Nice (girls) finish last
May 23, 2013 8:25 PM   Subscribe

Help me be assertive/direct without being hostile/aggressive. Also, help me muddle through some other communication issues. Finally: can a person be nice to others without being taken advantage of?

Increasingly, I find myself pondering the quote "Don't mistake my kindness for weakness." And I feel like it applies to me directly. I do have codependent tendencies from growing up around addiction, so my lines are a little blurred as to what classifies as being nice versus being a doormat. I feel like I always go out of my way for people, yet find myself feeling under-appreciated a LOT. I also find that people are not exactly eager to return favors: I always cover for people at work, for example, but when I need to take a day off, no one has my back. I was promised a raise months ago, but it was never brought up again and I haven't had the balls to say anything about it. *THIS* is what I mean when I say communication issues. I let things fester and grow under the surface while keeping a smile on my face and a pleasant demeanor. I'll be passive-aggressive as a result of this, and eventually, if it gets bad enough, I'll completely blow up or avoid the person/situation altogether (i.e., I stopped showing up to a volunteer position because my supervisor was wretched to me and I never had the courage to stand up for myself).

I had one episode of blowing up at my nasty manager when she cornered me with some very confrontational statements about petty things. I cried and told her about all the unethical BS going on at the (dental) office that I didn't agree with, I mentioned my pseudo-raise that never came into fruition, said I felt unappreciated-- basically I lashed out. While this was a terrible way to have had this conversation, I felt relieved that everything was out on the table. However, nothing changed. I still feel like I'm being bullied by her at work. So, if I were to have another conversation, how could I define some sort of boundary/ultimatum? Without tearfully saying "if you don't stop picking on me and give me my raise I QUIT!" What is a middle-of-the-road consequence I could give? Also, the bullying is not imagined by me. She has a very dominant, aggressive personality and is very unprofessional in her dealings with the staff (I'm not the only one who feels this way, but I think I do take it very personally). Her personality type is like kryptonite to my feeble, pushover one. I feel like I'm a target of prey in her eyes.

Anyway...

Another of my major issues my inability to say no. Yes is my automatic response when people ask me to do things. This ends up getting me in trouble when I bite off more than I can chew and end up having to flake out on responsibilities last minute because I am overwhelmed with my own agenda. Ultimately, this causes everyone much more headache than if I had just said no to begin with-- I KNOW THIS RATIONALLY, but I cannot seem to implement it when I'm asked for something! I feel like a mean and selfish person when I say no to people. I think maybe I overestimate how much of an impact my response will have on their lives.

I know that people DO think of me as a kind and gentle person, which I like about myself, because I really do care about people. I just wish I could retain those qualities while also putting myself first and not feeling guilty when I can't honor someone's wishes. People seem to see kindness as a free pass to treat someone however they want, ask for favors, etc. Or is it me? Is it entirely an issue of boundaries?

-How can I be assertive and better at communicating my needs, without getting hotheaded and saying rash things in the heat of the moment?

-How can I say no to people? The irony is that I am able to say no to my friends when they invite me to do things that I actually enjoy if I have errands or something, but I can't say no to people who have "authority" over me or who ask me for something that only benefits them.

-How do I set healthy boundaries for myself? How do I gauge whether I can realistically take something on versus politely decline?

Finally, is it possible to be nice without having people walk all over you? Is it one of those give-and-takes, like if you're aggressive you get what you want but people are scared of you and don't really like you, and if you're nice you don't get what you want but people like you?

