Welcome to HR Coffee Time. It's great to have you here. I'm your host, Fay Wallis, a career and executive coach with a background in HR, and I'm also the founder of Bright Sky Career Coaching. I've made HR Coffee Time especially for you, to help you have a successful and fulfilling HR and People career without working yourself into the ground.
If you've ever felt you should be more assertive, or you've had other people around you recommend that you start being more assertive, it can be hard to know what to do about it. After all, what does being assertive actually mean and how can you be assertive if it isn't something that feels like it comes naturally to you?
Well, if this is the case, don't worry because this episode of HR Coffee Time is here to help. You are about to meet Trisha Lewis, and she is famous for creating a term that she calls "Unsquashing", which you're going to hear all about in a minute. Trisha is a trained actor and a professional communication coach, and I know that she's absolutely brilliant at what she does, so she seemed like the perfect person to invite onto the show and ask to share her fresh approach to being more assertive at work with all of us.
It was a real joy speaking to Trisha and hearing all of her ideas. I hope that you are going to enjoy hearing them too. Let's go ahead and meet her now.
Welcome to the show, Trisha. I'm so excited to have you here. I can't believe it's taken all of this time for me to finally be organized and invite you onto the show.
Well, you know the, can I just admit here that I've invited you now onto my podcast and I actually thought you'd already been on my podcast.
So that's how crazy this world is when we get to know each other. Originally over LinkedIn and it kind of feels like we've met each other, which I don't think we actually have in real life, which is nuts. But yeah, I'm just pleased to be here.
Yes, it is a bit nuts. We haven't met in real life. We'll have to definitely make sure that we rectify that one day.
And to start off, because obviously I know you're quite well Trisha, but everyone listening doesn't, so it would be fantastic if you could just introduce yourself and tell us all a little bit about your work.
Ok, so I think I, now, my latest profile headline, which I change fairly regularly on LinkedIn, is I think I call myself a self-belief, Unsquasher and Communication Skills Coach. Which
is my way of saying, I don't just want to say I'm a communication coach because I've struggled with that description, because communication is such a rich, varied, and multi-leveled, crazy thing . And also coaching itself is something you can approach in so many different ways. Different individuals do it differently.
And I, I thought, oh gosh, I don't wanna just use those two words. So I came up with the word unsquashing and self squashing when I was on the journey of unwrapping imposter syndrome and finding a slightly different variant of it. And I wrote a book and I did a Ted X talk. And so that word became quite associated with me, so I thought, well, let's chuck that in and yeah, it is self-belief unsquashing that lies so often at the root of the work that I then do that leads to things like public speaking or just general confidence in meetings or whatever it is. So I suppose the way of putting it is I work a little bit inside out rather than just go for techniques and tactics.
We need to kind of unscramble all that stuff that goes on inside our head. But I'm not a psychologist, although people do sometimes feel like I have put them on the couch when we go back to their childhood. But that's just a byproduct of the journey I go on with people.
I love the word unsquashing and unsquasher that you use all of the time.
Can you just explain a little bit more about what that word actually means for anyone who might not have come across it before?
Yes. I was looking into imposter syndrome a lot because when I set up my business just before I was 60, it was a bit of a crazy journey because I'm an actor and sort of everything I'd done my portfolio career hadn't been in what I describe as 'the business world'.
So I suddenly got hit in the face with all these things like business networking and doing all this LinkedIn stuff, and. I had a massive, well, (a), I sort of felt like I'd had a real dip of confidence, but then I realized that actually maybe I only had a superficial kind of confidence in many ways throughout my entire life.
So I went and thought about imposter syndrome. I thought, yeah, that kind of fits. And then over a few years, talking with people I knew, with clients, work, et cetera, and my own journey. I thought, actually, there's something else going on here. It's not just, "oh, I'm not good enough, I'm not good enough. I'm gonna be found out."
It's sometimes a case of, "Do you know what? I'm really good. Really. Oh my gosh, I better not look like a show off". So there's this kind of squashing thing that happens where you almost are dumbing down. You're sort of people pleasing, saying the right thing, being a nice girl, don't show off, uh, et cetera.
