7 Phrases That Will Get You Out Of Tricky Situations

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Courtesy of https://twitter.com/aliciabassuk

Kevin Kruse: What are seven perfect answers to seven tough work scenarios? Hello, everyone. Kevin Kruse here. Welcome to the LEADx Show, where we're going to help you to be a little bit smarter today, get 1% better every single day, and I hope you'll tell all of your managers at work, “Hey, visit leadx.org because now they're offering a free management course of the day.” I say management. It includes leadership, includes productivity, everything that people need to be a great boss. Leadx.org.

Now today's show, I speak to someone who has a really interesting framing around what she calls defending our values at work. She makes the point that the way we dress, the way we prepare for things, we're putting our personal brand out there. We're defining our value. Well, what do we do when we get stuck into these different common but sticky work situations? How do we defend our value? She gives us perfect phrases that we can kind of carry around and keep in our back pocket to use when we need to. 

Our challenge of the day is actually going to be based on her morning ritual that she shares. Now, I got really geeked out on this. You'll hear that in the interview, and basically the challenge is I want you to set a timer for a few minutes. She does 15 minutes, but even a few minutes will do. Then write down, you have to write it out by hand, an answer or answers, I should say, to this question. What are you willing to do to become who you want to be? She does this every single day, every single morning. She said it's changed her life. I'm going to try it out first thing tomorrow morning. You just start by writing down that question. “What am I willing to do to become who I want to be?” Then you free-write for three minutes or one minute or 15 minutes, whatever time you have in the morning, the answers to that single question. That's our challenge of the day. 

Our quote of the day comes from Woody Allen. I don't like quoting Woody Allen that much these days, but this one is a good one. “80% of success is showing up.” When I was young, I thought that was just kind of a flipping comment and was just sort of meant to generalize, like you just got to start, you’ve got to go, you’ve got to show up. The older I get, I take this literally. Do you know that of all the podcast guests that we book on the LEADx Show — we're at, I don't know, going on almost 200 episodes — about 20 to 30% never show up for the interview, never show up for the meeting? This includes people that contacted me.

They've hired a PR firm to rep their book or their company or whatever it is, and they pitch me and we lock our schedules in. I read their book, I study their company, I prepare, and the time comes and I'm all alone. Crickets. Most, 20 to 30%, they just show up and we never know why. Recently, I contacted six search engine optimization firms. All were Google Platinum certified. These weren't fly by night teenagers in their basement. I reach out to six of them. Ask, saying, “Hey, I'm looking to hire an SEO firm. Let's set up a call. I want to get a proposal.” Only four even responded, two never even responded, and out of the four only one responded within 24 hours. My mind was blown. “80% of success is showing up. 

Now, our guest today, she's a leadership coach, speaker, author, and founder of the leadership development firm Ubica. Her clients include professional athletes, C-level executives, presidential appointees, and entrepreneurs. She's currently working on a book for McGraw-Hill called When No One is Looking Take the Lead. Our guest is Alicia Bassuk. Alicia, welcome to the show.

Alicia Bassuk: Thanks so much. I really appreciate everything that you're doing to level the playing field.

Kruse: Oh, thank you. Yeah, some people think I'm crazy, but it's certainly a passion. You know, I want to democratize leadership and management. I used to think when I was young and dumb that I had all the answers. Now as I've gotten older it's like, “I don't have any of the answers, but let me find smart people who do.”

Bassuk: Absolutely.

Kruse:  And share what they know, so I think that's great. I have a tradition, Alicia, on this show, where I always start with the same first question because I think failures are stepping stones. You know, there's no win or lose. It's win or learn, sometimes painfully, so I'm hoping you're going to share with us one of your best failures and what did you learn from it.

Bassuk: One of my best failures was the failure to incorporate ritual into my life, and once I got it, that I introduced the ritual of writing every morning. That is something that had been recommended to me since I was a kid, and every time someone recommended it, I thought to myself, “That's great that that works for you, but that does not work for me. I hate writing. I don't want to write. I can think about my thoughts and feelings. I'm not going to write about them.”