Specific examples would be great. I'm also into self-help books. And I'm already in therapy, but if you have any exercises that I could work through with my therapist that have been helpful for you or anyone that'd be great too. Thanks in advance for your replies!
posted by DayTripper to Human Relations (23 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
 
Look at yourself like a bank account. If you're always making withdrawals to meet the needs of other people, you're going to end up in the red more often than you'd like. Your goal is to find balance -- literally -- by training others to treat you the way you know you like and deserve to be treated. Say no more often and know that doing so doesn't make you a bad person. Say no more often and know that doing so will ultimately enable people to like you more, because most healthy people love limits and boundaries because they help them feel safe and secure. Say no more often and watch how you and the people around you start to see you as someone they can respect and whose bank account they want to invest in, and not always pull time/energy/effort/help/etc from.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 8:37 PM on May 23, 2013 [10 favorites]


If you do end up changing jobs, starting over with new people will give you faster feedback on your new attitude/boundaries.
posted by ecsh at 8:46 PM on May 23, 2013


1 -- Take... your... time.

When someone asks you to do something, tell them, "Let me get back to you on that." If it's something they (claim to) need you to do RIGHT NOW, then you just don't do it. That sucks -- for them.

During that time, really think it over. Weigh out the pros and cons of doing the thing, and the best ways of doing it. That way, if you decide to say no, you can at least say, "Sorry, I don't have the time to devote to this, but I had this idea on how you might be able to do it efficiently...".

If they push you for a decision, tell them "No." Aggressive people push you to make a decision RIGHT NOW, because they know that if you have time to think about it, you will realize that they are attempting to screw you over, whether it's about the price of something or it's about what saying "Yes" will do to your schedule. If they keep pushing, say, "Let's discuss this later," and walk away. Just leave the room. If they follow you, leave the office. If they follow you, leave the building. If they follow you, leave the grounds. If they follow you, that's when you get to freak out and say "YOU JUST CHASED ME ACROSS THE PARKING LOT TO TELL ME I USED TOO MUCH COFFEE IN THE POT SERIOUSLY WHAT THE HELL?!?"

2 -- Discuss one thing at a time.

When someone is pushing you, wait until they're done talking, pick the last thing they said that merits a response, think about your response for a second, and then respond only to that last thing they said. That's it. Just that one thing.

If they start talking before you finish, stop talking. Repeat the previous step: let them talk, wait until they're done talking, pick the last thing they said that merits a response, think about your response for a second, and then respond only to that last thing they said. Ignore what you were talking about before they interrupted. If they interrupt you again, go back to waiting for them to say that last thing that merits a response.

If they want you to respond to something they said earlier, make them bring it up again. Only discuss one thing at a time.

2a -- Don't let them assume that your silence implies your consent.

If, while they were ranting about other stuff, they slip in something that might actually get you in trouble if you fail to respond to it at all, wait until after the conversation, then respond via email or in writing (if you can in your office), or approach the person later on your terms. Say something to the effect of, "Hey, we didn't get to discuss this thing you brought up. Can we discuss that now?"

3 -- They are not worth it.

This is a job. It is not your life. It affects your self-worth to the exact extent that you let it. What's the worst they can do, fire you? You're a qualified professional; you are good at your job. If they don't think so, that is their problem. If they fire you for trying to be a decent human being, then you have successfully avoided having your soul slowly sucked out by that workplace. You came out ahead.
posted by Etrigan at 9:01 PM on May 23, 2013 [17 favorites]


- You ARE being mean when you don't speak up for yourself in social situations. People are not mind readers. By not speaking up at appropriate times, you are manipulating people in reverse. Don't be like that anymore.

- By allowing mean people to bully you, or giving thoughtless people too much control, you are helping them to Do Bad Things. If you don't want to be a party to that, start speaking up, and don't put people in situations you KNOW they will fail at. Example: if you ask your flakiest friend to drive you to the airport, and them you miss your flight, you are the one to blame.

I think it is AWESOME you are askingthisquestion, I hope those re-framing perspectives I provided help give you courage.

There are no magic words, BTW, you just start with speaking up in the moment, even if you ate scared, and refine your technique from there as you practice.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 9:04 PM on May 23, 2013 [12 favorites]


When I was overly concerned with the ramifications of my actions on other people's feelings, wants and desires, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy really helped me out. It helped me recalibrate and find reasonable balance points, reasonable boundaries to define and defend.

