Thursday, April 18, 2013

On being assertive.

Here are two things you should know about me: I am a people-pleaser, and I hate confrontation. I've gotten a tiny bit better about standing up for myself in the last few years because, well, I've had to, but in general I have a hard time telling people how I really feel—particularly if I don't know them exceptionally well, and sometimes even if I do—because I have a fear that they'll (a) get mad at me or (b) judge me. So for the most part I've tried to completely avoid either of those scenarios and live in (or project an air of living in, which is an important difference) "the marshmallow," as my friend Kate likes to say—in other words, in a white, sugary, fluffy cloud of happiness. As you can imagine, that's not especially healthy for my mental well-being.

Especially because sometimes the marshmallow gets singed. Sometimes it actually gets burned. And when that happens, I have to do something about it. The wise person who told me I should keep a worry journal and set boundaries with others so as not to be a doormat also told me that "there's passive and there's aggressive, and then in the middle there's assertive. You need to find that place and live there." And I'm working on it, but when you're almost 30 and you've made a career of avoiding this kind of thing, it is hard. I've been pretty good about setting the boundaries, but when it comes to telling people why I'm doing so, I choke—for exactly the reasons mentioned above.

This growing up thing, it is hard.

Anyway, the reason I'm telling you this is because I had a tough week last week—nothing major, just a random grouping of events that conspired to make things a little more difficult than normal—and I found myself incredibly frustrated about the fact that I can't seem to tell people how I feel. I'm an emotional person by nature, so this perceived shortcoming is, naturally, upsetting. I do think the frustration is good--I think it's going to lead to some sort of breakthrough—but tell me: How do you guys assert yourselves? Have you learned to become more assertive? And when do you choose to speak up vs. stand down? I would really love to know.

Photo by Nikaa


  1. So, I keep trying to think of what to say about assertiveness. I'm fairly assertive and tend to speak my mind, even when maybe I shouldn't. But I also get emotional about it and work myself into a frenzy at times. My husband is not assertive and trying to get better at it. Part of him working on it is me gently pushing him to speak up in certain situations. I wish I could be more helpful in this. I'll try to think on it some more. :-)

  2. I've been keeping this post as new in my reader so that I could have time to sit down and respond to it. One of the reasons I've become more assertive in the past couple years is that I've realized how disappointed I felt in the past when I didn't speak up. Whether it's someone making an awful, offensive joke, or pushing their work over to me, or whatever, I've walked out of situations feeling disheartened when I could have felt empowered. So there are a few things I do...

    - if I know that I may be approaching a difficult situation, I practice. This is kiiinda embarrassing, but I have a long commute, so sometimes I'll practice interview answers or potential confrontation responses in the car. Thinking through what I could say in a frustrating situation helps me feel more calm and prepared in the moment (if it happens).

    - picking your battles: again, it's tough to make split-second choices. At work, I think about what my priorities in terms of tasks/responsibilities and my self-presentation. I speak up when a situation could make me look bad, when it involves delegation or taking responsibility, etc. With friends, I encourage myself to remember that they will love me no matter what, and to approach any conflict with an outcome-oriented mindset. Then like the little marshmallow I am, I use lots of "I feel" statements. :-)

    - when someone asks for your advice/feedback, deliver it honestly. Sometimes I get nervous about giving a higher-up feedback (whether it's on performance or proofreading), but it's important to recall that they asked. This is especially important in a situation when you're frustrated. It's also totally okay to ask for time to collect your thoughts before having this conversation.

    In relationships and in my professional life, I can't think of a single time when I've regretted being assertive. I can think of plenty of times when it felt easier to roll my eyes or pout without being an active part of the solution, and those are usually times that I look back and regret. Practice makes perfect, so go get 'em Megan!

  3. <3 <3 <3 ....i've been reading the power of now and it's really changing my perspective of dealing with each moment. also, some atma yoga is so good for the soul and centers you into who you are. love yourself - you are perfect!!!