When I finally introduced writing in the mornings into my daily ritual, what happened was game-changing for me. What I do is I start every morning asking the same question which is, what are you willing to do to become who you want to be? Then I just start writing. I set the timer and my only rule is I cannot stop moving my pen until that timer goes off. What this does for me is it gives me a heightened self-awareness. It gives me a clarity that I then go into my day and it allows me to see opportunities that other people don't see because they're not tuned into that heightened self-awareness.

The other thing it allows me to do is forward-calibrate. What forward-calibrating is, is you figure out what you want to happen in the future, what's likely to happen, and then you calibrate those things. Then you go back and say, “Okay, for that thing to calibrate in the future, this is what I need to do now.” So I do that for each day. I forward-calibrate into the day and then I make all the adjustments so that my day rolls out smoothly, productively, and in a way that I feel fulfilled.

Kruse: Wow, and I was scribbling notes. My first question is, you mentioned the timer, so how long do you set it for?

Bassuk: I set it for 15 and I call it ‘My Crazy 15.’ It's like anything that's in that inner dialogue, it goes on to the paper. There's no magic number, though. You got to just set the timer to whatever amount you'll do, so if the amount you'll do is one minute, so be it. Then maybe you can increase over time, maybe not. That part doesn't even matter.

Kruse: What about, do you personally, like do you write this out by hand, are you typing into a laptop? What's your method?

Bassuk: Yeah, so what the studies show is that the best thing to do is to write by hand because there's something about that brain-hand connection that really allows some of the neuro-circuitry to come on-line in a way that it doesn't when you're on the computer, and actually the study goes as far as to say if you write in cursive, it's even better than writing in print, and if you write with your non-dominant hand—

Kruse: Oh, yeah

Bassuk: —it's even better, and that's a whole great topic of getting yourself out of your comfort zone, so it's a way to get yourself out of your comfort zone first thing in the morning, which is so good for your brain. The other thing is, like with the time, I'm going to go ahead and say, but it doesn't really matter because if you're not going to do it handwriting, but you will do it on your phone or your MacBook, you know, just do it in whatever way is going to be comfortable so that you have that consistency and you gain what you can gain out of it.

Kruse: I hear loud and clear about like, whatever works for you, but I'm still going to hit you with one more because I'm curious. What do you do with all of these daily entries? Like, once they're done, do you sort of throw them away, tear them up, or do you keep them like in a journal and you now have many, many, many days' worth that you could look back on?

Bassuk: Yeah. I'm a shredder, because that's not what it's for. It's for me to revisit. It's not for me to worry about other people reading it. I shred. It's gone, with one exception. Sometimes I come up with a list that I will want to go back to because it's going to lead me to a lot of increased productivity. Sometimes I come up with ideas that surprise me and I want to revisit them, so those are keepers. Everything else gets shredded.

Kruse: All right, and I lied because I'm going to ask you another question, but now I'm going to interrupt myself and say, the reason why I'm geeking out on this so much is every now and then someone is talking about the power of journaling or I'll read a study. It's been on my mind, but in the last, I don't know, 90 days so many people, guests, but even more importantly, people in my life have been talking to me about this daily writing practice, how powerful it is. I write and I have a morning routine, but I've never been one to do the daily journal, and so I'm getting pushed and pulled more and more towards it.

For myself though, what I'm curious about, because you said you come up with lists, you get breakthrough ideas, part of my morning routine, Alicia, is just to reflect. Like, I'm a simple guy, so I reflect on my values, which for me there's only three areas I really do every morning, health, wealth, and relationships. I think about where I want to be in the future, say, with my health, so I kind of make that my intent or goal, focus on that. Then I think about, what am I going to do today? You know, what am I willing to do today to make that future a reality?

