Get What You Want: 6 Lessons on Being Assertive from the Underwoods

Interpersonal and Communication Skills - © Performance Management Consultants

They may be painfully ruthless at times, but one thing is for certain: Frank and Claire Underwood know how to get what they want. For any readers unfamiliar with this power couple, they are the President and Vice President/First Lady, as portrayed by Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in the Emmy-winning Netflix series, House of Cards.

For those of you who watch the series, you know these two will stop at nothing to get what they want. Although at times it can be almost frightening to watch them in action, there are a few lessons we can learn on being assertive (of course we don’t endorse their ethics!). For anyone reading this who has yet to watch the series but plans to, be aware there are some minor spoilers in this article.

1. If you want something, just say it. It’s a relatively simple concept, but as Claire demonstrated in the beginning of season three, when she had her eye on a UN position, sometimes just saying “I want it” to the decision-maker (in this case her husband) is enough.

2. Don’t give up. You may get not always need to be assertive, sometimes you might get what you want by following the first lesson, saying what you want. However, if you don’t, and you feel that your rights are being infringed upon, do not give up. Know what those rights are and continue to be assertive. As President Underwood said at the beginning of the most recent season, “I will not seize!”

3. Make a bold claim. Whether you’re a fan of Frank Underwood or not, you can’t deny his climb from Congressman to President at record speed was impressive, to say the least. And his most powerful tool? His confidence. In season two, he makes the statement to the then-President, “There are two types of Vice Presidents: doormats and matadors. Which do you think I intend to be?” The President and audience know the answer is undoubtedly a matador. If you are confident in your skills, don’t be afraid to boldly state them.

4. Have a support team. Self-confidence is a key asset when it comes to being assertive, but everyone needs help from time to time. Although the Underwoods have left many in their wake, they always have each other’s backs. And of course, we know Frank couldn’t have made it to where he is without his second in command, Doug Stamper.

5. Go the extra mile. Sometimes self-confidence and a strong support team aren’t quite enough. You need to show people you’ve got what it takes to get the job done. Towards the end of season three, Frank had some pretty serious issues to resolve with the Russian President, who was being less than cooperative. So, what did President Underwood do? Sit around? Not likely. Instead, he flew to the Jordan Valley (which was under fire) to confront Petrov face to face. Assertiveness and conflict resolution are closely related, and should you ever need to resolve a conflict, being able to communicate assertively is the first step.

6. Know the facts. It’s true—the Underwoods have been known to jump (or throw an expensive steak) off the deep end from time to time. More often than not, though, they opt for a more planned approach. Frank and Claire both conduct extensive research and careful planning before making a move. Admittedly, a lot of the time it’s for less than desirable (and selfish) reasons, but the message is the same: do your research and know what you’re dealing with.

Now, anyone who knows the series also knows that Frank and Claire sometimes cross the line from assertive to aggressive, so be sure you’re not only keeping your needs in mind but the needs of your team as well. Take this article as an inspiration to be bold, and put yourself out there for something you really care about. Apart from going home to watch the series and seeing what else you can learn from the Underwoods, take these lessons and apply them to both your personal and professional life. Become a matador. Who knows, maybe you’ll be President one day.

For more lessons on being assertive, check out our Assertiveness and Conflict Resolution course.

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