agree with the general truth in logical statements that people use to manipulate us (AGREEING IN PRINCIPLE).

“Critic: I see you are dressed in your usual sloppy manner.Learner: That’s right. I am dressed in my usual way.Critic: Those pants! They look like you stole them off the Goodwill rack without pressing them.Learner: They are a bit wrinkled, aren’t they.Critic: Wrinkled is the understatement of the week. They are positively dreadful.Learner: You’re probably right. They do look a bit worse for wear.

“As you can see in this training dialog, the practice of FOGGING does several things. First it forces the learner to listen to exactly what the critic says…It teaches the novice to be a good listener, to listen to what is actually being said–not to read minds–but the critic instead of interpreting what is said to conform to the novice’s own self-doubts and insecurities, what we all secretly feel or think. In addition, it forces the learner to think in terms of probabilities–what he would be willing to bet money on, not in absolutes, in yes or no, blacks or whites, 100 per cent or zero.”

Do you have a habit of being defensive? Do you know someone in your life who would be floored by your fogging?

Back again with the third assertiveness tip from Dr. Manuel Smith and his 1970s book, When I Say No, I Feel Guilty. Following are quotes and dialog from the book to teach a lesson on self disclosure.

Eye Contact Assertive


“Assertively disclosing information about yourself–how you think, feel, and react to the other person’s free information–allows the social communication to flow both ways. Without self-disclosure, the following up of free information would make a conversation very stilted, giving the impression that you are playing the role of an interrogator or district attorney, or simply prying into the other person’s life without sharing any of your own experience.

“PETE: What did you do today? Anything spectacular?

JEAN: No, I just studied all day. [Note: Jean…gave free information that she was studying. Pete could then ask: (1) What does she usually do when not studying. (2) What sort of exciting things have happened to her lately, (3) What is she studying for, and (4) Why was she studying at this particular time.]

PETE: What are you studying for?

JEAN: Shakespearean literature and biology of reproduction. [Note: Pete could respond to Jean’s statement in two ways: (1) Impersonal, or (2) Oriented toward her personal interests. The first would be a response such as ‘Tell me about Shakespearean drama.’ The second would be more personally oriented, i.e., ‘How did you become interested in Shakespeare?’]

PETE: Gee, I like theater. What a combination, Shakespeare and reproduction! How come you’re interested in Shakespearean drama?

JEAN: My mother was a drama major in college before she met my father. I guess I picked it up from her.

PETE: My family never had any acting talent. How do you feel about your mother giving up acting? I think it would be neat to have someone close to you who knew all the Broadway and Hollywood people.

“Disclosing private information about ourselves to other people is a very effective assertive skill, not only in social conversations but also when there is conflict between yourself and another person.” Smith adds the lack of eye-to-eye contact is a very common avoidance technique.

The next time you have a conversation where you want to be more assertive, let it flow both ways. Look the other person in the eye, and really put yourself in the conversation.

What habits can you change to become more assertive?

The assertiveness tip for today is the second in a series of tips from author Manuel Smith, creator of the 1970s seminal piece When I Say No, I Feel Guilty. Following is a helpful passage from the book to help those looking to obtain a more assertive posture. Enjoy!

workable compromise


“Many people learning to be assertive, often for the first time in their adult lives, do not understand why verbal skills like broken record are used. They ask: ‘What do I do when the other person doesn’t give in or is assertive to me also?’ The answer to the question is that our true sense of self-respect has a priority over everything else. Consequently, if you keep your self-respect through exercising your assertive rights with skills like broken record, you will feel good even if you do not achieve your goal immediately…It is practical, whenever you feel that your self-respect is not in question, to offer a workable compromise to the other person.”

What Smith tells us here is simple. As long as you don’t lose your self-respect or dignity, you have been assertive and are using healthy compromise skills.

In what situations can you see yourself employing a workable compromise?

When I reached out to a fellow productivity trainer, Casey Moore, to ask about her favorite assertiveness training book, she referred me to the seminal piece When I Say No, I Feel Guilty by Manuel Smith.

Mr. Smith offers six systematic assertiveness skills you can start using today to harness a more assertive posture. This is the first in a series to showcase descriptions and dialogue examples taken from the book. (The 1970s references should give you a chuckle.)

broken record


“One of the most important aspects of being verbally assertive is to be persistent and to keep saying what you want over and over again without getting angry, irritated, or loud. In using broken record…don’t give up after you hear your first ‘no’…[and don’t be] deterred by anything the other person may say…keep saying in a calm, repetitive voice what you want to say until the other person accedes to your request or agrees to a compromise.

“SALESMAN: You do want your children to learn faster, don’t you?

CARLO: I understand, but I’m not interested in buying.

SALESMAN: Your wife would want her children to have them.

CARLO: I understand, but I am not interested.

SALESMAN: It’s awful hot out here, do you mind if I come in for a drink of water? 

CARLO: I understand, but I am not interested.

SALESMAN: You don’t understand or you would want to buy these for your children.

CARLO: I understand how you feel, but I’m not interested. 

“[With] stereotyped dialogues like this one…[you can learn to] change this compulsive habit of answering any question or responding to any statement… This habit is based upon our belief that when someone talks to us, we ‘should’ have an answer and ‘should’ respond specifically to whatever the other person says.”

What situations have you encountered of late where refraining from response and using the broken record technique might have delivered a better outcome? Who can you test using this method?

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