But most days it's the same stuff. Like, “Okay, I'm going to eat six clean meals today. I'm going to hit that treadmill for at least 20 minutes. If it's this day of the week, I'm going to do some strength training. I'll remember to meditate.” It's kind of like the laundry list or the grocery list, the daily thing, and the next day it's, “Oh, yeah. I've got this health goal and I'm going to do these things.” You're doing something different than that with your writing time because it's leading you into new thoughts.

Bassuk: Absolutely, because I used to do that, what you've just described. This is next level from there.

Kruse: Is that part of the intent, is like, “Today what are some new ways I'm going to realize this future self?”

Bassuk: It's all in that question that you ask at the beginning. What are you willing to do to become who you want to be?

Kruse: Okay.

Bassuk: That leads you all kinds of places, and this idea that you end up surprising yourself is nothing that I was planning on, it just happened, and that's what helped get me hooked, because I sit down and I wonder, “Okay. What's my brain going to do to surprise me today?” And that's the only way that I'm going to find out.

Kruse: Now, this is fantastic, and LEADx listeners, this will be our challenge of the day because I'm going to do it tomorrow morning myself, so I'd love for everybody else to do it and send me an email. Let me know how it goes. Alicia, again I just want everybody to make sure they heard your point, like especially if you're going to give it a try. Maybe that timer is just for three minutes or something on day one and see how it feels, and if you could work your way up to 15 minutes, then that's some pretty powerful stuff.

Bassuk: Great.

Kruse: Wow, we haven't even hit the main questions, Alicia, and you just dropped value bombs on us to change our life, so that's incredible. Of course, I mentioned in the intro that you came to my attention when I read your very popular Harvard Business Review article called 7 Tricky Work Situations, and How to Respond to Them. You talk about all these moments that we've probably already had and we're sort of like, “Oh, I didn't know how to handle that situation,” or these moments that we haven't had them. They're going to happen to anyone who has a thriving career.

I love your way with your words. You offer phrases you can keep in your back pocket for when these moments come. It's just so great to think about it like that, so let me just quickly walk through some of these work situations, these tricky work situations, and then you can just tell us how you think what would be a good way for us to handle it. The first one is when someone at work takes credit for our idea. What should we say?

Bassuk: Yeah. Before I answer about each of these sentences, I want to share with you that every one of these sentences is a way for you to flex: flex your power, flex your voice and to flex, and I introduced this concept in an O Magazine article last year. To flex your power, to flex your truth, to flex your value. ‘To flex,’ means to define your value at all times and defend it at a moment's notice, so you walk around your workplace defining your value at all time. You have a commanding presence. You're well-prepared. You're confident. You are defining your value at all times, and the minute someone crosses the boundary where they are putting your value in question or disrespecting your value in some way, they have poor conduct, they have a micro-aggression, any of these things, and some are on the range of benign and some of them are more severe, and so you respond by flexing.

You respond by defending your value at a moment's notice, and this is not confrontational almost any of the time. There's a tiny percent of the time that it would be confrontational if somebody is having malicious behavior or threatening your safety, but at the workplace this is a very small percentage of the time that we're talking about, so it's mostly about having a way of phrasing things so that you can assert yourself in a diplomatic way, in a clever way to defend your value at a moment's notice.

Kruse: That makes a lot of sense. That's great. That's great.

Bassuk: When someone takes credit for your idea— and this happens all the time—sometimes it's unintentional, but a lot of times it's really unintentional, so when someone restates your idea exactly, or sometimes they may add a bell and whistle to it, sometimes they'll take it a little bit further down the road and they're actually making it a better idea, but it truly is based on your original idea and they didn't give you credit for that, so whether it was intentional or not, you just let them know, “Thanks for spotlighting my point.” Then you continue talking about the point, which is really important because now you are regaining the upper hand in the conversation.

Kruse: I love that. “My point.” I'm taking these notes down, again for myself. Like you said, handwriting. It's anchoring it in my memory.

Bassuk: Good.

