How many times have you stayed absolutely silent when someone hurt your feelings, when someone crossed the line?
How many times have you ignored a behavior because you didn’t want the discomfort of a disagreement?
How many times have you tried to convince yourself that you weren’t upset and you weren’t angry?
How many times have you abruptly changed the subject because the person was getting too close to a vulnerable topic?
How many times have you had conversations with others inside your head, letting them know exactly what you thought, exactly what’s bothering you, but never uttered a word out loud?
It’s easier to stay silent, isn’t it?
It’s easier to nod and say “yes,” to pretend you’re perfectly fine, to change or bury your own feelings instead of talking honestly and vulnerably with another person. It’s easier to swallow our sadness and frustration. It’s easier to lie and say we’re doing great right now, thankyouverymuch for asking, than to deal with the discomfort of staring someone in the face and telling them something they potentially don’t want to hear (or at least that’s what we assume).
But it’s not really easier.
Maybe it is—temporarily. Temporarily, we avoid the awkwardness that we might be feeling. We avoid the anxiety that might inevitably arise when we speak up.
But over time, we end up doing ourselves damage.
I recently came across this powerful quote (the author is unknown): “If you avoid conflict to keep the peace, you start a war with yourself.”
When we try to avoid conflict, what we really do is suffer needlessly. We silence ourselves. It’s like we sever our own vocal chords. We take away our own power.
Of course, in the moment, it doesn’t feel like this because confronting someone about any issue is hard. It’s especially hard if you’ve learned to avoid conflict ever since you were young—and to stew instead. Or if you’ve learned that conflict is akin to aggression or violence.
So we think by staying silent, we’re easing our discomfort. And we’re simply not used to confronting someone constructively. We don’t have the tools—and that’s OK. Because you can learn.
These tips might help:
- Make a list of the reasons why you want to speak up. Pick the top three, and either jot them down somewhere visible, or memorize them. Remind yourself of these reasons regularly to help bolster your courage and desire to speak up.
- Jot down what you’d like to say to the person. There’s nothing wrong with sitting down and gathering your thoughts, making sure that you say what you want to say. Identify what you want out of this talk. What is your goal? What will make the situation better? What is your desired outcome? How can you clearly, kindly state this? (More on this below.)
- Practice. Practice saying the words aloud. Practice saying them in front of the mirror, or practice with someone you trust. The more you practice, the more natural this will feel and become.
- When talking to the person, try to stay calm, and be clear. Your specific approach might depend on who you’re talking to. For instance, if you’re talking to a coworker, this piece suggests sticking to observable facts. According to Rhonda Scharf, state your issue in one or two non-emotional, factual-based sentences. Avoid venting your frustration. If a coworker took all the credit on a project you did together, she suggests saying: “It looks as if I played no role in the Johnson account. My name does not appear anywhere on the document, nor have I been given credit anywhere that I can see.” If you’re talking to a loved one, especially someone who tends to get defensive, start your conversation on a positive note, be vulnerable and take some responsibility for the situation. Focus on your feelings, and be sincerely curious about how they’re feeling, too. (You’ll find specific examples in this piece.) Remember that you can be compassionate and firm. Speaking up for yourself doesn’t make you rude. It’s all about your (calm, kind) approach, and the words you use.
Conflict can be constructive, and it helps to strengthen our relationships, giving us the opportunity to get to know each other on a deeper level, to meet each other’s needs, to stop resentment and other negative feelings from chipping away at the connection. And it’s critical for caring for ourselves.
Speaking up is not easy. But it does get easier the more often you do it. Thankfully there are techniques you can learn and use.
Even when you stumble, it’s worth it to express your needs. It’s worth it to support and advocate for yourself. It’s worth it not to have a war within. After all, your heart is important, too.