It was 1979 and fresh out of high school, she was excited to have her first real job in a bank so close to her house. Even though it was entry level, the HR girl had told her that her testing indicated she scored extremely high and was ready to be promoted as soon as a cashier post opened up. She settled into the checking department, waiting for that opportunity.
Although everyone started in checking or savings, some never left because they didn’t have the right touch with the customers. Debbie, the girl who sat across from her, was not very bright. Although they could both apply for any opening, she felt confident that Debbie was not serious competition. There was no doubt that she would get the next job.
Four months later, during the interview with the Assistant Manager for an immediate cashier opening, he asked her who should get the job: her or Debbie?
She didn’t want to come off as entitled.
Her parents taught her not to sound “proud”. She knew, everyone in the branch knew, that she was brighter, better with the clients, more organized, and learned faster than Debbie. Knowing the job was hers, and wanting to sound like a nice person, she spoke highly of Debbie saying she was sweet and eager to please.
He asked her again, who should get the job. Wanting to sound humble, she told the assistant manager that she knew he would pick the right person for the job and she did not consider herself superior in any way. After all, she thought to herself, bragging is unbecoming of a girl.
She and Debbie simultaneously opened their letters. She read that she had not gotten the job and her heart sank as her face reddened in embarrassment. Incredulously, she asked herself “how can this be, Debbie is an idiot?” as Debbie shrieked, “I got the job!”
She responded “I know you got the job. Congratulations.”
Debbie looked at her and said “You know I got the job? How do you know I got the job?”
Disbelieving, she answered as evenly as possible pointing to her letter “Because, I didn’t get the job”.
Debbie looked surprised and sad, and said “You didn’t get the job?”
A little more loudly than she wanted to, she said “Are you serious? There was one job. How can I get it if you got it?”
Debbie, as usual, looked confused.
The girl who didn’t get that job was me. This was my first forray into the corporate world and away from the “nice girl” rules of my family. Trying to hide my fury, I left for lunch to try and cool off.
I still remember the look of astonishment on the Assistant Manager’s face when I told him I was quitting and why.
Surprised, he told me that since I Debbie seemed so eager and I said that she deserved the job, he was sure that I didn’t feel I was ready for a promotion. From my self-effacement, he really didn’t think I even wanted the job despite my high score sent from head office.
He openly acknowledged that she made mistakes daily, didn’t learn fast and confused clients, but because she clearly wanted the job and he needed someone fast and committed, it made sense to give it to her and not overwhelm me. He asked me to reconsider quitting. I left anyway.
A week later, I stopped in to complete some paperwork and there was a letter from head office. Another teller position in a different branch was available and it was mine if I wanted it. I didn’t respond to the letter and just walked away. Unfortunately, I wasn’t ready to learn some valuable lessons and it took me years of “guessing at what others want” before realizing that happiness is about knowing what I want and just going for it! I let my hurt ego guide me and I ran away.
I’ve come a long way from those early days where asserting myself was non-existent. Doormats are so self-effacing and worried about being liked; they shoot themselves in the foot like I did in 1979. They are following a well intentioned but faulty set of rules until the sense of unfairness overwhelms them.
Years ago, I took a personality test.
I scored zero for competitiveness. The other scores were evenly distributed and my highest 2 scores were for collaborativeness and cooperation. I was proud of the non-competitive score.
The facilitator asked me “How often do you get your own needs met?”
Surprised, I responded “Hardly ever”.
She simply said, “It’s not supposed to be that way. This is not balanced and you are just hurting yourself if you never learn to speak up.” This was an eye opener. Totally opposite of what I had been taught growing up about being compliant.
I’ve learned a lot since then. So now I ask you :“Do you know how to start a conversation asking for someone to do something differently? Something that will elevate your level of happiness?”
If your answer is “I don’t like to make waves”, then I’ve got great news for you. It may be easier than you think!
It’s time to check out my simple Cheat Sheet which shares my script on how to Ask for What You Want: How to Start the Conversation You’ve Been Avoiding.
Being nice and being assertive are not exclusive of one another. It is more normal for people to want us to feel good. People are not really trying to make us crazy. They can’t give us what we need if we don’t tell them what that is.
You deserve to feel happy and respected!
Learn some basic concepts on how to improve the quality of your best, of your worst and even of your strangest relationships! It is your birthright to speak up.