CBT, for me, was about 2 or 3 therapy sessions and then a lot of homework and exercises. The MoodGYM tool provided by the Australian National University was very helpful in doing the homework and exercises.

That said, it wasn't the entire solution for me. The other was work on boundaries. Both defining reasonable boundaries and simply learning when to say "no", how to say "no" (with resolve) and making it stick. For me, making it stick was the hardest. Part of the problem I had with making it stick was a mixture of remorse (a sign of the CBT stuff slipping a little, a sign of human sympathy, etc.) and of a perfectly understandable impulse to check in and see what the effects of my saying "no" were.

But it turns out that for me, the best solution is to try to overcome both impulses and use boundary-driven "no"s as fire and forget instruments. It turned out that what I was worried about, resentment, as much as I wanted to avoid cultivating it, is not under my control unless it's my resentment. And further, most people get bounced around by other people's boundaries (mine included) and adjust and forget about it. It's only when I completely blow up or make a huge thing out of it by worrying about it that it really becomes memorable and resentfulness-making for other people.

Also the advice so far is solid. Layer it for a final solution.
posted by kalessin at 9:05 PM on May 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


This comes down to knowing your own worth, and showing others how you know your worth by your words and your deeds. Relationships are built on reciprocity. If someone does too much for you, it feels weird and imbalanced. Remember, it is actually kind to others to expect a "tit for tat" type relationship. Doing too much for them cripples them. Do too much, and you actually don't have a relationship. A relationship is two people working together for a common goal.

Get in touch with that tingly inner feeling that says "yuck! this isn't right / fair." Honor it.

To know whether you should take or give in any moment depends on the history of the relationship. Try to see it objectively, and just look at it like a bank account (like Birds said). If you shirk from getting what you want (in effect, repeating your childhood subjugation), stop. Let them give you what you want, and take it when it's given.

To ask for what you want without getting angry, you need to decouple what you want *now* with the anger of not getting what you wanted *then*. Let go of that ticker tape in your head that says "every single time I asked for ... and they never ..." and instead simply ask for what you want now. Then receive it. And if any anger comes up even after you've gotten what you wanted, gently tell that angry child that the past is different, and you've gotten what you wanted now.

For assertiveness.... Have a bunch of friendly but disagreeing catch phrases you can pull out: "Oooh, that just doesn't feel right to me." After you've said them, plant your feet firmly and stand pressing your strength into the ground, loving them kindly while not moving in your position (mental and physical position). I love saying exactly what I'm thinking, eg. "I'd love to make you happy by giving you XYZ right now, but it just doesn't feel right to me. I 'm feeling like I need to ABC instead."

Practice disagreeing when the stakes are low (where the people mean nothing to you). Find a "Dead Sea Cosmetics" stand in the mall (those sales people are so "nice" and PUSHY!) and practice saying "no" to them. Attend a meetup of something you disagree with, and then simply state your disagreement. Get used to the feeling of them not liking or approving of what you've said. I got over a lot of this stuff when a coworker absolutely despised me and thought I was an idiot. I spent a whole year angry and defensive. Then eventually I realized from his (frustrated) pov, I was a slow idiot, and rather than help me out he wanted to hate me. So I let him hate me, and continued with my work. It was supremely liberating.

Finally, remember, words are cheap. People respond to actions first last and always. Don't threaten to leave, just leave. Change your behavior to get what you need, and let them figure out the rest. No one has power over you, and the source of your stability is within. Good luck.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:12 PM on May 23, 2013 [17 favorites]


St. Peepsburg brings up a GREAT point!!!

You know your intuition, that nagging feeling you get every tme you do one of those things you hate?

Yeah. We're systemically taught to ignore that feeling because it helps others take advantage of us. It's a bad lesson, and one you need to unlearn if you want to be Happy.

Honor that feeling and act, and you can't fail to go wrong. Even and especially if "acting" on the feeling means simply taking note of the feeling, for future information and use. Sometimes it is smart to keep quite, sometimes you need to speak up. Knowing the diffrerence is politics, it is KEY to social and professional happiness.
posted by jbenben at 9:48 PM on May 23, 2013


Some really good advice above. You seem pretty cognizant of the problem in that you're already identifying a lot of the issues (co-dependence, lack of boundaries, etc) and that's really half the battle right there.