And I realized that that definitely had happened to me as a kiddy wink. And. It made sense suddenly. And when I started sharing this with other people, and, and particularly after I'd done the TEDx talk on this topic, so many people, oh my gosh, yes, yes, yes. That's what's going on. I so resonate with that.
So, yeah. So self squashing is suppressing your, your true personality, power, passion, if you like for fear of being judged as a show off.
I love this term of self squashing and I wholeheartedly agree. Trisha, it something that I think will resonate with so many people listening and they'll be able to. Identify with exactly what you're talking about. And the TEDx talk, I really enjoyed. I'll pop a link to that in the show notes for anyone who wants to have a watch of it.
I'd definitely recommend it. I have to admit I haven't read your book, which is very remiss of me. I know, I know. If you could. See the video at this point, everyone Trisha's looking, horrified that I haven't read the book, but I promise.
I promise that I will. And can you just tell us what is the name of the book for anyone who wants to look it up?
Yeah. Beautifully obscure name. It's called "The Mystery of the Squashed Self."
And I'm intrigued to see if uns squashing is going to come up in our chat today because Trisha has very kindly agreed to come on the show to talk about being assertive. So my first question for you, Trisha, is. What does being assertive actually mean?
Yeah, it's a good question. I wish I had a really snappy answer.
I read somewhere somebody's definition. It's about saying the right things in the right way at the right time, and that actually is a pretty good way of looking at it. It's almost easier to say what it isn't. Because it's not being aggressive and loud and dominant and getting your own way. Because the minute we start making that association, we go down some very bad squashing rabbit holes.
So it's clarity. It's feeling a sense of value in yourself, what you've got to offer, and also valuing other people. So you are very much showing collaborative, win-win, sort of approaches to conversations and even slightly difficult maybe conflicty situations. You don't need to get all, all Yeah.
Aggressive. No, I keep saying the word aggressive because there's actually a sort of continuum that people talk about, which is passive to aggressive and assertive is what lies in the lovely spot in between those two. And I will keep coming back to that because I think people have got themselves in a bit of a mess with
negative associations with the word assertive. I certainly did and have had to unwrap that, so yeah.
There's definitely a fine line there isn't there between assertive and aggressive? And I think there can be a real fear of thinking, oh, I, I don't want to seem as someone who's really pushy or aggressive or shouty and it, it just doesn't have to mean that
at all. What are some of the other negative associations you've seen with the word assertive or when you're talking about assertiveness with people?
Well, I can't not mention the gender issue here because there's this thing called "The female double bind", which I'm sure listeners might have come across.
Look it up. But it's basically very simple. If as a female you are assertive in all the best ways, you can find yourself being judged as cold, bossy, whatever and if you are lovely and fluffy and friendly, then you can be judged as being of no use whatsoever. And so we end up really in a bit of a fight on that one, and I think this will apply to blokes as well because there are different kinds of individuals and if you are a person who wants to be loved and wants to be liked, which is nothing wrong with that, you know, and that might be something to do with the way you were parented. It might be something to do with all sorts of things in your past, but there's nothing wrong with wanting to be liked. But obviously like with
all of these things, it's the tipping point between that and not stating any personal opinions, not coming back on people when you feel that perhaps that isn't the best way forward. And ending up in a people pleasing trap. So that is a societal thing basically. And it goes all the way back.
And, you know, there are people like, I don't know, Queen Elizabeth the first and Mary Seacole, who pushed back against that a lot and sort of redefined some of those qualities of assertiveness and how they could apply without you being a nasty person. Because, you know, they were people who really cared about people and related to people in their day.
So you know, people like, here, here's another one, David Attenborough. Uh, we all take a bow at this point. And I just think he personifies that lovely place of assertiveness because he's got, really strong views. He expresses them, he pushes back on things. But at no point do you think, "Oh, he's a bit much.
He's a bit bossy. He's a bit full of himself, he's a bit arrogant." And these are all negative associations, you know, "bossy", "full of themselves", "arrogant", "smarmy pants", whatever that somehow you've picked up along the way. That's what it means to be assertive.
