What self-defense can teach us about assertiveness vs aggressiveness with Deb Zahn

What self-defense can teach us about assertiveness vs aggressiveness with Deb Zahn

“If you are assertive, you are basically owning your self-worth and allowing yourself to live your full self and your full life. That’s really what it is, and it’s going to help you make decisions because you won’t be too afraid to make decisions that actually support you and support your life. It’s going to help you to be able to actually build what you most want, whether it’s in your business or your personal life.” - Deb Zahn

Although often misunderstood, assertiveness is something that can help you daily in your professional, and personal life. However, being assertive is not the same as being aggressive, and today’s Brave By Design guest explains the key differences and what we need to know in order to be assertive, but in the right way. 

​Deb Zahn is the founder of Craft of Consulting, a one-stop resource to learn the ins and outs of becoming a widely successful, in-demand consultant while living the life you want. Craft of Consulting is for consultants by consultants, and Deb shares her decade-worth of knowledge about how to excel as a consultant in addition to an abundance of insider access to consultants who have cracked the code to business success and life balance. ​

As you’ll hear in this episode, assertiveness can change your life and business and the way you feel about yourself and others, and Deb gained key insights from learning self-defense which shifted her perspective completely - and can do the same for you.

Connect with Deb: https://www.craftofconsulting.com/

Connect with Laura Khalil online:

instagram.com/iambravebydesign

linkedIn.com/in/LauraKhalil

Learn the five habits that help women rise:

http://bravebydesign.net/fivehabits 

Invite Laura to speak at your live or virtual event http://bravebydesign.net

What You’ll Hear In This Episode: 

  • What benefits to your self-worth will come from gaining more assertiveness [1:30]

  • How to face fear and plan for that feel of retreat that will come [2:21]

  • Steps to plan for a situation that requires assertiveness [11:55]

  • How Deb manages her assertiveness craft, and is constantly evolving it in the process [14:35]

  • The way that self-defense transitioned and helped her with her own assertiveness [19:33]
     

Additional Links & Resources: 

Craft of Consulting on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter & Instagram

Deb’s Resources 



Support the show (https://www.paypal.me/bravebydesign)

Transcript
Deb Zahn :

If you're assertive, you're basically owning your self worth, and allowing yourself to live your full self and your full life. That's really what it is. And it's going to help you make decisions because you won't be too afraid to make decisions that actually support you and support your life and it's going to help you be able to actually build what you most want, whether it's your business, or your you know, personal life, whatever it is. Welcome to brave by design. I'm your host, Laura Khalil. I'm an entrepreneur, coach and speaker. I love thinking bait, exploring the power of personal development and sharing the best strategies from thought leaders and pioneers in business to empower ambitious women and allies to bravely rise and thrive. Let's get started.

Laura Khalil :

Everyone, welcome to this episode of brave by design. I'm really excited for you to meet our guests today. This is Deb's on She is the founder of craft of consulting. And we are going to talk all about a topic that is honestly kind of intimidating for women. And that is assertiveness. Deb, welcome to the show. Thank you so much.

Deb Zahn :

I'm so excited to be here with you talking about one of my favorite topics. So tell us a little bit about your story. Why are you so passionate about being assertive? Because that can for some people is codeword for being a bitch, you know? Right? Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, we used to actually joke a few of my gal pals. And I used to joke that we were often the DBS the designated bitches. But it isn't it actually. And I can differentiate like, why assertive and what's aggressive, because there really is a difference between the two. And I love that. If you're assertive, you're basically owning your self worth, and allowing yourself to live your full self and your full life. That's really what it is. And it's going to help you make decisions because you won't be too afraid to make decisions that actually support you and support your life. And it's going to help you be able to actually build what you most want, whether it's your business, or your you know, personal life, whatever it is. So here's what's interesting about a surgeon So anybody who spends five minutes with me, and recognizes that I am very assertive, believes that I came out of the womb like that, right? Like,

Laura Khalil :

fighting your way out.

Deb Zahn :

That's right, I came out. I'm like, Alright, Doc, here's what I need you to do. Which was definitely not me. So they are often really surprised to hear that, you know, up until my 20s, I was extraordinarily assertive, to the point of being afraid to return things to the store because I couldn't handle that conflict. It just I was worried about what was gonna happen. Like, that's how, yeah, what was the fear? Let's really

Laura Khalil :

tap into that, because I think a lot of people feel that fear. What is it that you're afraid of when you're not being assertive?