I've struggled with assertiveness in the past; a few years ago I was very much like you, except the work/friendship dynamic was flipped (I found it easy to say no to my boss, but almost impossible to say no to my friends, or to honour my boundaries when it came to friends). It's not something you can expect to change overnight, so be kind to yourself and look to make little improvements. St Peepsburg's advice above is excellent: pick small, low-stakes things to work on first, and then work your way up to the harder stuff. Accept the fact that it will take a while to change, and keep working at it.

Finally, here's a video on the difference between being "nice" and being "kind" that struck some chords with me. You may find it helpful.
posted by Broseph at 9:48 PM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Dead Sea cosmetics guy blocks my way in a mall with a huge leering grin: "Can I ask you something?"
. Me (as I edge away and continue past):"NO!"
posted by brujita at 10:39 PM on May 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is a great question, how to be assertive without being aggressive. In my mind, it's related to how to exude confidence without exuding arrogance. I think a lot of it has to do with body language - whether visually you look like you are confident about what you are saying - and with your choice of words - using words that are not strident but not weaselly, just firm. Facing people squarely, looking them in the eye, not looking like you are about to back down in any way, being concise and not afraid of pauses and silences in conversation - these are the type of things that can help project strength. And from time to time, nice people need to be not so nice so that people know there are limits and you are not to be walked on. Otherwise people may feel you are weak and will treat you with less respect.
posted by Dansaman at 1:06 AM on May 24, 2013


Try the 'Power Pose' exercises described in this TED TALK.
posted by jazh at 1:40 AM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Devote the whole of the month of June to only doing things you love to do and things you need to do for your own well being. Start today by cancelling all obligations in that month that do not meet those criteria.
posted by BenPens at 4:20 AM on May 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'll echo the thought that you don't need to decide anything right away.

"Can you watch my cat while I'm out of town?" "What are your dates, I'll have to get back with you on that." Then, "I'm not going to be able to look after Fluffy that week. Sorry."

"Can you cover for me while I'm out on PTO?" "I'm not sure, I'm really buried right now. What are your dates, I'll have to get back with you." Or alternately, "I wish I could, but I've got a shit-ton of reporting to do, I have NO bandwidth at all."

Being assertive and protective of your time isn't mean, and it doesn't have to sound mean. Practice with small stuff and work your way up.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:52 AM on May 24, 2013


Practice saying no in safe space where there are no consequences for you - the guy in the mall who gets in your face is a great example. Try to identify people you know who stand up for themselves without being aggressive or passive-aggressive.

When it comes to work stuff like your raise, you can't let that just simmer. You need to bring it up again and again until something happens. Start asking for timelines - "You said that I was going to get a raise in December, it's May, when can I expect to see that in my paycheck?" "Last time we talked, you said that I could expect to see my raise in my June paycheck and now it's July. What's that about?" Don't accuse but don't be passive-aggressive either.

In my last job, my managers kept suggesting that maybe I would get promoted. I asked at a review, what do I need to do to get promoted, they said, maybe if you do this, you will get promoted. I worked my tail off for six months and at my next review, I said, I did this, now what do I need to do to get promoted? My manager said, I don't know, I know I said I'd find out, I'm sorry. I talked to other higher-ups at my office and asked them the same thing and they all gave this non-committal just-keep-at-it BS. I thought, eff this, and got a new job with a higher salary and a better title. It was hard but I got sick of waiting for them and trying to impress them and feeling bad about myself because why don't they appreciate me??? And I felt good about it because I gave them a lot of notice and they didn't do anything differently so I did.

Keep in mind that this kind of thing snowballs if you let it keep happening. If you say "I mean it this time" and you don't, no one will take you seriously the next time you say that.

