The ben­e­fits of speak­ing up

SPEAK­ING UP DOESN’T COME EAS­ILY TO MOST OF US. TAMMY CO­HEN ASKS SO­CIAL PSY­CHOL­O­GIST DR SU­SAN NEW­MAN WHY IT PAYS TO BE UP­FRONT

Good Health Choices - - Contents -

Iwas think­ing about my mother and re­gret­ting all the times I wasn’t as gen­er­ous or as warm to her as I should have been. Over the years there were sev­eral ma­jor in­ci­dents that now make me cringe, but what seems to bother me most is ac­tu­ally rel­a­tively triv­ial. When I had young chil­dren, my mother had a habit of ring­ing at pre­cisely the worst time of day – din­ner time. In­stead of telling her from the start that this was my tear-my-hair-out mo­ment and could she call back later, I took her calls. A pat­tern formed of her ring­ing at this set time of day and when­ever I re­mem­ber those con­ver­sa­tions, I wish I could turn back the clock and pick up the phone that first or sec­ond time and say, “Mum, I’d love to talk, but can we ar­range a time when I’m not so fran­tic?” How hard would that have been? But in­stead of speak­ing up, I re­sented her for call­ing and set a neg­a­tive tone that coloured our re­la­tion­ship for a dis­pro­por­tion­ately long time.

Say­ing ex­actly what we mean isn’t some­thing most of us are trained to do. From child­hood, we’re taught the art of peo­ple-pleas­ing – of say­ing yes even if we mean no, hold­ing back from say­ing any­thing that might of­fend and toning down forthright­ness in case it comes across as be­ing in­con­sid­er­ate or ar­ro­gant.

But there are some very good rea­sons for try­ing to un­learn those early lessons now and not hold­ing off from speak­ing your mind. Here, Dr Su­san New­man shares seven of the best that will work for you.

You’ll avoid re­grets

It’s your birth­day and your sis­ter’s given you yet an­other bot­tle of the same per­fume – the one you de­test. “Don’t be silly, I know how much you like it,” she says when you try to protest about her spend­ing so much. You kick your­self for not telling her five birth­days ago that al­though you’re touched by the thought, it’s not quite your taste and could you change it for one you re­ally like? Not speak­ing out can some­times lead to a life­time of re­grets. For ex­am­ple, if only you’d told your boss you wanted to con­trib­ute more, you’d have been more ful­filled in your ca­reer. Words can be taken back, si­lences can’t.

You’ll get what you want

Most of us still feel it’s too de­mand­ing to ar­tic­u­late what we crave. In­stead we come out with half-re­quests in the hope that oth­ers might fill in the gaps. So you say, “It would be great if you could give me a hand for five min­utes,” when what you mean is, “If you stayed be­hind for an hour to help me, I might be able to leave work be­fore mid­night.” Sim­i­larly, you must say what you don’t want. When your boss dumps an as­sign­ment on you, don’t au­to­mat­i­cally say, “That’s fine.” In­stead, try, “I’d like to help, but I’ve got a lot on at the mo­ment. Can we see how best to get it done in the light of this other work I’ve got to do?” That way, you’re not say­ing no, but you are em­pha­sis­ing your value, as well as ne­go­ti­at­ing a more re­al­is­tic work­load.

You won’t end up re­sent­ing oth­ers

How many times have you clat­tered around the house seething with anger be­cause you’re do­ing ev­ery­thing and no one else is help­ing you? How of­ten have you di­rected bad karma thoughts at col­leagues who seem bliss­fully obliv­i­ous to the fact you’re tak­ing on more than your fair share of work? We’re so un­used to spelling out our needs that we ex­pect those around us to guess them in­stead. By speak­ing up, you’re giv­ing those clos­est to you a chance to meet your needs rather than be­com­ing vic­tims of your un­ex­pressed re­sent­ment.

You’ll be truly un­der­stood by oth­ers

We all want to be un­der­stood by other peo­ple, yet with­out say­ing what you mean, you risk be­ing mis­in­ter­preted. How many times have you looked at some­one you know well and thought,

“If you re­ally knew me, you wouldn’t have said that.” But how are they ex­pected to know you if you never say what’s in your head? You may not al­ways be as nice, but you’ll be more real – and that’s sur­pris­ingly re­ward­ing.

You’ll feel great about your­self

Think about the phrase ‘get­ting some­thing off your chest’. Speak­ing out, par­tic­u­larly on im­por­tant sub­jects, can feel like a weight is be­ing lifted off you. Be­ing as­sertive is good for you, it in­creases your self-con­fi­dence and makes you feel you’re tak­ing con­trol of your life. What’s the worst that could hap­pen if you tell ev­ery­one that, while you love the usual fam­ily get-to­gether over sum­mer, this year you’d like to go away? Yes, some rel­a­tives will have to make other plans. But they might en­joy the break from rou­tine. At the very least you’ll be free from the weight of un­ex­pressed dreams, which are the heav­i­est of all.

You won’t feel dis­ap­pointed in your­self

Ever walked away from an en­counter an­gry with your­self for not say­ing what you meant? The fact is that bit­ing back what you re­ally want to say can be tan­ta­mount to hit­ting the self-de­struct but­ton. Rac­ing against time to pick your friend up from the air­port? Your fault for not say­ing you had too much on. One of the worst things about fail­ing to say what’s on your mind is you’ve ab­so­lutely no one to blame but your­self.

Your re­la­tion­ships will im­prove

Peo­ple pre­fer hon­esty, even if you’re not telling them what they want to hear. For ex­am­ple, you tell your best friend that you and your hus­band are go­ing away for the week­end to cel­e­brate your an­niver­sary and she says, “That sounds won­der­ful, we might join you.” You could say noth­ing, then stew for days about how she’s hi­jacked your ro­man­tic week­end and should have known not to tag along. Or you could tell the truth: “Ac­tu­ally, we’d like to be on our own.” She might be dis­ap­pointed, but she’ll get over it and it’s bet­ter than spend­ing the fore­see­able fu­ture won­der­ing what she has done to up­set you.

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