It may be tough at first, but assertiveness can become a habit.

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Q: As a manager, I always strive to maintain a professional demeanor in discussions with employees. But when critical and judgmental people try to twist the meaning of my words, I tend to freeze and shut down. This ends the conversation and keeps me from achieving my objective. What can I do about this?

A: Losing control of discussions signifies a lack of “management presence,” which means being comfortable and confident in your leadership role. When negative emotions arise, managers who possess this quality simply recognize them, put them aside and calmly continue toward their goal.

The most common emotional distractors are anger and anxiety. While hothead bosses must learn to calm down, timid types, like yourself, need to become more assertive. So when someone tries to divert you by distorting your remarks, say, “That’s not what I meant,” and then repeat your comments and refocus the conversation. Although this may feel uncomfortable at first, with a little practice it will soon become a habit.

Lessons in emotional intelligence

Q: One of my co-workers refuses to act like a team player. “Tony” automatically opposes any suggestion I make to improve operations in our retail store. Recently, Tony and I disagreed about how to train a new employee. Now I seem to be in trouble with my boss and don’t understand why.

On the new worker’s first day, I told Tony to switch departments with her so that she could learn some new skills. Tony refused and began arguing with me. When we called our manager, he sided with Tony, even though my plan clearly made more sense.

Because I couldn’t handle all this dysfunction, I asked to take the rest of the day off. My boss let me go but said we “needed to have a talk.” This makes it sound like I did something wrong. I’m feeling betrayed and unappreciated and don’t think I can continue working with Tony. What’s your opinion?

A: I’ll be glad to share my thoughts, but you’re not going to like them. Your manager wants to talk because you made two serious errors.

First, you clearly overstepped your bounds by directing your colleague to change departments. As a co-worker, you had no authority to make that decision. Before implementing a plan that affected Tony, you should have gotten your boss’s approval.

Second, when your manager overruled this move, you reacted like a sulky child and said you wanted to go home. Now you say you can’t work with Tony, obviously forgetting that you don’t get to choose your co-workers.

Based on these examples, you feel strongly entitled to have things go your way, a narcissistic trait that could prove to be your downfall in this job. Or any other job, for that matter.