When you have trouble telling people how you feel, think about how you are doing them a disservice by not telling them. It's mean to mislead people and make them think that you are okay with something when you are not. It's mean when you let your boss get away with being a psycho because then when you get a better job and they hire your replacement, she is going to be a psycho to them because you never told her that it's not okay to be a psycho. People are responsible for their own actions and it's not your fault if your boss treats your future replacement like garbage but if you can do something that might help prevent that and you choose not to do that, that's not nice. We're all social people and in some ways, we are training each other on how to behave around other people so don't underestimate your role in that.

I don't think crying in front of your boss is necessarily the worst thing ever but the important think you need to learn from that is that *nothing changed.* If you want things to change, you have to do things differently.
posted by kat518 at 7:11 AM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Try not to think of everything as a yes and no situation. Be friendly and cheerful and helpful, and you carefully think through whether you can say yes to a request.
"Hey, DayTripper, I'm wanting to take Monday off, can you cover my shift?"
"Oh, Friend, I'd be happy to help if I can... hang on a minute, let me think... I know I'm not scheduled for Monday... hmmm, but I'm working late on Tuesday and I wouldn't have a day off till Thursday... well, I could I guess... would you be willing to swap my Tuesday shift for your Monday?" (alternately, the vague, "and I hope you'll be able to return the favor when I need a break")

So, what's going on in that conversation?
- You're being kind, but you're taking a moment to think about it, and remind yourself what effort you're going to by being kind.
- You're thinking aloud, which helps communicate that you're giving things up, and going out of your way to do them a favor. (if you just said "sure I'm happy to", maybe they'd think that you're short on cash and are genuinely wanting extra shifts and they're doing you a favor as much as the other way around.)
- You're suggesting something they could do for you, and reminding them that they'll owe you one.

That said, there will be times that you decide that no, you don't have time. Sometimes, thinking out loud like this can kind of backfire, when the conclusion you come to is 'well, technically I could but I just don't feel like it.' It's also okay to say no then, too. You've just thought through your schedule, and named no conflicts; that's when you just wince and say "OH! Oh, yeah, no. I've got stuff on Monday. I hope you find someone."
Now, it will be tempting to regain your "nice points" by promising to help them out next time. Don't - that means you come out of the conversation feeling like you owe them something, which is totally not fair, since they were the ones asking you a favor in the first place.
The best way to get some "nice" points now is to suggest a solution. "Have you talked to Andy yet?" "Maybe Cathy wants to pick up a shift, she might be short because I covered for her last week."

Be logical. It sounds like you have some rules of "fair treatment" that you expect for other people, so be at least as helpful and fair to yourself as you are to them. Their need to pass off a task comes down to their wanting to be less stressed - you clearly feel that it's reasonable of them to want to be less busy, but remember that it's just as reasonable for you to want to be be less busy also. "Treat others as you would treat yourself" is one golden rule, but "treat yourself as you would treat others" is equally important.

posted by aimedwander at 7:26 AM on May 24, 2013


YES, it's possible to be nice and kind while standing up for yourself.

Read "Getting to Yes" and other negotiation books in the same vein ("Difficult Conversations" is another great one; also, "Women Don't Ask"). These will give you some concrete skills in how to assert yourself and communicate your needs clearly in a way that feels natural to you.

I think you could also benefit from some coaching sessions -- not with a therapist, but with someone trained to teach people interpersonal and communication skills. You can do a web search for "personal communication consultant," or if there's a mediation group near you, they might be able to provide resources. (Or if you Memail me with your location I might be able to help you find someone.) Having an objective third party there to describe exactly what you're doing and how you could do it better is a great help.

