Assertiveness – Confrontation or Candor?
Are you someone who doesn’t know how to say ‘no?’
Do you feel people take advantage of you?
Are you inclined to apologize even when you believe that you didn’t do anything wrong?
Do you sometimes say to others that you are “…not a confrontational person?”
Do you see yourself as a ‘go with the flow’ kind of person?
Sometimes, do you ‘go with the flow’ even when you don’t want to?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any these questions, it is likely that you would feel a lot better if you found ways of expressing your feelings, thoughts, wishes, plans and opinions.
Often one doesn’t express himself or herself due to fears that a confrontation would risk a friendship, alienate a family member or cause a partner to be upset or even leave the relationship. But, if this fear drives your behavior, the opposite happens; by bottling up your feelings over time you could feel hurt, resentful and angry and then have outbursts and feel more and more distant over time only making the difficulties more difficult.
You may ask: “When do I speak up? If I speak up too soon after we start dating, I’ll chase him away. He’ll think I’m too demanding,” or, “This has been going on so long, how do I change direction after all this time?”
Let’s look at an early dating situation. Jamie, young woman, began receiving texts from someone she met while visiting a friend at school in a nearby city. At first, they texted frequently and each was spontaneous and responsive. After about three weeks, his pattern changed. He began taking longer to reply; sometimes it felt to her as if he stopped a conversation in the middle. Sometimes hours would go by; sometimes he would text in the next day or two, picking up where they left off or starting a new conversation with no apparent awareness he had not replied hours or days earlier.
She was naturally affected, but didn’t say anything.
She didn’t want him to think she was “needy” or “that she was developing feelings for him.” She didn’t suggest they continue a conversation by phone, as she preferred, for the same reasons. He moved to another city after cancelling two scheduled visits on the day he was supposed to come and she was greatly disappointed.
What happened? She wanted to be perceived as independent, so she acted the way she thought an ‘independent’ young woman would act. In order to do this, she dismissed her own feelings and refrained from holding him accountable by even identifying or mentioning his behavior. She could not think of how to speak with him in a way that works for her and is NOT confrontational. Yet, with guidance, being true to herself, she could have let him know the behavior she observed, asked about it, and said what is important for her. She may learn something about him, for example, If he gets defensive when she initiates the topic that may be a red flag. The discussion could lead in another direction so they each learn about preferences that were not apparent before, for example, that she likes phone calls in addition to texting.
There are different ways of conveying the message and if she gave it thought she could have found a way that felt right for her. That would be independent behavior. If he wants to continue it is his choice. If not, she learns he isn’t for her. Either way, it is a win-win, with both being true to themselves and emotionally honest with the other. If a relationship had developed, what kind would it have been if she accepted his rude behavior at the beginning, when most people can be expected to be on good behavior?
I can guide you to developing the skills to learn how to speak for yourself in your style and be effective in situations when you need to address difficult issues with others.
Sometimes the way you think about a conversation beforehand could affect whether or not you go ahead. For instance, the reason why you would want to speak to someone in the first place is because something occurred that got to you, and you feel upset. So, when you think about the conversation in advance, you may see a ‘confrontation’ looming, and for that reason you may tend to avoid even thinking about the possibility. You don’t trust yourself to keep you cool and say what you want.
However, sometimes a good friendship, romantic relationship or family drama requires that you address the situation because leaving it unaddressed could be even more emotionally painful or have other undesirable consequences.
Is there a way to address a charged situation without a ‘confrontation?’
Often the best way to be heard is to be a good listener. You may already be a good listener. I can help you develop or enhance that skill, give you the tools for figuring out on your own if you want to address issues, when you may need address issues with another person and how and when to say what you feel is important or what alternate ways may be available to accomplish what you would like. Being true to yourself and finding a way to be heard allows for emotional honesty with those who matter and opens unanticipated possibilities.
I can guide you to seeing how to inform another person without blaming them so what you saw as a confrontation can be a conversation, transforming confrontation into candor. Please feel free to call Carole Spivack, LCSW, at 212 920-6019 to see how we can best work together.