Deb Zahn :

So my version because I think everybody has a bit of a different version. Mine was fear of conflict. And what was interesting about my version is that I also had a temper, so I was unassertive, but I had a temper, but my temper was almost like a power surge that I couldn't control. So if you ever see those superhero movies, where, you know, someone discovers their power, and they can't control it, so they, you know, blow up half a city, that was me.

Laura Khalil :

So like, you would

Deb Zahn :

hold it in, and then it would explode at random times. So I had, I can imagine how fun that was for everyone around. Super fun. Yeah, everybody really enjoyed that part of experience with me. So I couldn't count on that power surge. When I needed it. It was always misplaced and Miss time, right? So it was really fear of conflict was just paralyzing for me. So, you know, if I'm returning something that store and they want to know, why would an innocuous question right? I would be afraid of getting into that back and forth with them. So I had power, it was mistimed and misplaced. And then otherwise, I felt powerless. And so I would often just reach in a constant state of retreat.

Laura Khalil :

Let me ask you a question. Because when I think about this in myself, a lot of people have said something similar about me, in that I seem very assertive today. I know where I'm going. But when I was younger, I was sort of similar to you where I couldn't quite direct my power, so to speak, in a form that made sense and sometimes it would come out in the wrong ways and I was very conflict avoidant, but I Learned a lot of that by watching my parents. And when. Yeah, so I was going to ask you, because when my parents would get in fights as a little kid, and they knew like I was coming down the stairs and coming into the room, they would stop talking entirely and pretend like everything was fine. So that I actually never saw conflict. And so I think that for me, I said, oh, we're not supposed to talk about things. We're not supposed to have conflict, because mom and dad don't talk when they see me around. And do you have a story like that?

Deb Zahn :

Yeah. So I saw lots of conflict. And I really was raised where there was two versions of women. There was powerless. Do as you're told, go, take care of the kids go to the kitchen. So we'd go to family reunions. And it was, the guys are all out talking. Women were sent to the kitchen and given the kids. I mean, it was really that deep. And so you were powerless, or you were a bitch. And you were aggressive. And I didn't see anything. I didn't have any role models for anything in between. and I didn't know that there even was something called assertiveness. Because it was never practiced around me. And I in fact, didn't learn what it was until years ago. Again, in my 20s, I was trained as a women's self defense instructor. And that was one of the things we learned is at assertiveness is defending your boundaries, aggressiveness is when you push into somebody else's. Oh, my gosh, I hope everyone heard that. That is, can you just say that again? That's really important. I totally agree. It was eye opening for me. So assertiveness is defending your boundaries, and aggressiveness is when you push into someone else's. And I didn't know that assertiveness was a thing, I certainly didn't see a lot of examples of defending, setting or defending boundaries. So I didn't learn the skills, I didn't have a role model. You know, my mom is now very assertive, she's kind of a badass, sometimes a gentle Aussie. So we grew together, but I didn't see it. So I didn't know so and conflict was this big, scary thing that felt unsafe. So what I tried to do is just avoided as much as I possibly could, unless I lost my temper, right? In which case, it was all conflict all the time. And, and it was a flash, and then it was just all regret.

Laura Khalil :

And that was there in that sweet spot. So this God, you're really reminding me of my younger self. This is so incredible. Was there a turning point or a moment in time when you said I can't do this anymore?

Deb Zahn :