I did an exercise once that was life-changing for me, where someone videotaped me role-playing a confrontation, and then we watched the tape together and she gave me advice on what to do differently, and then I did it again. One great tip from that session: Pretend you're speaking on behalf of someone else who has been treated unfairly. Or, think of someone you know who's always calm, rational, and assertive, and pretend you're them. What would they say?
posted by chickenmagazine at 8:15 AM on May 24, 2013 [8 favorites]


One other thing I would recommend - need people less. Yes, we all need people, we're interconnected etc. etc., but to have the sort of kind & positive self-esteem you're wanting, you must learn to need people but not need people. And really think about this logically - you don't need people as much as it feels like you do. If you lose one friend, you still have others. If you lose one partner, you are still a worthy person. If your family rejects you, you still go on living. Having people like you isn't as life/death as it may feel. And you'll know when you need people less when you are able to keep a grip on yourself even when people DO give you attention. Instead of feeling indebted to their attention (or afraid of its loss) you can simply be as you are.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:31 AM on May 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I have a relative who does exactly this. I'd say they could have written this question, but they completely refuse to even acknowledge they do any of this so... I'd say being self aware that you are doing these things, and of the consequences, and wanting a different script in life are already signs you are pointed in the right direction.

I'll be passive-aggressive as a result of this, and eventually, if it gets bad enough, I'll completely blow up or avoid the person/situation altogether

This is the one behaviour that may help change how you view yourself, because you keep framing this as you being a nice person and how can you be NICE and also have boundaries, and honestly you are not being a nice person so there's no answer to that question. Being passive-aggressive and blowing up when those around you don't read your mind is the exact opposite of nice. Being unable to say no and then being angry that you said yes is not nice.

The solution to that isn't to force yourself to be happy, it's to learn how to say no. It would also help you to unpack why you are so desperate to be "nice", whatever that means. Therapy is a great place to do that.

I've seen my relative interacting with someone, being all smiles and agreeing to something, and then as soon as the other person has left the room turned to me and unloaded how annoyed they were and how much they don't want to do what they agreed to... and I was completely floored because I did not pick up AT ALL that they felt that way. It's like they are participating in some super ninja level of guess culture, and they get pissed off and passive-aggressive when no one else is at their extreme level of mind reading abilities. They really seem to have this expectation that if they are 100% "nice" and accommodating, that everyone else in the world will treat them how they want to be treated. Life and people don't work like that though, they have a lot of friends I would categorize as users.

Are you worried that if you are less "nice", that the people around you will turn on you? I mean, I have a few friends I think can be solid jerks sometimes, but I still really like them. And I've had a lot of people say I'm nice, even though I'm blunt and have never had an issue with saying no, that will not be possible, stop asking or I will head-butt you.

One interesting thing I have found, since you seem really concerned that having boundaries and saying no will make you an outcast, is that when I meet the ex-girlfriends of the men that I date, these ex-girlfriends are all loud and blunt and stubborn in the same ways I am. Because that's what these men like. Men who want the pastel fainting delicate rose aren't interested in me, and it turns out there are plenty of men who actually are into someone with some force behind them. What I'm trying to get at is that yes, there will be some people who avoid you if you set solid boundaries, there will also be people who are drawn to that. Considering your past, you may not be able to fully see that, I just want to assure you that it is true. I think this is the reason my relative won't confront their behaviour, on some level they know all their user friends would jump ship if they changed, and they aren't able to see that there are people out there that aren't looking for a yes-friend.

(Also, when someone gets huffy or annoyed that you said no, it's not because you are not being "nice", it's because they are being a turd.)
posted by Dynex at 10:40 AM on May 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


Well, you need to start being direct and saying no to people, but it sounds like you know that already. I think the difficult part is actually doing it. I find a lot of time, when I am saying yes to a lot of things I don't want to do for the sake of being agreeable, or letting myself be taken advantage of in any way really, what is motivating me is a sense of shame that I am not enough in some way and I need to overcompensate for it by doing whatever is being asked of me at the moment.

I find it really helpful to attend to my thought processes and identify when there is shame. When I do that, the natural next thing to do is to question if shame is an appropriate thing to feel about this and it's most frequently not. It sounds like common sense, but when I put it into action, I noticed I was feeling crippling shame for little, nonsensical things (e.g. I didn't make a new 3rd quarter door decoration for my classroom - I am a horrible teacher) and doing all sorts of counterproductive little things to compensate essentially out of guilt.