Kruse: How about this one? I think this happens a lot. You know, our boss asks us to stay late for a project or something is going on, but we've already got something personal that we'd already made plans for that tonight. How do we say no to that request to stay late?

Bassuk: Yeah, this is a very frequent one, and what you want to do is simply say, “Excuse me. I have another commitment.” You gather your stuff, you get up, and you walk away. What you're doing there is you're signaling to people, “I have a boundary here. I am not sharing with you the details of what I'm doing. I'm letting you know I have another commitment.” Now, frequently someone will go ahead, lack diplomacy, and get all up in your grill and say, “Oh, where are you off to?” Or, “Isn't it something that you can possibly delay? Because we really need to get through this material.” It's a really good one to just repeat and say again, “Oh, I'm unable to. I have another commitment.”

Kruse: Just even using that same phrase a second time.

Bassuk: Yeah.

Kruse: Even if people didn't pick up on it the first time, that should send the signal, right?

Bassuk: Yeah. The great thing about these statements is that they can all be used, reused twice because they are diplomatic, and what they do is they're setting a wall which is very clear. “This is not to be crossed.” Yet it's diplomatic and it's appropriate and it's professional, so if someone didn't get the memo the first time, they'll get it the second time.

Kruse: Yeah. What I like about that is—in some of the work I did earlier in the area of productivity, I found some of the most successful executives I've ever met or read about, you know, Marissa Mayer, and people like that, Sheryl Sandberg, a lot of them have hard stops on their day. You know, 6:00 PM, and everyone sort of wonders like, “How can these people always make it home for dinner?” But when I've talked to them, they say, “Because I've clearly …” I put that wall up. Like, I've allocated this much time for work and I've allocated this much time for family or myself or whatever. While the real reason why you can't stay is because you want to make it home for dinner or you've got a spin class or whatever it might be, that's nobody's business.

The way you phrase it, it does leave it open where people could say, “Oh, maybe it's a doctor appointment. They can really talk about what's going on or maybe they've got a sick parent and they don't really want to get into it.” It leaves a lot of room for people to think, “Okay, you may have something really important going on that we shouldn't probe,” with leaving it vague like that.

Bassuk: Exactly.

Kruse: What about someone at work, someone we know, we trust, but they snap at us? How do we respond when someone snaps at us?

Bassuk: Yeah, so this one works really well if you have excellent rapport with someone. It's a trusting relationship, and it really throws you off because their behavior towards you is inconsistent with how positive it has been historically. What you should say is, when they come at you with, “I've done so much for you and we have all this great history together. Why is it such a problem for you?” is you really focus in and tell them, “This isn't about what you do for me. It's about what you did to me, okay?” That allows you to just say, “Look, this one thing, this was a problem. Our whole relationship is great. One percent of our relationship has this little problem and it happened in this one exchange that we had, and we're going to talk about it.”

Now, people aren't used to zeroing in and leaving out all the other laundry list, and so it's likely that they will again try to throw you back into the laundry list of interactions. This one, again you will refocus them by repeating it. You know, “Yes, all that is true and all that is good. This isn't about what you do for me. It's about what you did to me.” It works because you can then dismiss all the complications and talk about the one interaction that caused the problem.

Kruse: And how great a line to use in our personal lives with our significant other, right?

Bassuk: Yes. Absolutely. All of these work both in the workplace and at home.

Kruse: That's fantastic. Now let's say we have… maybe it's the same trusted close colleague at work, but they've got an idea or an initiative and we don't want to go along. We want to say no to that, but we're close to them. What's the right way to say no?

Bassuk: Yeah, in these cases what we want to do is we want to open up for a conversation because there's probably some way that you can deliver on what they're requesting without saying no. It's just not exactly what they're requesting, so you have to tune into yourself and stop the reaction of either, “No, I don't want to do that,” or, “Yes, I will begrudgingly do it and then resent the other person.” You want to set those to the side, give yourself a little more reaction time, and simply say, “This is a good launching point.” By calling it a launching point, it allows you to then take a creative step and move that ask in a trajectory that is more amenable to what you do want to deliver to them.

