When you’re juggling work, family and other responsibilities, adopting a go-with-the-flow attitude can make things easier. But the tactic may backfire: If you never stand up for yourself, you’ll never get what you need or want — and you may end up feeling helpless.
Fortunately, there are ways you can stand up for yourself without alienating others or creating conflict. One rule, regardless of the situation: Always begin with “I” statements, such as “I feel … ” or “I’m worried about … ,” says Helene Rothschild, a marriage and family therapist in San Jose, Calif. That way, you’re taking responsibility for your feelings rather than blaming someone.
Other strategies can depend on the circumstances. Check out these common scenarios and ways to safely and effectively express your feelings. You’ll feel more confident and get what you want, while keeping your relationships intact.
The issue: Your co-worker (and friend) isn’t pulling her weight.
Solution: Be specific about your needs.
If you don’t address her slacking, your resentment will fester. Do it gently by acknowledging the positive, then saying exactly what you want her to do. For example: “It’s great that you’re working on x. I also need help with y and z. Can you do it by Friday? Thanks!” Be careful not to say “but” after the positive statement; doing so negates it, says Rothschild.
When you’re vague (for example, by saying “I wish you’d do more”), people don’t always know what they’re doing wrong and may feel attacked. Specificity delivers the message and preserves the friendship.
The issue: Your husband, the family’s breadwinner, is overspending.
Solution: Ask open-ended questions.Money can be a touchy subject, so rather than initiating a big discussion out of the blue, make an “appointment” to talk when you both can focus and listen, suggests Rothschild. Try: “I’m worried about all the money we’re spending; can we go over our finances on Saturday?”
When you do discuss the budget, voice your concerns in open-ended questions, such as “How can we save more?” This avoids putting him on the defensive, says Rothschild.
The issue: Your friend is often late or cancels last minute.
Solution: Focus on your feelings.
Your friend’s behavior is disappointing, but steer clear of accusations and absolutes like “You’re always late!” says Rothschild. Instead, start with a happy truth — you love seeing your friend — then explain how you feel. Tell her, “I love spending time together, so I’m bummed when you’re late or cancel last minute.”
Then suggest a solution. Ask, “Can we meet when you’re not so busy? How about tomorrow at 3? Or are afternoons not good for you?” The questions help her think about her schedule and realize you aren’t just another if-there’s-time errand.
The issue: Your neighborhood association wants to table a topic you feel warrants further discussion.
Solution: Ask for help.
Speaking up in a group is scary, but don’t think of it as you against them. Instead, explain why you feel tabling the topic is a mistake, and ask if they’re willing to help resolve the issue or help you understand why not. You could start with, “This issue means a lot to me because x, y and z.” Then follow with, “Is there a way we could address it now? And if not, when?” Just avoid going on and on, or you’ll lose your audience, warns Rothschild.
Regardless of the situation, try to put yourself in others’ shoes. Standing up for yourself won’t create tension or bruise relationships if you say what you’d want to hear. With these tips, confronting issues will feel less like rocking the boat, and more like smooth sailing.