It is really interesting hearing you talk about it, Trisha.
And you know what just suddenly popped into my mind was one of my old bosses, she was an HR Director. This is years and years and years ago, and she had been sent on, I don't think, just individually. I think all females within the business were invited to it. Some specific training around having an impact at a senior level when you are female.
And she came back from it and said, oh, it was really interesting because they'd talked about the double bind. I'm not sure if that was the term that was being used back then, but that was definitely the concept that she talked about. And she said the advice was, If you wanted to push back or be clear in your message, you had to make sure you had done done something lovely first.
So she said, so like, talk about fluffy kittens and how wonderful they are, and then make your point, which , you think might be negatively construed. And I remember at the time thinking, I'm really not sure about this advice or that that's gonna resonate with me. So I cannot wait to hear, Trisha, what your advice is.
So what should we all be doing if we want to be assertive, if we want to have an impact at work, but we don't want to come across as pushy or horrible or aggressive. How do we fit on that perfect spot in the continuum that you were talking about?
Well, what you are doing now; both in your voice and your body language, which people won't be able to see.
And presumably myself as well is part of the deal. So, Smiling, warm body language. So that doesn't involve you talking about fluffy kittens. Using humor can be a useful tool, but I say that with caution because it has to fit with who you really are, you know? So, one of the key things, and it does go back to this self squashing thing, is
working on feeling, good about who you are in your most aligned state. Now we will obviously tweak consciously as I call it. So context matters. So you don't necessarily just go around saying, "Oh, I'm just being me. I'm just being me. Look how me I am." Cuz that would be really dangerous.
You don't necessarily show the whole kit and caboodle of "you-ness" all the time and with your mates, in a social situation that's very different from in a meeting or when you're presenting, but you still need to be coming from a reasonably aligned spot and know that you are consciously doing a little bit of impression management stuff.
Ok? You are working to the context you're in. So in other words, you're not faking it. You're not just trying to be this assertive person. I tried that once, actually a networking event. I tried dressing in the gear. This was early days of networking, as I said, which were freaking me out. And I thought, okay, okay.
I'm not gonna be defeated by this next time I'm gonna play the game. So I went in the sort of, Power suit and, and I had my business cards. This was back in the day. And I was thrusting them in people's hands and walking into people's conversation groups and saying, "Hello, I want to introduce my...", honestly, I came away feeling awful.
I felt like, what was that? Who was that? So you do need to keep to something that is you, but sort of almost like raise your body language to incorporate this strong warm balance. Now that is the key, but it's easier said than done. So if you imagine a mixer board, you know, musicians, mixer board with all those sliders going up and down, so you've got one of those that that you can use.
It's your tool in terms of your communication skills and. Play with it so you won't always get it completely right. It takes a little bit of experimenting to get that strong warm balance. So if you can come across as a bit cold and clinical. You've been told this maybe by your nice friends, and you don't mean to be, and you're not a cold person, but maybe your facial expression, your resting expression.
I won't use that horrible, vulgar expression, but your resting face can look a bit. Mine can actually, look a little bit sort of disdainful or, or annoyed or whatever. So if you look in the mirror, be aware of these things. You think, oh yeah, no, I do have a face that when I'm not consciously doing anything with it can look a bit off putting, I, you know, can look a bit like I don't care or I'm not concentrating, or whatever it is your face does.
And then, work on doing a sort of natural smile, actually do it and see what it feels like and think. Ok, so I need to be always dialing that up more than I realize when I'm in these social situations, these meetings, whatever. Because actually if I just think, "Oh, just be me. I'm just here sat like this, doing my thing", that's not going to give the impression that
I want to give, and I don't mean that to come across. It's not like I am that cold, aggressive person or whatever, but if I'm not careful, my natural sort of look, body language, whatever might be misconstrued. So I'm gonna just switch that up a little bit and I'm gonna consciously smile more because that is what my face needs to do.
