“Most of my work with managers revolves around the issues of communication and assertiveness,” says Michelle Currie, senior consultant/coach with Currie Management Consultants.

Assertiveness, she says, is the ability to have that difficult conversation with an employee where you have to say we’re not winning the game, and we need to find out where we’re going wrong. “I think this is difficult because the person having that conversation at the dealer-principal level doesn’t know how to fix it.”

Currie says that the manager tries to fix these types of situations by replacing the person or resorting to the command-and-control approach of becoming aggressive and ordering that a task is done in a certain way — and now. Or, she adds, they ignore it so long that it starts to impact the performance of the entire organization.

To avoid these types of “last resort” reactions and over reactions, Currie says all managers need to learn the art of “assertive communication.”

“All communication should be assertive, which means respect, honesty and directness.” She adds that this doesn’t mean being manipulative. “Too many bosses think being manipulative is a polite way to get things done.”

To put it simply, Currie says, “Managing is communicating. You can’t manage without communicating, and our style of communication will have a direct impact on the people we are managing.”

There are four basic styles of communicating, explains Currie.

Passive — “If you find in certain situations that you walk away because you don’t want to deal with it, that’s being passive. You let the other person off the hook and this leads to poor performance. You’re not being a good manager, either.”

Manipulation — “If you use a manipulative style of communication in which you ask a series of questions, trying to get the person to do what you want them to do, but in an indirect way, you may have some success. But the other person ends up asking himself, ‘How did I get here?’ Even if it’s success, they’re not sure how or why they ended up doing what they did.”

Aggressive — “This is just total disrespect for the other person. It’s command and control gone wild. It’s losing your temper. It’s yelling at people, threatening and insulting, trying to get the person to change or move or perform. It may work in the short term, which the manager takes as a victory. ‘See, if I yell at them, then they perform!’ It’s completely based on fear.”

Assertive — “As I said before, this is direct, honest, respectful communication. When you can be direct with people, they understand what it is you are asking them to do. When you’re respectful they listen. They may even come back and ask you for some help.”

Is there ever a time when command-and-control has a place in managing people?

Currie says, “Yes, but it needs to be done in an assertive way, not a disrespectful way.”

She says this involves sitting down with an employee and addressing specific problems, like below-par performance. The manager’s conversation would go something like the following:

“Let’s talk about this problem and put the plan together. I know you can do this, that’s why we hired you. What are your thoughts on getting this done? What’s blocking you?”

But she warns that the manager, as the leader of conversation, must come to the table knowing where they feel the employee needs to be spending their time, and specifically, what they need to be looking at. Then they need to provide a timeframe in which certain tasks or performance level must be accomplished. This will be followed up by another conversation.

“If the agreed-upon tasks aren’t completed or don’t measure up to the performance level set, they need to understand that the next conversation will involve a warning,” Currie says.

For example, if the employee says they’ve made the 50 calls that were discussed, but they’re not getting results, then the manager needs to dig deeper to find out what’s being said on the calls. “This is getting to know that person, their skills, where they’re at, and generally what’s happening,” says Currie. “This is what I call assertive communication.” FE