Far too many people pressure themselves to speak on something perfectly and immediately. They want to get fired up and know exactly what to say or do straight away. When they don’t, they beat themselves up afterwards for not having the perfect words or addressing something there and then. Sometimes, also, the pressure turns into not speaking up due to fear of not expressing themselves correctly.
In situations where we feel we are experiencing injustice, pausing before speaking is hugely beneficial. Taking a few more calm breaths, getting our bearings, and seeing a bit more of what’s going on, can play a vital role in what and how we communicate.
Operating purely from the emotional part of our brain doesn’t give us enough time to step into our actual selves. The emotional part of our brain:
1) Skips over what might be vital pieces of information, and
2) Perceives things in terms of it being many thousands of years ago. Of course, back then, its primary role was to alert us to predators so that we could protect ourselves.
Pausing, even for a few moments, can be the difference between approaching saying something in a manner that reflects who you are or where you want to grow or responding purely from an emotional place and feeling foolish or humiliated.
The emotional part of your brain is critical and useful, but it gets things wrong. This is especially in situations that trigger you due to them reminding you of the past. Yes, you experience anger due to perceiving an injustice, but the feeling might not reflect the actual situation. Sometimes people are doing you wrong. And sometimes, your anger alerts you to where you’re doing yourself wrong.
Immediately firing off a response might generate instant gratification. Unfortunately, you are highly likely to react before you have enough or all of the information.
The answer isn’t to ignore that emotional part of you. Instead, it’s ensuring that you don’t exert pressure on yourself to instinctively have the perfect reaction. If you don’t pause, your response will likely distract from and derail what you want to communicate.
Pausing also cuts down on jumping to conclusions that leave you feeling bad and reacting from that wounded place.
Particularly in work situations (or anywhere we regard ourselves as being around authorities or people who could threaten our status), humans tend to be mindful of being and appearing “calm” and “professional”. While these clearly have their place, too many humans conflate keeping the peace and acting “appropriately” with having no boundaries. Silencing ourselves, trying to find the perfect words and moment, being passive-aggressive, and catering to sexist, racist, ableist, fatphobic and homophobic tropes are often our shorthand for How To Be Calm and Successful in the Workplace. Or… How To Achieve The Impossible and Be Liked By Everyone.
So a woman might believe that in order to be taken seriously, she must moderate her tone for men. Someone from a minority background might be perceived as not assertive enough. That same person, though, senses or knows that certain people will read actual assertiveness as aggression. They are mindful of how they can be perceived as “threatening” even though they’re not. Somebody who’s conscious of being judged for their weight and already overcompensating for this with overwork is likely to avoid addressing an issue for fear of being judged further.
Your idea of being “calm” and “professional” may well be the source of your pain and frustrating patterns.
If you experience recurrent feelings of resentment, anxiety, guilt, overwhelm and shame, to be “calm” and “professional”, halt. Your feelings are telling you that you need to check in with yourself. You’re breaching your boundaries.
What do you associate with being calm?
What does it mean to be professional?
And can you see where misunderstandings compromise your well-being?
For instance, let’s say you tend not to say anything because you’re afraid of not expressing yourself “perfectly”. Can you see how your perfectionism blocks your ability to communicate your boundaries?
While we don’t need to engage in hostile and inappropriate behaviour, being “calm” and “professional” isn’t always the solution.
Your communication can be calm despite how you upset you might feel about the events that prompted your need to speak up.
It’s okay to show some emotion. You’re only human. It’s making sure that your emotional response doesn’t overshadow your true intentions.
It’s easy to rationalise that it’s best not to say something. Wanting to keep the peace, though, often destroys our inner peace. We tell ourselves that we don’t want to hurt feelings or that we need to figure out what to say. What we don’t realise is how our continued silence is damaging the intimacy of a relationship.
Communicating your position won’t improve if you’re mostly in your head. Ultimately, it’s more important to communicate full stop than to analyse the shit out of how you’re doing it or what you say.
You can learn from speaking up and sometimes getting it ‘wrong’.
You don’t need to find the perfect words to communicate your feelings and position. Facts are helpful.
I saw you ______.
You did ______.
You said _______.
[The event] happened and now I feel/think _____________.
I am experiencing ___________ because ____________.
I am experiencing _____________ because I feel/think that ____________.
Comments like [insert up to three as close to verbatim as possible examples to illustrate your point] suggest that you’re not __________ or that this isn’t an environment that cares about [insert what the person/company claim they care about and stand for].
Stating the facts gives people the opportunity to see the situation, words or actions clearly without you inserting your opinion of their motivations or getting too personal.
Because you ________________, I’ve got the impression that ______________. This is far better than, You did ________, and it’s because you’re a beep, and you’re trying to destroy me.
Don’t try to bite everything in one proverbial gulp. You don’t need to pressure yourself to communicate your position or solve “everything” in one perfect sentence, paragraph or conversation. You also don’t need to learn “everything” from a singular experience or interaction.
If you genuinely want to, for example, contribute to a healthier workplace environment or reduce tension and resentment in your interpersonal relationships, speaking up is undoubtedly more beneficial than silence. Often while you’re trying to work out what to say or find the perfect moment, more injustices are clocking up.
You don’t have to find the perfect words, and people are not going to have the perfect reaction and responses. That’s not giving them a cop-out from what might be their legal responsibilities, incidentally; that’s more to take the pressure off yourself from trying to have the perfect one-take response because you think that’s what you need to do to influence and control other people’s feelings and behaviour.
Focusing on your desired assertiveness outcome, so what you want to communicate, removes the pressure to be perfect. Speak up for yourself anyway and tweak and refine as you go. The more you give you the space to be you and decipher what’s going on and how you’re feeling, the more you can have intentional responses aligned with who you are.
Check out my four steps to help you have an assertive response.