One of the more challenging skills for new leaders to learn is how to be appropriately assertive. Many people suppress their own position or do not express their needs in order to avoid conflict, while some are at the other end of the spectrum and become demanding or domineering in their statements. Neither is helpful.

One technique to help people grasp the differences between assertive behavior, non-assertive behavior and aggressive behavior is through the use of a children’s book The Mouse, The Monster and Me. Whether you utilize the actual book or just adapt its lessons, the three distinctions help people consider which mask they are wearing into a given situation:

  • The Mouse mask – which you hide behind to subordinate your own position, feelings or wishes and demonstrate non-assertive behaviors
  • The Monster mask – that shows indifference to other people’s feelings or rights and comes across as too direct or self-enhancing
  • Me (mask-less being true to you) – in which you stand up for your own rights without violating the rights and feelings of others. It honestly, directly and appropriately expressing your needs and opinions.

If you introduce this language in your organization, the metaphor provides a shorthand to call someone out who is veering too far from their authentic center. A colleague or supervisor can simply say: “It sounds like you’re wearing your monster mask today,” and convey the message without further explanation or drama.

There is enough mask-wearing these days with COVID; you don’t need to add another layer. Think about what you are hiding behind in your communication and vow instead to consciously avoid being a monster or mouse.

The Mouse, The Monster and Me by Pat Palmer, 1977.

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