Yeah, so I would say it was two things. So the temper was when actually someone I really respected who I worked with at a restaurant, said you're like a powder keg, and we're all just walking on eggshells around you and I get hit me like a ton of bricks. And I thought I don't want to be that person, I need to figure out how to get a grip of this. With the assertiveness there was actually a moment I was in undergrad, UC Berkeley. And I was broke, like all the time. Yeah. And I needed a bike to get to school and to get to work. That was my sole form of transportation. Without it, everything would fall apart. And I scraped together money, I bought a bike. And then it ended up being a stolen bike. And I found that out because I came out of class at eight o'clock at night and someone had locked it and left a note saying this is my bike. Oh, shoot. And because I did have this inherent sense of right and wrong, I knew that the person had to get their bike back. And it turned out the place. I bought it from trafficked and stolen bikes. And I didn't. I didn't know that. So I had to deal with the owner of it. Who was mean as spit. Oh, man. And I remember thinking I normally would retreat from this. But I can't I literally cannot because I don't have any other money for a bike. And without a bike. I can't get to work your survival, does it? Yeah, there was no choice. I was literally backed into a corner. What I did was I you know, I was young. I didn't know the neurobiology behind it, which I know you talk about but I thought I wonder if I just forced myself and like scripted out ahead of time, which is what I did. And I just forced myself to be assertive. I wonder if it would get easier over time because I would just get used to it. So this is the habit formation which I later learned more about the science behind. So what I did is I scripted it, I went to some friends I got support, you know, you can do it. You can do it. And I ended up getting the situation resolved simply because I continually defended my boundaries and I gave him no way out. Wow to and including telling him that the police were going to get involved in me saying things that I felt were so foreign to me, I had no muscle memory behind saying those things. But I scripted it. And I also paid attention to when it was feeling so uncomfortable for me that I felt like retreating again. And I planned for that ahead of time. And I plan for what would I say, if I start to retreat that solidifies my position in in defending my boundaries. And interestingly, that's a self defense technique that I learned. And when I became an instructor, which is have your line ready, have the one thing that you say that works in a variety of situations that you can say to immediately be able to say something that causes you not to retreat or causes you to become paralyzed? And then just practice it? Until it's it's just normal for you to say it? And then in the moment, you don't have to think about it? Because you probably can't think about

Laura Khalil :

it, because you're so scared. Yes. Right.

Deb Zahn :

That's right.

Laura Khalil :

I love what you talk about with scripting it, practicing with friends before you went out and then planning for, hey, I'm going to be scared at this point. I feel like I might pull back. What if he says this? What if he says that, and then having your plan A your plan B? That's right. And that is really, really critical. I think that some people are so afraid of conflict, and being assertive? Because they don't take the steps to plan for how to deal with it. Yeah. So tell us a little bit about the advice you'd recommend if someone's saying, how would I even begin doing this is that is that one of the first steps I would take is really mind your actions, Mind your words, or think about them in advance,

Deb Zahn :

I would actually start by thinking, and this is a delicate approach, because what you don't want to do is you don't want to use a past example of where you weren't assertive as a stick to beat yourself with. So you got to do with loving kindness to yourself, and with the recognition that you're trying to learn and you're trying to do something different. So I would start with an example something that maybe doesn't have a huge charge. Because, okay, it can be difficult to work with. And basically just look at it almost like you're an investigator. Like it's not you, you're just looking at the situation with curiosity, to see Alright, what tripped me up? What was the moment where I retreated? Or what was the moment where I become paralyzed? That's interesting. I wonder what that's about. And then I wonder what I could do differently. And really develop a plan, just like, you know, I'm a consultant. So it'd be no different than if I was working with a client. And they wanted to solve a problem. I look at it the same way. So I have my own consultant.

Laura Khalil :

Right. And you're detached, you're emotionally detaching from I should have done this, I should have done that. But it's more just like, like a technician. Okay, what happened here? What went wrong? Deb, I want to point out another thing, which is so important that sort of you're talking through but we haven't directly stated, which is that this, this takes a lot of self reflection yet, and you cannot thrive in playing the blame game. So if you're just going to blame other people, you will never be able to get to this point. Do you agree?

Deb Zahn :

Totally agree. And that doesn't mean that you don't recognize that there are things that people do that are bad and wrong. But what you're in charges of is you're in charge of yourself. So you might as well start where you have the most influencing control. Like just practically.

Laura Khalil :

I mean, just make sense when you say it that way.

