How do I become more direct with my communication?
August 16, 2013 10:28 AM   Subscribe

I need to be more direct with my communication, and I just find it very difficult to do it. What are some ways I can get over the fears in my head and be more direct, as in, ask for what I need directly and stop being such a pushover?

I want to be direct as in say what is on my mind or what I need, without cushioning it, softening it and saying it as it is, and expect that my request will be given the consideration that is common courtesy. I have trouble just getting the words/needs/emotions expressed out loud.

Here's some history: for whatever reasons, I am perennially afraid, of everything. I fear I will annoy the person I am asking something of. I fear they will be inconvenienced (and until recently I never even considered how much of an inconvenience things were for me by not asking for it, until my sweetheart of a husband pointed it out). I fear they'll be angry. I fear I am not good enough justification for them to spend time on fulfilling my request. All kinds of irrational fears. The thing is, slowly over the years I've realized that I need to stop being so afraid of the what ifs and be direct with my communication.

If I have to deliver on something, I will over promise, and go the extra mile. If I have to ask for something, I'd rather die than ask for it... its been like this since childhood and even with my parents/family. I really go through a lot of anxiety just with the thought of getting my very reasonable needs/wants expressed out loud that require someone to do something for me. Maybe some of it is related to low self esteem, I feel guilty even taking up the space that I do at times.

How can I ease into expressing myself more directly? Why do I have such a hard time with it, is it the same with everyone?!
posted by greta_01 to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I spent a lot of time in therapy to learn about this aspect of myself. I feel a lot better about it now and asking for help and such isn't nearly as hard as it used to be. (I had to ask like 87 people for help the other day when I had a car issue. A few years ago, I would have been a wreck after that, but now, I just realized the whole situation was anxiety-provoking, everyone understood car things happen, beers were bought as thank-yous, and we're all good.)

I don't know about you, but when I was a child, my needs and wants were made to seem less worthy than others' needs and wants, so I was made to feel that I anything I asked for, no matter how small, was some great big f'n deal. So you internalize that sort of thing as a kid when the people who are supposed to take care of you act like that. (It doesn't mean it was intentional on the part of the caregivers, they could have just been dealing with their own issues and every little thing WAS a huge deal to them. But, that doesn't invalidate what they did.)

A lot of people on here recommend CBT but I find it rather more anxiety producing. I learned some tricks from ACT. Instead of trying to figure out why I feel anxious, I just acknowledge that I hey, I feel anxious and that's ok. I'm just saying that as a thing to bring up with a therapist if you go that route or if you decide to check out some books. I found books more helpful after I had been in therapy a while.

I think this is a thing a LOT of people struggle with because we were brought up by people who also had their own struggles. You are not alone in this.
posted by sio42 at 10:38 AM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

All people are coming into an interaction with their own stuff, their own baggage, and their own filter through which they see anything and everything. Because of that, we are all responsible only for our own stuff, and not anybody else's. All you need to be aware of is that actions on your part will activate reactions on the part of others, and sometimes those reactions will be what you are hoping for, and sometimes they won't be. No matter what, what somebody does in response to your words and actions is their business and their business alone. It reflects ONLY on their history as an individual, NOT on your worth or value. Ever. Period. End of story.

If someone appears annoyed with you, it's because they have something on their mind. Nobody is as concerned with you as you are because they are honestly always thinking about themselves. That's not a negative thing, either; it's human. It's just how we all function. So rest easy! Nothing you do is actually an inconvenience or your fault. Your needs are equal with everyone else's. If you ask for something and another person gets mad at you for asking, that's on them and them alone. They have something in their past or in their psyche that causes them to respond negatively. You are not in charge of their emotions, nor can you control them.

As such, you consequently cannot claim any responsibility for how they behave or what they say! It's all about them and all you can do is be mindful and notice what triggers positive and negative interactions with people in general so you can inform the way you act or speak around them next time you interact with them. If you offend somebody by saying something rude to them, for example, you are responsible for what you said; they are responsible for how they react. One person might get super pissed off at you because that's how their history and baggage makes them react. Another person might just look at you and go, "Hmm, I wonder what's going on with them. I should ask before I take it personally." Their choices are theirs and theirs alone. It's so liberating on so many levels once that sinks in and as you become mindful of it with one person, so too will other interactions feel that way as you move forward.

