Assertive Moves for Support Roles

Working with support engineers, support managers, and customer success managers, I often find that the more kind-hearted ones have a hard time asserting themselves appropriately, for instance when delivering bad news, or setting boundaries. Sadly, customers read less-assertive demeanor and language negatively and are quick to assume that they cannot trust the individual they are working with, or should escalate the issue. I just came across a recent book and a less recent TED talk that address the issue beautifully and practically.

The book, Power Cues: The Subtle Science of Leading Groups, Persuading Others, and Maximizing Your Personal Impact is written for would-be leaders but can be mined to great effect for support situations. Here are some ideas from the author’s experience:

  • Open your arms to show openness and to project more. (Open wide, straight out from the shoulders). Note to support practitioners: body language carries over the phone, really! An open posture will translate into a more open tone of voice.
  • Focus solely on the person with whom you are working. To practice, recall a strong emotional moment and practice putting yourself into the moment with all five senses. Note to support practitioners: this idea of focusing on one person means that you simply cannot multitask. Try it!
  • Leverage the “offstage beat”. Actors routinely conjure up an emotional objective before gong on stage. It works just as well for support conversations, as in “I can’t wait to tell the customer about this clever workaround I created for the problem.” Redefine any fear as adrenaline.
  • Read openness in others by checking the eyes (wide open, dilated pupils) and the hands (is the hand not shaking yours open or closed?)
  • If someone violently disagrees, sit or stand facing in the same direction. We naturally mirror others when listening to them, but in case of an argument you don’t want to mirror. Verbally, I like to use lots of we’s (and very few you’s).

The TED talk, by Amy Cuddy, has the requisite amount of emotional drama, but also presents stark results from a study on how assertiveness not only shows up through our gestures (no real surprise there) but can be triggered by purposefully adopting powerful gestures. So by lifting our arms up over our heads (out of sight, before that crucial meeting!), holding our arms away from the body, or draping one arm around a nearby chair, we automatically increase confidence — and, per Ms Cuddy’s study, increase our testosterone levels and decrease cortisol, the so-called stress hormone.

My mother used to remind me (over and over) to stand up straight. She was right!

What have you found helpful in projecting appropriate assertiveness with customers?


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