Deb Zahn :

Yeah, just you know, start with yourself. Because your goal is not to change other people, the goal is to change your response. And if other people change, hey, bonus, but that's not really why you're doing so you can't play the blame game doesn't help you because it keeps you stuck. So it actually it harms you you could recognize that harm that people are doing, but don't get stuck there. The second is you have to do it with as I said loving kindness to yourself with a goal of improving not the goal of blaming yourself, which is just another way to stay stuck. So did you learn this how to be assertive and address issues? Did you learn this before you started consulting or was it after it was definitely before so I spent a lot of time in my 20s and 30s honing my assertiveness craft because I truly think it is a craft that you learn. But then I had to I have to keep working Working with it all the time. So one example that I was actually just writing about was when you're a consultant, and you say, here's the value I want to give you, and here's the price. And they have objections. They don't like your price. They don't like how you're doing it something like that. In order for you to ultimately get business and thrive as a consultant, you have to learn how to overcome that both internally and with the client. assertiveness has everything to do with that. Because otherwise, if you retreat, then you're going to do things like say, Oh, well, they're probably right. It's not worth that much. I'm going to charge way less, and now you're undervaluing yourself, or you're going to be like, Okay, well, they're just not interested. And you back off and get paralyzed, and you don't get the engagement.

Laura Khalil :

Right. So learning how to approach objections. But it also sounds like what I hear you saying, as well as releasing yourself from having to convince someone of something just saying, Hey, this is, here are the reasons why this makes sense in your business, or whatever it may be. But you're not trying to shove it down their throat if they don't want it. And today, they're not. What are you gonna do? Right?

Deb Zahn :

Well, and it goes back to the definition of assertiveness, assertiveness is defending your boundaries. If I'm trying to ram it down their throat, I'm now aggressive, I'm like pushing into their boundaries, which I don't think is appropriate. So and there's conflicts when you're in client engagement. So they don't like a deliverable or they're about something or they want to change the scope. And they don't want to give you any additional money, right? Don't bring it up. So assertiveness as a life skill, I think is essential. assertiveness is a business skill is make it or break it. And it's not that I'm now perfect, and everything is fine. I have worked a long time to build up my assertiveness muscle, and to make it habitual. And I still pay attention to what I do and don't do because fear of conflict has a really creative way of popping up.

Laura Khalil :

It's super informative.

Deb Zahn :

Oh, yeah, yeah. It'll show up. So I have to stay curious about it almost kind of playful with it. Yeah. So if I see it, I'm like, Oh, look at you. Aren't you adorable? I see you. We're not doing that. But I see you.

Laura Khalil :

But it's funny, because what I hear is that this is not about conflict is just a part of life, it's not gonna like go away, you're not gonna push it away, you know, but being able to recognize, oh, here, it's appearing in this new form. That's right. And I have a choice of if I want to engage with it, and how I want to engage with it. And that puts you in the driver's seat of your life, rather than getting reactionary rather than blowing up. I've also found, you know, with clients when I was doing a lot of consulting work, you know, part of the reason that I've been successful in that business is by being very clear with people, yes, you know, for scope creep. For those of you who are listening who don't know, that's sort of what Doug was talking about, when someone says, Hey, we'd like to add on a bunch of more work. But they, they leave out any discussion, around pricing, that's increasing the scope, and the scope is creeping up right, or leaping up, but they don't want to talk about it, and a lot of people and this actually happens to full time folks as well, where they take on more responsibilities. And they think, Oh, well, surely, surely, my manager or the client will bring it up with me, guys, more often than not, they won't. That's more often than not, it is your responsibility to what Deb said, to state and defend your boundaries around what you will and will not, you know, what you will not agree with?

Deb Zahn :

Yep. And employed work, it often shows up, I often joke is your work becomes increasingly other duties as required, you know, that line in your that's in the job description. And what that means is that that is often used as the bottomless pit. Right, throwing more and more work on you. And if you are not comfortable defending your boundaries appropriately, which is assertiveness, then there's no reason for people to stop that behavior.

Laura Khalil :

Why would they? They don't think it's working. It's Yeah, exactly. They don't have a problem. This sort of brings me to my last question for you. I'm really curious, because you've talked a little bit about self defense, which I of course, I am all about that. I love that that whole concept. Can you share a little bit about some of the concepts you've learned in self defense and how they can apply to assertiveness?