Or if you are a very, very smiley person, that's maybe over the top on the whole lovely, lovely, lovely smiley look. You might need to work on seeing how you can, I don't know, put your shoulders back a bit more, smile perhaps with your eyes rather than your entire face, you know, so that's a good, that's a great trick.
Try that one in front of the mirror. A real smile. Should make you have nice crow's feet around your eyes. I've got loads. Aren't they great? But you can do a lot with just your eyes, so you don't need to be doing the full on, which can come across as a bit inauthentic smiley thing. But when you make eye contact, which is obviously a nice assertive thing to do, and you just feel that smile through your eyes, so people can sort of see the warmth, but they're not getting a kind of fluffy, I want to be your best friend feel either. There's a little quadrant that I just wanna tell your listeners about. I think it was Amy Cuddy and somebody Fisk who came up with this together, and it's the strong strength and warmth.
Kind of thing. So you've got strength on one line, warmth along the bottom, and then you've got the quadrant. If you are all, if you're no warmth and all strength, then people are going to be afraid of you. They're going to fear you. Yeah. Or maybe envy you, whatever. But it's not good.
It's not a, a good thing if you are all. If you're no strength and no warmth, people just aren't really gonna take much notice of you, to be honest. Or they might even not quite take to you. If you are all warmth and no strength, people have a certain sort of, "Oh, oh shame. It's really nice, but" feel. But if you can combine the strength and the warmth in the right mix, then you get
that kind of sense of respect and, I advise people to go and have a look at, TED Talks and things like that, or anything that they're watching on television, documentary presenters, whatever, actors, whatever it is, and think, what is it I like? Why am I relating well to this person? And you will probably spot that they've really got that balance.
I've already mentioned David Attenborough. Think about people like, I don't know. Mary Beard is another one I come up with, highly respected academic, you know, she could so easily come across as a bit, "Oh, she's a bit of a know it all," which is what we do as humans. Admit it. Everybody, we do, do that.
But she has some humor. She doesn't overdo her appearance. She's nice and casual. That's her style. She seems very authentic. But you are taking her seriously cuz she's got some interesting stuff to say and she doesn't need to wrap it up with fluffy kittens.
You have just given me. So much.
Thank you, Trisha. Well, you haven't just given it to me. You've given it to all of us. To everyone listening, I have got so many questions I could ask you now. Let me see what one I want to start with. Oh, well, actually before I ask you a question, I just want to say for any anyone listening. Amy Cuddy may sound very familiar to people because she became phenomenally famous when she recorded a TED Talk about body language.
In fact, one of the very first articles I ever wrote for my website was on the best TED Talks to watch for your career, and I've included hers in there. She talks about things like power posing, so trying to take up lots and lots of space. It's been proven through her research and not just with humans. You see it in the animal world all the time as well. But if you start taking up more, space. It makes you look more powerful and feel more powerful. So when I'm doing interview coaching for people who are preparing for an interview for a new job, I'll often say to them, have you thought about doing some power posing before?
And I remember doing that myself for one of my interviews, going into the loos in the building and just standing there doing a Wonder Woman pose beforehand to just try and build up my feelings of confidence before walking into that situation. But I haven't heard her talk about this idea of the warmth and power continuum.
That sounds fascinating, Trisha. I'm gonna be going away and googling that next after we finished our conversation.
Yeah, I, I think you are going into the loo thing and preparing is great because I, I mean, as an actor, I so get the value of this preparing thing. I mean, the various bits over the years that I've done prior to a performance, you know, they're my things cuz you've gotta make it feel right for you, you know?
So take these ideas and don't necessarily run with them a hundred percent, you know, said, "Oh, I have to stand like this. I have to do it exactly like this. I have to...", because you do need to put your sort of slant on it. But there is a magic that happens between your body and brain. That's, that's the big takeaway, isn't it?
That you, that you can trick your brain really much more easily than people I think, realize. Certainly, I didn't realize until I really looked into this. You know, so the smile thing is the best way to. Uh, experiment and you'll instantly see what happens. So you are feeling miserable, bored, whatever it is, can't be bothered.
