How to stop being so pushy while at work

Dr. Mark Goulston explains how knowing the difference between being passionate and being pushy is to understand the boundaries of people's patience.
This is a photo of Mark Goulston, M.D.
Mark Goulston, M.D.

I recently reached out to my social media including my 540k Twitter followers about what they thought was the difference between being passionate and pushy.

It generated many interesting and thoughtful responses. The main essence was that when you are passionate, it’s about sharing something you’re passionate about with the desire to cause others to either share in that passion or perhaps to cause them to awaken their own passions about something else.

On the other hand, when you are perceived as pushy at work, you come off as mainly thinking about how you can convince or sell or persuade people to do what you want them to do with it helping you first and maybe or maybe not helping them.

I reached out to others because my life has been a journey of first being compassionate in a way that appears to help depressed and suicidal individuals feel less alone, comforted and in so doing, become less depressed and/or suicidal.

After that, I’ve discovered passions, especially about helping others to help others, which helped me get a message out to people beyond one-on-one interactions.

In recent years I have become more entrepreneurial, meaning there might actually be a way to turn what I do into a business. Along with becoming entrepreneurial, I can become pushy, and that can sometimes run over my passion not to mention that your compassion can turn into road kill.

Although I admit to liking the excitement of being more entrepreneurial, I don’t like having the pushy part of my personality take over because it’s naturally too self-centered and self-serving to me.

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I’m also discovering that I am not the only person who dislikes pushiness.

All you have to do is check your email or answer your cell phone from a number you don’t recognize, and you too know what I am talking about.

What follows is a formula that works for me. However, it may not work for you. If you’re in sales, you’re judged on how much you sell to others, which let’s face it, is more about what’s in you and your company’s best interest than necessarily your customers. That’s especially true when they haven’t sought you out to sell to them.

When I meet people in a business-related setting or even when we are having an appointment or a lunch, I do my best to ask them: “What matters most to you regarding your job and your role in your company?” (By the way, if you’re applying to work at a company you can ask the hiring manager, “What matters most to your company right now and how is the job you’re interviewing me for fit with that?”)

When they answer, I do my best to pause for two seconds before I respond or ask another question. By doing that, I’m nonverbally communicating to them that I have listened to and considered what they have said. To communicate that even more, I respond with, “Hmmm (with a tone where I am liking the taste of what they’re saying that encourages them to say more), say more about _______ (and I pick out whatever they’re saying that seems to have some emotion attached to it).”

After that, I ask them, “What are you currently doing to achieve or accomplish what matters most to you and how is that going?”

I then listen to them and again pause to keep them saying more and being more invested in the conversation.

I will then ask, “Are you satisfied with how that’s going, and would you be open to additional ways to make it happen sooner?”

If I sense an opening, and my company or I don’t have anything to help them, I turn to my network of people who I might make an introduction to. Making referrals to other people that brings those other people business is often going to be reciprocated by them.

“Okay,” you ask, “but what does this have to be with being too pushy, because it sounds like you’re doing just fine with what you’re asking and how you’re keeping the conversation going?”

If it turns out that my company or I do have what will help them achieve/accomplish what matters most to them in their job, I can begin to speak increasingly passionately and reach a point where I’m feeling so buzzed that I have tuned out their non-verbal cues that I have entirely run them over.

Once that happens, I had all but lost the sale or engagement, because they’re thinking, “Eh tu, Dr. Mark? I thought you were going to be different from all the pushy salespeople that don’t get it when they’ve pushed too hard and pushed me away.”

Unless I am entirely clueless, which I the great EQ specialist is capable of being in the heat of feeling momentum, they will give me clues that I’ve pushed too hard. That can be in their breaking eye contact or becoming fidgety signally that they have heard enough from me and now want to get away, or they can give me the most common verbal clue that they’ve heard enough. And that is when they begin their response with “Well…” which often means they’re hinting, “Well, I’ve heard enough for now and possibly forever.”

If you’ve been in the position that I occasionally get myself in by being too pushy — which, by the way, feels to them as too hungry and needy and all about you versus them — is there a way to unburn a bridge or re-hook someone who has taken your hook out of their cheek and is swimming away (as fast as they can)?

You can try to ask them questions, such as: “Do you have any questions?” or “What have I failed to ask or understand about your specific situation?” They might politely respond, but there is a good chance that you remind them too much of pushy people from their past and they just want to get away from you.

Or you can try something I call the “Columbo Maneuver” as explained in my book, “Just Listen.”

What you do with that person who you can help, but who you’ve just driven away by being too pushy, is to figuratively hit yourself in the head and say, “Darn it! I’ve done it again!” and then pause.

The other person will immediately re-engage and say, “What?” or “Huh?”

At that point say, “I’ve done something that I told myself I wasn’t going to do, but I’ve done it again. I just ran over you. What’s behind that is that with what you’ve already told me, I’m already seeing how my company and I can greatly assist you to get where you’re wanting to go much faster than you’re getting there and my eagerness to get started got ahead of my even seeing if you’re interested. As I said, ‘darn it, I’ve done what I said I wouldn’t do again. Can I get a second chance with you if I promise to not run over you again?”

Here’s the good and bad news:

The good news is that if you take that approach, they may give you that second chance. The bad news is that if they do and you run over them again, you’re not likely to get a third chance.

Three strikes and you’re out.

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Dr. Mark Goulston is an award-winning business psychiatrist, a consultant for Fortune 500 companies and the best-selling author of seven books. His latest book, Talking to Crazy: How to Deal with Irrational and Irresponsible People in your Life can be found on Amazon. Catch up on Dr. Goulston’s previous articles here.

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