How to stop being Passive-Digressive™ and start speaking your truth
Jenny is an outgoing, smart pharmaceutical sales representative for a major drug company, who has spent weeks building rapport with the medical staff, filling their supply cabinet with samples, and discussing trial results, statistics and supporting data with busy Doctors. Yet, at the close of her precious 15-minute meeting she turns to the Doctor and says, “Well, if I can provide service in any way, please let me know.” They shake hands and she’s out the door. As I was only there to observe for a future in-house sales presentation with her company, I kept my mouth shut. Inside I was screaming, “Ask for the business already!”
Those of you that are familiar with the latest research from Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever in their book, “Women Don’t Ask,” have already heard the startling results that women are still not asking for what they want at the same rate as men. Jenny just became another statistic even though she had spent weeks building value and providing service. She had earned the right to ask for the business. After all, her company wasn’t paying her to provide free samples, but rather to close sales. Instead, she took the easy way out and offered to be of further service — a Passive Digressive™ approach. This leads me to ask, “Are you Passive Digressive™?”
If you’ve ever attended a course on assertiveness, you learned that in communication you can be aggressive (a win-lose approach), passive (lose-win), passive-aggressive (lose-lose) or assertive (win-win) which is clearly stating your needs without violating the needs of others. Yet, I believe many women fall in another category that I’ve labeled Passive Digressive.™
Rather than not speak up for yourself at all (passive behavior) or speak up in a way that disrespects the needs of others (passive-aggressive behavior), the Passive Digressive™ individual speaks sideways. Rather than be clear and direct (assertive behavior) they zigzag around an issue by being roundabout.
For example, an assertive approach to Jenny’s situation might be to say “Based on our discussions, what percentage of your patients with the appropriate symptoms will you prescribe Drug X to?” This is a closing question because it asks the Doctor to articulate his commitment to using this product and opens the door for further discussion if the numbers reflect a lack of interest.
Jenny’s Passive Digressive™ approach allowed her to feel as if she was being proactive and serving the customer, but she was digressing from the real issue at hand – asking for the order. Why? There’s no rejection, conflict or confrontation in that choice. Rather than possibly deal with a moment of discomfort, Jenny sold herself out for security and safety. Winning the Doctor’s approval was more important than winning the sale.
Passive DigressiveTM behavior can show up in other ways too. “It sure would be helpful if people turned in their expense reports earlier,” hints at what you want, but still isn’t clear and direct. With tone, this statement can sound like sarcasm and turn others off. Assertiveness sounds more like this: “In order to deliver the final numbers to accounting, I need everyone to turn in their expense reports by Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. Does anyone have a conflict with honoring this schedule?” More than once in an airport (my home away from home), I’ve heard someone say to their partner, “Gee, this suitcase is awfully heavy,” instead of simply asking them, “Would you please help me with this luggage?” Why hint or tip-toe around an issue when you can simply be direct? Hinting doesn’t always deliver the goods, and can frustrate others in the process.
A manager who comments to a tardy employee, “I came by your cubicle first thing this morning, but you weren’t there,” is taking a Passive Digressive™ approach. So is saying to a colleague, “You’re so good at running the fundraising committee that I’m sure you wouldn’t mind doing it again this year.” Women sometimes think they’re using a softer style when asking for what they want in a roundabout way, but to me it’s manipulative.
In the earlier example, it’s more appropriate for the boss to say, “Sandy, you’ve been more than 15 minutes late to work 3 times in the past month. This concerns me because when you’re not here others have to cover your responsibilities. I need and expect you to be here at 8 a.m. everyday.” In the second example, an assertive approach would be to say, “You do a great job of running the fundraising committee. Is this something you’d be willing to take on again this year because we’d love to have you?” This shows respect to the person and allows them the choice without being backed into a corner.
Rather than stating their request upfront and waiting to see if more explanation is needed, some women go into too much detail and background before getting to the point – another Passive Digressive™ approach. Often people are trying to justify their request, possibly because they don’t feel worthy. Remember, Jenny? She had a right to ask for the Doctor’s business. If you’re adding value to your place of business, you, too, have a right to ask clearly and directly for what you need to be successful. That’s why I encourage you to “say it in a sentence.” By doing so you will think before you speak, own your message and gain the listener’s attention with your clarity.
The next time you choose to go after what you say you want, avoid the Passive Digressive™ approach – one of the biggest communication mistakes women make. Instead, put one word in front of the other on the most direct path.