Put Your Foot Down How to make your voice heard and not feel bad
Voicing our opinions does not always come easily, but with your career and relationships at stake, it definitely pays to be upfront
Ever had the nagging feeling that you should stand up for yourself, but instead of opening your mouth, you just ignored your instincts? Turns out, keeping quiet when you need to boldly express your feelings can be detrimental to your work, health and social life.
“When I had young children, my mother had a habit of calling at precisely the worst time of the day – dinner time. Instead of telling her from the start that this was my tear-my-hair-out moment, and could she please call back later, I took her calls. A pattern formed of her ringing at this set time of the day,” says writer Tammy Cohen.
“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 am 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 ended up colouring our relationship for a disproportionately long time.”
Saying exactly what we mean is not something most of us are trained to do. From childhood, we are taught the art of people-pleasing – 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 back from speaking your mind. Learning to speak up will help you immensely – not just in your personal relationships, but also in your career.
Here, Dr Susan Newman shares seven reasons why finding your voice and standing up for yourself will help things work out better in the long run.
YOU’LL AVOID REGRETS
It is your birthday once again and you sister has given you yet another bottle of the same perfume – the one you actually 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 appreciate the thought, it is not quite your taste, and could you please change it for one you really like?
Not speaking out can sometimes lead to a lifetime of regrets. For example, if only you had just told your boss that you wanted to contribute more, you would have been more fulfilled in your career. Words can be taken back, but silences cannot.
YOU’LL GET WHAT YOU WANT
Most of us still feel that it is too demanding to simply articulate what we crave. Instead, we come up 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 stay behind for an hour to help me, I might be able to leave work before midnight.”
Similarly, you must say what you do not want. When your boss dumps an assignment on you, do not automatically say, “That’s fine.”
Instead, try saying, “I’d like to help but I’ve got a lot on my plate currently. Can we see how best to get it done in the light of this other work I’ve got to do?”
That way, you are not saying no, but you are emphasising your value, as well as negotiating a more realistic workload.
YOU WON’T RESENT OTHERS
How many times have you seethed with anger because you are doing everything and no one else is helping you? How often have your colleagues been blissfully oblivious to the fact that you have been taking on more than your fair share of work?
We are so unaccustomed to spelling out our needs that we expect those around us to guess what they are. By speaking up, you are giving those around you a chance to meet your needs rather than merely becoming victims of your unexpressed resentment.
YOU’LL BE TRULY UNDERSTOOD
We all want to be understood by others. Yet, without saying what you mean, you risk being misunderstood. How many times have you looked at someone you know well and thought, “If you really knew me, you would not have said that”? The thing is, how are they expected to know you if you do not say what is really in your head? You may not always be as nice, but you will be more real – and that, in itself, can be 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 your shoulders. Being assertive is good for you in that it increases your self-confidence and makes you feel like you are taking control of your life.
What is the worst that could happen if you tell everyone that, while you love the usual annual family get-together at Christmas, this year you would like to go away on your own?
Yes, some relatives will have to alter their plans – but they might enjoy the break from the routine too. At the very least, you will be free from the weight of unexpressed dreams.
YOU WON’T BLAME YOURSELF
Ever walked away from an encounter feeling mad at yourself for not saying what you meant? The fact is that holding 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? It is your fault for not letting her know you have too much on. One of the worst things about failing to say what is on your mind is that you really have no one to blame but yourself.
YOUR RELATIONSHIPS WILL IMPROVE
People prefer honesty, even if you are 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, “Oh, we’ll join you.”
You could say nothing, then stew for days about how she has hijacked your romantic weekend and should have known not to tag along.
Or you could tell her the truth: “Actually, we would like to be on our own.”
She might be disappointed, but she’ll get over it. It is far better than letting her spend the foreseeable future wondering what she has done to upset you.