Or maybe you are even about to go into a meeting or an interview or whatever, and you've got this kind of really low mood about you, you've had a bad commute, whatever it is. Just go somewhere and just smile from your toes through your stomach, into your eyes, the real deal, and you suddenly feel really happy.
And it's, honestly, it's the most magical thing. I mean, try it now. Everybody, if you're feeling down, just smile and. Yeah. And the same applies to putting your shoulders back and whatever. So yeah, and a bit of breathing, but make it, make it your thing and, and what you are wearing does matter. And I'm the last person to sort of get all superficial about all of this stuff.
But when I say what you're wearing matters, I gave you an example of how I put on, if you like, a costume of businesswoman thinking that that would be the trick. No. Okay, that's not how this works. You can consciously tweak your natural style according to the situation, but don't go and suddenly throw yourself into a whole other person's body and persona because you think that's the way you're gonna come across, as assertive.
Well, I'm definitely going to be trying out that smiling trick in the mirror. See if I can smile without my mouth, but with my eyes, because I think going back to that, warmth power continuum. I probably veer too much on the smiley side and that reflects in my body language as well. I do a lot of arm waving around.
But again, my family it's kind of a running joke. I can't be trusted around glasses, so I'm a nightmare to invite to a cocktail party or drinks or anything because as I start talking, I use my hands to animate what I'm saying. And then invariably a glass of champagne gets knocked over where, where it's in range.
I know for me that's. Again, something that sometimes I have to reign it in and tone it down a little bit if I want to make sure that I'm going to be taken credibly and it's, you know, not in a social
I love that story. That's just brilliant. What a great image you've just painted. This is fantastic. But I, I'm with you because, you know, I use my hands a lot and and what I'm saying is, And what you've just said is figure out what you do. Don't then go and chain yourself up and say, "I mustn't ever move my hands, I mustn't do this. I mustn't look like this." because that, that will mean you don't connect cuz people will think, "I don't quite trust this person. There's something they're hiding". It will leak out that you're not quite being "you". So it is just this mixer board this, this tweaking when you know this is your natural side.
You've explained it really, really well. And for me it would be the overuse of humour. So I'm way more introvert than people realize, and so in networking situations and whatever, I can sometimes turn my energy up too high because I'm thinking, "Right, come on, gear yourself up for this" and up my energy.
And because I'm a trained actor, I'm very good at being able to walk into spaces and do this thing. But I realize sometimes I, I literally can hear myself saying things in response to people thinking, "I can't believe I just said that, that that could come across as really rude" because it was meant to be affectionate humor.
But I may have just turned that up a little bit too much because I don't necessarily know that person at all, and they don't know that, that's my sense of humor.
Because I'm quite tall, I've got quite a strong voice. Maybe the actor training as well all plays into what could be seen, I worry, as a slightly over the top presence in a situation. So being very aware of that, I perhaps then overplay the sort of, humour and "Oh silly old me" and all that kind of self-deprecating humour, which can work really well, but if you overdo it, you are maybe not gonna be taken as seriously as you should be.
So we all have our thing. So just do a little audit.
The big thing that's really beaming through at me while we are talking is the importance of self-awareness. And that's so much of what sits behind successful coaching, I think. I've been really surprised throughout my adult life to realize how much we can actually learn about ourselves.
It seems weird because it feels like, well, I am a person. I am in my body and in my mind, surely I should know who I am and how I behave and what I do and why I do that. And, and actually we are pretty clueless, unless we really proactively try and learn those things. And we can learn them from testing stuff out, from noticing unofficial feedback that we're getting.
Like you and I have both talked about the fact that we've realized, Ooh, actually, on that mixer board, maybe we need to dial, dial that down a tiny bit. But I would love to ask you, Trisha, what your advice is around getting feedback maybe from our peers or other people that we're working with, because they'll be able to
see things that can really help us to be assertive. Have you got some great tips that you could share
Yeah. And I actually do this. I think it's one of the things that maybe is one of my, it's not unique, but one of the things I do as a, as a coach, mentor, director, whatever you want to call me, is role play situations because
if you're just with somebody talking to them and you say, "Oh, just tell me if I come across as", or whatever, whatever. It's quite difficult for that other person. They don't want to be critical of you. Whereas if you do it as a exercise, I use the word "forensic" a lot because it goes with this kind of detective mindset thing that I also talk about.
