5 Steps to Speaking Up About the Stuff that Weighs you Down
Suffering some relationship stress? In any relationship issues will inevitably arise from time to time that have the potential to create tension and conflict. It is not the issues themselves which are the main cause for relationship breakdown but how you go about addressing them. Many of us struggle to effectively speak up about the issues that are causing us to feel resentful, frustrated or downright angry with the result being that what isn’t talked out gets acted out — in cheap shots, innuendos, moodiness, the “silent treatment.” Needless to say, the cost can be profound. Not only can it undermine the mood in your family, friendships or workplace but it can have a serious impact on your emotional, mental and physical health.
5 Steps for Mustering Up Your Courage to Speak Up
1. Box Your Ego
Every conversation provides an opportunity to build or erode trust. As tempting as it may be to make the other person wrong in order to make yourself right, doing so never serves you or your relationship. Your ego’s prime concern is you looking good (or avoiding looking bad). Putting your ego in its box means letting go of your need to play safe or to win your case; to resort to silence or violence. Instead reflect on what you really want to achieve for yourself, the other person and the relationship. For instance, do you really want to make your assistant feel inferior or do you want to create a more productive and rewarding work environment? Do you really want to hurt your spouse’s feelings or build a more loving marriage?
2. Question Your Own Stories and Listen to Theirs
As human beings we live in stories – about ourselves, other people and the situations we find ourselves in. The issue isn’t that we have stories but believing that our stories are “the truth.” The real truth is that you don’t see the world as it is, but as you are. It therefore pays for you to challenge your own stories about a situation and consider alternative perspectives. Be particularly vigilant for “victim” and “villain” stories which leave you free of any role in the circumstances you find yourself in.
Not only can your stories roadblock fruitful communication, but so too can your lack of understanding of others’ stories. Taking the time to genuinely listen to and understand another person’s story is the singular most powerful communication tool there is, as it not only builds trust and respect but it makes others less defensive and more receptive to your opinions (growing your influence in the process).
3. Manage Emotions Starting With Your Own
Like it or not, we human beings are innately emotional creatures. Since we can’t choose not to experience an emotion, we have to learn how to manage them once they arise. Only by doing so can we effectively respond to other people’s emotions or pursue fruitful dialogue with them.
It begins with self-awareness; simply noticing the emotions that you’re experiencing in any given moment: fear, anger, jealousy, hurt. No emotion is “bad” or “wrong;” it is what it is. It’s whether or not our response to that emotion serves us (and those around us) or not that is good or bad. When it comes to speaking up there is nothing wrong with feeling nervous, awkward or completely terrified. In fact, it’s normal. However what doesn’t serve you is when you give these emotions the power to determine whether or not you will address issues diminishing the quality of your relationships. Remember, courage isn’t the absence of fear, it’s action in its presence. When it comes to managing others’ emotions, don’t descend to their level. If someone is getting furious, be curious. Model the change you want to see in others. It begins with you.
4. Speak To the Listening
The meaning of communication is not defined by what is being said, but by what is being heard. The only way to influence or persuade someone is to speak to the context from which they are listening. Ways to help you be more effective at this are to:
- Be authentic: If you are feeling nervous just share it.
- Begin with the “facts first” and avoid absolutes. You’re guaranteed to offend when you present your opinions as “the truth.”
- Tentatively share your opinion or “story” using language that allows for other possibilities, e.g. “It seems to me like…”
- Stay focused on the future and stay mindful of your highest intention (i.e. keep your ego in check!)
5. Seek Progress, Not Perfection
Speaking up may never be easy for you but it will always open the window to more open and rewarding relationships. At times you may stumble as you try to express yourself. Don’t beat yourself up but learn what you can and move on. Regardless of whether you can immediately resolve the issue at least make a commitment to ongoing dialogue. This alone can ease tension and build trust in your relationship.
As with everything in life, it is ultimately a matter of choice, your choice! Choosing to be committed to your own happiness and self expression will allow you to find the courage to give voice to those issues weighing you down and standing in the way of you enjoying the professional success and personal happiness that you want. Remember, if there is something you genuinely want to say then chances are there’s someone who genuinely needs to hear it. In conversations, as in life, you are capable of more than you think you are. Get talking!