Kruse: On the topic of giving someone feedback, and I was horrible at this as a boss back in the early days. I was so non-confrontational. Even now I struggle to do it, and the classic tough case is like, if someone has bad breath or they smell. I mean, what do you say to someone either close to them at work, but you have to give them some tough feedback?

Bassuk: Yeah. You know, this one, it reminds me that every single one of these came from an actual client case, that I was coaching a client and whatever the topic is came up, and actually in all of these cases came up many times, but I still remember the very first time, as a coach, I was guiding someone through this. When you have brilliant clients like I do, not only are you guiding them, but they are also guiding you, so in this case the person who had the employee with the bad breath, this guy, this was the COO of a consumer good company, and I learned so much from him. This was way early on in my career. I learned so much from him about how to approach every employee with an understanding that your own frame of reference is different from their frame of reference. A frame of reference is where you've come from in life, what you know from your experiences, from your wiring, from your culture, from all the ways that you have been indoctrinated and influenced. That's your own frame of reference.

This client was my teacher about everyone has their own frame of reference and so you come to each conversation truly trying to understand the other person's frame of reference, and so this sentence that works so well when you have one of these awkward situations of having to give feedback, in this case of dental or oral hygiene, is to just let them know, “I'm here to be for you what someone once was for me,” and so now you give them time to sort of brace themselves. “Okay, what's coming? In what way are you being for me what someone once was for you?” Then you can go ahead and say it with them understanding that you identify with them because you were once on the other side where someone had to give you awkward feedback about your own hygiene.

Kruse: Yeah. It takes a little bit of the sting out of it, I guess, because there's some implied empathy there.

Bassuk: Yes.

Kruse: What about, we need to push back on a decision that we think is going to be a mistake, someone going forward with what we think is the wrong decision?

Bassuk: You know, we tend to do two things when this kind of thing happens where someone makes a decision they have the authority to make. Maybe we feel powerless, maybe we feel wronged, it's unfair, or we just don't like it. The tendency is either to feel disempowered and shut down and just accept the decision that was made, or we might become angry or confrontational, or we might begin to talk with people around the office about it. The most empowered thing you can do is to let the person know, “This is my preference.” In this way, all you're doing is you're being transparent about where you are on this topic. You're not demanding that things change based on your preference. You're simply sharing information. “This is my preference.”

Kruse: Give me another example on this decision because you said a lot of these came, or you said all of these really came from some of your client work and stuff. Do you remember a specific time when someone kind of challenged a decision like that? Like, was it a high-level, a C-level decision?

Bassuk: The example that I used in the article is a real one, so in this case they added a floor to the office, and they were some C-level exec, made a decision about which groups were going to move. The C-level exec that was my client was unhappy with the news that her group was going to be moving to the basement level. Not only was she unhappy because it's not a desirable location—she's actually a really great team player and always thinking about the benefit of the entire enterprise—it really didn't make sense for her group to be located there given all of the different departments that they are collaborating with during the day.

Kruse: Right.

Bassuk: She just went to the head of that committee, stated her preference, and like magic they reshuffled the logistics and her group was able to stay on their floor.

Kruse: That's awesome. That's amazing. Our seventh one is when we need to escalate an issue.

Bassuk: Yes, so this a really important one right now with all the conversation that's happening on a national and global level with women finding their voice in terms of sexual harassment. It's also really important in general because we see a major uptick in poor conduct in the workplace, and so everyone is walking around noticing more poor conduct and the question is, “Well, what can you say? How can you handle it?” Not everyone is able to report poor conduct because there's a lot at stake, there's a lot of risk, but for those who are in a position to report it, it's really important for them to do that for the sake of all those who cannot. So when you go ahead and report it, if it is taken seriously and dealt with in a way that's appropriate, that's great, but a lot of the times I hear about situations in which it's not taken seriously. The person who's hearing it tries to shut it down.