So enter a situation with somebody with this as the context. "Right. We're gonna be really forensic". This is what an actor does when they rehearse with a good director. An actor rehearsing with a director does not want the director to sit and say, "Oh, that was good. Oh, well done.
Oh, you did that beautifully." Oh my gosh, that would be hideous. I love being pulled apart. It's painful, but it's what makes it all worthwhile. Because that's a professional relationship and it's what you are expecting. Do set that up. The same with even your friend. So say, "This is what I'm expecting.
Okay. Because I know that I can sometimes come across as, I'm not sure if when I do this it works because it might do. Right. Let's get really forensic about this. This isn't about me as a person. This is, you know, we're just doing an audit on what we think people who don't know me might think. That's the big clue.
People who don't know me." You know, when you know somebody, you know about the little quirks, you know, they don't, they're not being rude when they make that joke.
I like that idea of maybe pairing up with somebody else because, oh my goodness, if the listener is listening to this because they'd like to be more assertive,
I can put money on the fact you will be working with someone else who feels the same way. So what a lovely way of being able to develop your skills together and really partner on that approach. So thank you for sharing that, Trisha, and I am very conscious of the time. It is far too easy to talk to you.
I could carry on talking to you I think for hours, but I had better move us along to start wrapping things up. So what is the main book recommendation you wanted to share with us today? Your top non-fiction book recommendation.
I've had this on my shelf and it's, it's dogeared, which I think is a really good, and it's got little bits of torn paper, bookmarks and, uh, markings and everything.
So this is a good book, clearly, and I've had it for quite a few years and it helped me right near the start of my journey, if you like, and it's called, "Compelling People. The hidden qualities that make us influential", and this is where I first learned about this strength, warmth mix and blend. And it's by John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut.
Ooh, that sounds like a great book recommendation and so well aligned with what we've been talking about today. Thank you ever so much. So that brings me to my very final question, which is for anyone listening who wants to learn more about you and the fabulous work that you do, what is the best way of them doing that or of getting in touch with you?
LinkedIn. Yeah, I mean, I hope not. Obviously everybody is on LinkedIn, but I hope most of you listens are you should be. Uh, so it is just Trisha, Trisha Lewis. Talk, I think Trisha Lewis talk or talks is my sort of handle or whatever. And, and actually if you put that in Google, you'd also come up with my Instagram, which is quite a lot of climbing and nature photos.
And you will find me at www dot there we do old-fashioned trisha lewis.com, and the Trisha is spelled with an s h a. Don't ask me why. And if you put Tricia Lewis in Google and come up with lots of pictures of a weight loss chef from Ireland, that is not me, but I, I'm afraid she's rather grabbed the Google SEO algorithms, but you'll find me, I'll be there.
Just put confidence or communication after it and, and you'll get there.
Brilliant, and I will put all of the links into the show notes as well, of course. All that leaves me to say is a huge thank you for coming on the show. It has been an absolute pleasure getting to spend this time with you,
And for me too.
That brings us to the end of today's episode. I really hope you enjoyed hearing from Trisha as much as I did. As one of the things that Trisha mentioned was how helpful it is to get feedback. I thought I should let you know that I do have another couple of HR Coffee Time episodes specifically about feedback in case you'd like some more feedback tips.
They are episode 78, "5 tips to get useful feedback at work to help your HR/People career". And there's also episode 57, "Using the Johari Window to develop and grow in your HR career". The Johari window is a great feedback tool, so that's one that's definitely worth taking a listen to. If you have enjoyed the podcast today
can I possibly ask you for a tiny favour? Which is to rate and review HR Coffee Time on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, or whichever podcasting platform you're listening to it on. It makes a huge difference in encouraging the platforms to suggest the show to people who haven't come across it before, and I would love to help as many HR and People professionals as possible with this free weekly show.
Thank you so much. Have a great week, and I'm looking forward to being back again next Friday with the next episode for you.