Being “Nice” and Speaking Up


Last week I wrote about the challenge we face when we are afraid or unwilling to address an unpleasant situation. Several of you wrote asking, “What should I do when it really is easier to just say nothing?” Some of you said that it’s not “nice” to hurt other people’s feelings and you don’t want to get others into trouble.

My guiding rule is that you decide how to respond to unwelcome behavior based on three things: what is the context, who is involved and, most importantly, what is your goal? You can’t strategically respond until you’ve answered all three questions.

You’ll recall that I gave the example of the manager of a local bistro who encroached on customers’ space and drove them away. Because it was no biggie for me, I didn’t feel a need to confront him. For other customers, it was an issue. Rather than not saying anything to the owner, here’s what an unhappy customer could have said:

”Your manager is a nice guy and tries to give good service. The only problem is he doesn’t seem to have a sense of boundaries and we find it annoying when he leans over and talks while we’re trying to eat or have our own conversation. I don’t know if this is just my issue or if others have said something. I hope you could have a chat with him.”

This is what being assertive looks like. You’re not complaining or being rude. You’re simply letting the other person know how you feel, why you feel that way, and what you’d like from them.

The other example I gave was of a young woman manager who felt intimidated by her two older male colleagues. She didn’t know how to handle them and so she resorted to gossiping and complaining. These tactics didn’t give her confidence and they resolved nothing, because the person she unloaded on wasn’t in a position to help.

This manager has to figure out why she’s intimidated and then go to HR – not to report or complain – and ask for help strategizing how she could overcome her uncomfortableness.

Being assertive comes down to this – do you believe you have the right to speak up, with the purpose of gaining clarity and having your needs met? Do you think you have the right to be treated with respect? Do you value the right to have feelings – and can you express your feelings appropriately without needing to harshly judge yourself?

None of this is simple since most of us weren’t instructed as children in how to non-manipulatively express our needs. So, yes, it can be awkward. That’s okay – for what’s the alternative? Suffering in silence?

Please send your questions to JP Reynolds at:

Follow me on Twitter: @jprweddings

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