Additionally, the interesting thing about being a pushover is that it actually accomplishes the exact opposite of what you intend: in being hyper sensitive and hyper accommodating, you don't make the person you're talking to more interesting in helping you; you're triggering in them a response that says, "Hmm, I can't respect this person because their behavior towards me indicates that they don't like me or themselves enough to treat me like an equal." In showing yourself love and empathy, you will evoke it in others towards you and the things you need. So respect yourself and your needs! Affirm to yourself that your stuff is your stuff, and other people's stuff is their stuff and their stuff alone, and it's all important but your responsibilities are only with your stuff.

And when you do encounter someone who responds negatively to you when you are being direct, stop the interaction from escalating by saying to yourself, "Hmm, this is not about me. I need to find out where this person is coming from. I will ask them so I can understand why they're responding in this way." Then ask them what's up! For example, you could say, "I'd like to understand where you're coming from on this. What concerns do you have in regards to helping me with this?" In doing so, you are showing a) respect, b) that you have an active interest in your needs as well as theirs, and c) that you acknowledge their responsibility towards their actions and your responsibility towards yours. It's a matter of mindfulness. Keep asking questions and don't be afraid to say, "Wow, I didn't realize. I was coming from this vantage point. I'd like to find a compromise. What could we do to make that happen?" And remind yourself that if they say no, it's not because you're a bad person. It's because they have something going on that prevents them from saying yes.

It is never your fault in the way that you think it is, and it's not your responsibility to manage other people's perceptions of you. You can't control what they think of you, and that's okay. You could do everything right all the time, and somebody is going to find something wrong with that because that's what their history or background instills in them. So be you. Ask for what you need. Be direct. You will learn how to interact with different people and you will be successful. It's all good.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:56 AM on August 16, 2013 [9 favorites]

Just view it as you telling the truth - what you saw, felt, thought or want. You are not telling people what to do or how to respond to you. You are just stating the truth.

"I'm having a hard time with X and I sure could use some help."

Just start with that.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:58 AM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I learned how to work on this skill in DBT for trauma resolution. I'm still not very good at it, but I'm improving.

This answer about ask vs guess culture from tangerine is sort of parallel to your question. As you can see from the favorites, it really struck a chord with a lot of people, and it approaches this issue of what is direct enough and what is too direct, and why these distinctions are not universal.

As for your fear, I think a third party (therapist/counselor) is probably your best bet, to figure out where this is coming from. You recognize the pattern, and you want it to stop. The next step is figuring out why you do this. It could be cultural, or family related, or anxiety, or depression, or like me, trauma based.
posted by bilabial at 11:02 AM on August 16, 2013

I'm like you. One thing you can do is practice. Rehearse in front of a mirror. Roleplay with someone you trust. Think of a strong character in movies or literature - what would he or she do in this situation? Sometimes I intentionally visualize myself as that person and speak as they would.

Do you think it's rude when other people are direct? Let's say your husband says "I'm sick of pasta for dinner, let's have chicken tonight." Is that rude or direct? Can you model his exact phrasing? "We should take the highway, it will be faster than the city streets." He's an adult, he can say "No, I checked the traffic earlier, the city streets are actually faster." You've been direct, he's been direct, if there is any upset after that, it's a deeper issue.

It also helps to realize that it's NOT the end of the world if someone is upset at you; it's almost never even about you. Being upset is their problem. If a friend asks you to drive them to the airport and you say "sorry, but I can't," the adult thing to do is for them to respect your answer and to take a taxi. Life moves on. The annoyed friend will move on, too, and if they don't, they're not really a friend. Concomitantly, you're not being a real friend if you drive them to the airport when you don't want to and resent them the whole time.

Did you grow up with a difficult parent who disregarded your desires or got upset when you spoke up? Therapy can be helpful here, as is realizing that just because they're your parent, it doesn't make them The Voice of Absolute Truth. It took til I was about 25 to realize "hey, wait a minute, just because my mother said I was _____ doesn't mean it was true!!"