Deb Zahn :

Yeah, so one of the things that I learned early on is that That there is one technique that is critical to self defense. And it's critical in other areas of your life. And that is the word no. And being comfortable saying the word no. So in self defense, what we would do is we would have, and it was for women, we would have women get around a circle. And they would have to say no, just say no, like, we weren't even saying what you're saying no to. And then we would have them yell No. And that was one of the most difficult exercises that anybody had to do. Because they weren't in the habit of saying no, they were in the habit of, you know, being nice, quote, unquote, when they didn't want to be nice and saying yes, when they really, you know, was in their best interest to say no. And so in self defense, like, did I learn how to break bones? Yeah, I know how to break bones Watch out world. Right. But the reality is, is the majority of self defense, and the majority of setting boundaries is essentially saying no to things when you want to say no, it's how you carry yourself with confidence, which you can develop a habit of confidence. It's a no when you want to say no, and sometimes it's okay, if that no, is no, not right now. Or no. But when I finish this project, or no, but let's talk about that later. There's different ways that you can do it. But that is one of the most powerful tools, and you have to know that you are worth defending, Oh, God, he has if you don't, so one exercise we used to do is we'd throw an old beat up shoe in the middle of the circle. And we would say, none of you would risk your lives to defend this shoe. But the problem is, is if you think you're this shoe, if you think you're not worth defending, then you won't do it, you have no incentive to do it. So self worth and techniques like saying no, that's everything. And it applies in physical confrontations, it applies in normal conflict that happens as a regular part of being a human on a planet.

Laura Khalil :

Yeah, Deb did this. I'm so curious, because at the beginning of the show, we talked about kind of having, you know, blowing up kind of and having this sort of uncontrolled anger that would, you know, shoot itself in one direction or another. Did you find that as a byproduct of becoming a sort of that naturally decreased? Or did you have to do other work around that?

Deb Zahn :

To tell you the truth, assertiveness was the replacement. So the power that was behind the temper was not bad. It was how it got Express, condensed and exploded? Yeah, but once I was able to use my power in a more ongoing, productive, assertive way, the temper just kind of solved itself. Yeah. Isn't that amazing?

Laura Khalil :

Yeah. You know, I think there's so many people, and I work with a lot of women who are feeling very overwhelmed, who are feeling high anxiety, yeah, high stress. And often when we sort of dig into it, a lot of that is because they haven't developed the courage to say No, they haven't developed the courage to set effective boundaries and hold the boundaries. Yeah, they haven't learned to be assertive, I will tell you for myself. And you know, everyone's unique guys, I don't want to say like, Hey, this is how you solve anxiety for everyone. But I will say for me, my anxiety went from like, crying before going into the office when I was full time, because I was so scared of what my boss was going to say to me, too, that's like, let's say, a nine, to like down to a two, when I started consulting. And, more importantly, I learned in that process, how to set effective boundaries. And I realized, I don't need to live with all this anxiety,

Deb Zahn :

think of how much time it took, because you were spending all of this time before anything actually happened. freaking out about it and worrying about it. All of that time is now my time. And I can do whatever I want with it. And I would say one last thing that I think is so critical to all of this is also believing your perception of things. So we have a in my house, my husband and I always talk about questioning our narratives and don't override. So if you think something is unsafe, or you think that something is, you know, beyond the burden that it should be or that somebody is doing you harm. Believe yourself. It doesn't mean you question whether or not it's true, but but often for women, the default setting is to not believe ourselves. And if we don't believe ourselves, we don't have to worry about defending our boundaries because we've taken it off the board right? And that gets that will get in your way in life and it will get in your way in your work life over and over again. Oh my gosh, Deb,

Laura Khalil :

we could talk for hours. hours. I love it, too. I'm so glad you joined us today. Deb, how can people learn more about you and learn more about craft of consulting?

Deb Zahn :

You got it. So actually, so craft of consulting is where I help other professionals start build and grow their consulting business, but I talk about so I blogs on boundaries, I have tools. I talk about this stuff that it applies to everybody and one so they can go to craft of consulting Comm. If they go to start here, there's one tool I have that might be really helpful, which is tips and scripts for tricky client conversation. Oh my

Laura Khalil :

god, I gotta go download it.

Deb Zahn :

So you'll love it. And it's basically the starter script. What do you say at the beginning to get you into the right conversation now? It applies to consultants, but there's stuff in there that also will apply to folks that are still in employment as well. I love it. Deb's on thank you so much for joining us on brave by design. This was a blast. Thank you. I want to thank you for joining me and remember to subscribe to your favorite app so you can stay up to date. And I would love your review. If you've enjoyed this episode. Please leave a review and comment on Apple podcasts. You can also keep in touch with me online. You can find me on LinkedIn and I'm also on Instagram at force of badassery. All that information will be available in the show notes. Until next time, stay brave