And yes, it is very possible to be nice while setting healthy boundaries. My finest classroom management moments have been the times when I've been able to say with a warm smile that there is no way in heaven or earth that a child is going to get away with what they are wanting to do. Believe in the legitimacy of what it is that you want or want to happen.
posted by mermily at 12:08 PM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I know that people DO think of me as a kind and gentle person, which I like about myself

Really?

I'll be passive-aggressive as a result of this, and eventually, if it gets bad enough, I'll completely blow up or avoid the person/situation altogether

Maybe you've exaggerated this, and the other behaviors you describe in your question, but you are not describing behavior that would incline me to think of you as nice, kind, or gentle.

is it possible to be nice without having people walk all over you?

Look, nice isn't never saying no. Maybe someone praised you for that when you were a child because they wanted to train you to be obedient, and told you you were nice and good because that resulted in you behaving the way they wanted you to behave. You're an adult now, and it really isn't very nice at all for an adult to expect other people to somehow figure out that you actually resent doing something when you hide what you really think with your smile and pleasant demeanor.

What you want is assertive, not aggressive. Aggressive might get people to give you something to mollify you, but in the long run you probably won't really get what you want -- like when you lashed out about the raise, you got to feel like everything was laid on the table, and probably had someone tell you they understood now or something, but you didn't get a raise -- and if you go in with aggressive tears about how you're going to quit if you don't get a raise, you'll probably get empty promises or fired.

You don't have to actually say "no" though. Say "Let me check my schedule and get back to you on that", and you can later employ the classic Miss Manners "I'm sorry, that won't be possible."

For other situations, you seem to be concerned that saying "No" will have a big impact on people's lives. It's probably having a much bigger impact than a "No" would have had that you say "Yes" you can take on a particular responsibility and then can't follow through on it and wait until the last minute to let people know you won't be able to do it, unless they are used to this sort of thing from you. Frankly, it just isn't very nice to do that.

People seem to see kindness as a free pass to treat someone however they want, ask for favors, etc. Or is it me? Is it entirely an issue of boundaries?

You're upset that people ask for favors? Yes, it's you, and it's an issue of boundaries. Some people will see a person who always says "yes" as someone to take advantage of -- "Can I borrow your car/$50/etc." -- If you keep giving them what they want, they will keep asking, and if they know you like to think of yourself as "nice" they will be happy to tell you how nice and kind and wonderful you are -- but they don't really think that of you, any more than they really mean they will pay you back $50 on Tuesday.

But there is a fix for this, you must learn to say "no", or at least "that won't be possible", "ask someone else", "I can't help you there", "I'm all booked up", or "good luck with that". There may be other phrases you can think of that would work well for your job. Practice saying them in the mirror, or to characters on tv with the sound off. Practice them with joy in learning a new skill, until they roll off your tongue with beautiful lovely phrasing and a pleasant demeanor, and then use them.

Also, look for a new job, even if you get a raise you'll still have to work with a bully.
posted by yohko at 4:48 PM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think you need to change your orientation to the world so that you're being nice in order to make people comfortable rather than to make people like you. People can tell the difference.
posted by timsneezed at 8:36 PM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


So many great responses, as usual. Thank you to each and every person who took the time to share their insight. I can tell I have a lot of work ahead of me, as the responses I liked the most and the ones I plan to try are all way beyond my comfort zone and things that I never would have considered on my own. But I know that discomfort precedes growth. I'm so glad I posted this question here-- so many ideas that seem to be common sense for people are things that I never would have thought of. Thanks again!

P.S. I'm also curious about ways to measure progress in becoming more assertive. How will I know if my techniques are "working"?
posted by DayTripper at 10:23 PM on May 27, 2013


You'll know because you'll say no to something, or ask for something that you need, and whether or not it works you'll feel brave, proud for asserting yourself, and confident that you can do it again.
posted by chickenmagazine at 9:25 AM on May 29, 2013


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