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

Women's Weekly (Malaysia) - - Contents -

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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