So what you can say in these situations is, “Your response gives me cause to take this further.” By saying this, what you do is you let them know, “I'm not backing off. Like, I'm not going to disappear just because you're not taking this seriously or you're trying to shut me down. I will be pursuing this because this is important to me.” You do that in a non-confrontational way, and you also can walk away feeling empowered that you've clearly communicated that someone has to pay for the problematic behavior, for the unwanted behavior, but that person who's going to pay for it is not going to be you. It's going to be the person who committed the wrongdoing. If the person you're reporting to wants to be added into that, of people who are going to pay for this, then they can volunteer to do that or they can handle it in the right away, and help you navigate the system in reporting this poor conduct and having it handled appropriately.

Kruse: Yeah, and I'm glad you specifically tagged this to the time we're in. Just every day you open up the paper or the CNN or whatever your news choice is, you just shake your head like, “Oh my gosh. This is just crazy.” I have to imagine that for every person that does come forward, they are in a position to bring something up or they feel now is the right time, there's got to be 10 or 100 who has a similar encounter that have not or are not able to bring it up, which is just horrifying. What I like about your phrase is, I'm not saying this right, but if you've brought something up to someone and they've kind of brushed it aside, I'm not saying it's right.

Maybe because that's their default mode. “I'm busy. I'm overworked. Okay, you're saying something. It's in the pile, don't worry about it,” or “Okay, bring it up to me later if it happens again,” or something. I think a lot of busy managers, leaders push stuff off like this, and just by coming at it again in a respectful, professional way, it sends that signal like, “No, no. This is different. You do have to address this. You do have to follow up on this.” It's just

Bassuk: Yeah. It's like you're flagging it like, “No, this is going to have to take priority.”

Kruse: Yeah.

Bassuk: I appreciate what you're saying because this is true for every single one of these examples. I always say they're may be intentionally doing it or unintentionally.

Kruse: Right. Yeah.

Bassuk: There are so many reasons why a very competent, good person will cross these lines unintentionally. That part is irrelevant to the use of these sentences. They work in either case, whether it's intentional or unintentional.

Kruse: It goes back to how you started, that really these statements can work in any situation. It's just about defending your value, and this is a great way to defend your value.

Bassuk: Yeah. You’ve got to flex.

Kruse: Got to flex. Love that. Alicia, how can our listeners find out more about you and your work?

Bassuk: There are a few ways. You can go to my website, which is ubicastrategy, U-B, as in Bravo, I-C-A, strategy dot com, and there you'll see links to all the articles that I've written, so I've written a lot of articles for Harvard Business Review and O Magazine and HuffPost and CNN. They're all related to this kind of stuff, so if this is interesting to you, you can read a whole bunch more about it. You can also follow me on Twitter at @AliciaBassuk. And more to come. I have a book coming out about leadership. It'll be published in 2019 with McGraw-Hill, and it's called When No One is Looking Take the Lead: 16 Weeks to Perpetual Progress.

Kruse: I love that title, by the way. I'm a book title junkie. I go through dozens of them on my own. I thought, “Wow, that is a great title.”

Bassuk: Thank you.

Kruse: We'll make sure, of course, when that book has got a publication date, that we get you back on the show and lined up with that date. That's exciting for the launch. From the gift of talking about your morning ritual, which I'm going to try out tomorrow morning, to these statements that we can keep on our back pocket, Alicia, thanks for sharing and coming on to the LEADx Show.

Bassuk: It was a pleasure. I'm so glad to be part of what you're building.

Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author, host of the popular LEADx Leadership Podcast, and the CEO/Founder of LEADx.org, which provides free world-class leadership training, professional development and career advice for anyone, anywhere.

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CEO of LEADx, and NY Times bestselling author, of Great Leaders Have No Rules and Employee Engagement 2.0. Get a FREE trial of the LEADx platform at https://page.leadx.org/demo.