You probably know all of this intellectually, so what you need is to put it in practice. Say you're afraid of flying. You've read the stats; the chances of crashing are vanishingly low. But the only thing that will cure the phobia is to actually get on a plane. You can do this slowly: watching planes at the airport, trying a simulator, sitting in a real plane without flying, etc. But you are DOING something, not just mulling it over.

Similarly, you need to take a leap. Start with the easiest person in your life (your husband?) and work upwards (your boss?). It's okay to be afraid as long as you still say what you need to say. 90% of the time, people will either agree with what you want or will be polite in their disagreement. The other 10% are having a bad day or aren't worth your time. Trust me, this will improve your self-esteem by leaps and bounds and kick off an upward spiral.
posted by desjardins at 11:07 AM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do you have trouble asking for something on behalf of someone else?

I discovered kind of by accident years ago that if I needed to ask something on behalf of someone who couldn't ask for themselves, I had no problem doing that, even though I had a really hard time doing it for myself. Then I spent a while pretending to ask on someone's behalf when that someone was me, and it got to be a lot easier.

the longer background: I was traveling with a friend who didn't speak the language of the country we were in; I spoke the language at a basic level, and there was a lot of stuff I wouldn't have done, seen, found, or eaten if I'd been by myself because I would have been to scared to ask. But because my friend could not ask, and I kind of could, we both got to have great experiences and food!
posted by rtha at 11:08 AM on August 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

I also find this challenging at times. You might want to consider therapy, it can really help.

Here are some things that have helped me to think about:

Do you ever have to interact with people who have a very indirect communication style or tend to be passive aggressive in their communication? It's exhausting trying to figure out what they are trying to say! I have friends who pride themselves on being "nice people". They never want to do or say anything "mean." Actually getting them to communicate what the hell they want or mean is like pulling teeth because they're trying so hard to be polite and inoffensive. They wind up, practically speaking, being huge jerks because they make everyone else work extra hard to figure out what they want. If you don't communicate directly, you are rudely denying the other people in the conversation the opportunity to interact with you in an honest way. Being direct is actually the polite thing to do, because then people can understand what want to communicate.

You know how you like to go the extra mile to help other people? Well, that applies to others helping you. Of course there are some jerks in the world, but most people like to help other people. By refusing to ever ask for help, you are denying them the opportunity to feel good by helping you. That's an awfully mean thing to do.

How would you act if you weren't afraid? Act like that.
posted by medusa at 12:13 PM on August 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Being able to communicate both indirectly and directly is a sort of bilingualism. You don't need to communicate directly all the time with all people.
posted by aniola at 1:04 PM on August 16, 2013

I've struggled with this in the past. What helped was the realisation deep relationships are built on reciprocity and that if I wanted to solidify my relationships it was not good enough just to give to others, I had to allow people to give back to me.
Asking people to borrow a book or help you out with a chore makes them feel they may - in turn - rely on you for a favour, big or small.
And if you don't reach out, at some point they'll also stop reaching out to you.
Not trying to say your relationships will all crumble if you don't ask people for the occasional favour. Rather, you may be surprised to watch your relationships grow as people are given a chance to pay you back for all your kind acts.
posted by mkdirusername at 1:31 PM on August 16, 2013

When Anger Scares You by John Lynch is a great book on assertiveness that talks about these issues. Researching assertiveness in general might also be helpful for you.
posted by jaguar at 1:35 PM on August 16, 2013

Seconding that this sounds like an ask culture vs guess culture thing.

I'm like this too - I find it very uncomfortable to ask for things, and the idea of someone turning me down flat scares me. But my husband is on the opposite end of the scale, and he finds it frustrating to try and figure out what I actually want.

I've started saying things like "I'd really like it if..." or "I'd really appreciate it if..." It's still less of a direct request, so I won't be so upset if he says no, but it still makes it clear what I want. So that might be a helpful direction for you to go in.
posted by escapepod at 12:16 AM on August 18, 2013

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