I'm a recovering people pleaser. Like many people (especially women), I was raised to be "nice" and put others' needs before my own. In my 20s, I took care of everybody else. In my 30s, I discovered my authentic self and realized that my own needs were not being met. In my 40s, I have taken responsibility for creating positive shifts in my life through honest, clear and direct communication in my relationships, both personally and professionally. Still, this is a work in progress.
The irony is that I used to invest so much more energy into pleasing others, and people actually seem to like me much more now that I don't. My friend, Jennifer, is my personal hero/example for being authentic. I never have to worry that she is mad or I don't know how she feels about me or our relationship because she says what she feels. This removes so much anxiety and promotes intimacy and trust. She is real and she is cool.
We can all tell when there is a gap between what people are saying and how they actually feel (e.g., when somebody says, "Let's do lunch!" but you can feel her insincerity in your bones). The incongruence between verbal and non-verbal communication or behaviors creates feelings of unease, mistrust, insecurity, anxiety and even paranoia (e.g., "Why didn't she call? Doesn't she like me? Was she lying?).
Earlier in my practice, I had several clients tell me that I didn't need to "sugar coat" the things I said to them. Even though my intention was to boost them up with positive affirmations before delivering difficult feedback, it actually created discomfort. I have since found my voice and learned to simply say what needs to be said without beating around the bush while remaining compassionate and kind. This is essential for building a strong, trusting rapport or relationship. It is a skill that needs to be practiced and developed.
Being direct and assertive involves being honest and genuine while remaining appropriate, diplomatic and respectful of yourself and others. It is not passive (being a doormat or a wimp), passive-aggressive (indirect communication, like not returning calls or emails hoping somebody gets the hint) or aggressive (being hostile and rude.)
Being direct often requires courage -- the courage to be vulnerable and real.
Situations in which it may be scary or difficult to be direct:
- Telling somebody you are in love with them
- Telling somebody you aren't in love with them
- Confronting somebody about their addiction or mental illness
- Saying no
- Giving somebody difficult feedback
- Letting somebody go from their job
What keeps people from being direct?
- Fear of conflict (Actually, conflict can create growth and positive change.)
- Fear of rejection, embarrassment, or not being liked (Do you really want to be liked for a false representation of yourself?)
- Fear of hurting somebody (Ironically, not being direct is often more hurtful.)
- Fear of appearing foolish by asking clarifying questions (There are no dumb questions and you will cause yourself undue anxiety by feigning understanding.)
- The hope/fantasy that somebody is going to magically know what we want or need without us voicing it (This is a normal yet irrational wish.)
Why is it important to be direct?
- It's honest, truthful and authentic
- Demonstrates respect for self and others
- Builds integrity
- Saves yourself and others time, energy and money
- Promotes intimacy (You are letting people know the real you rather than presenting them with who you think they want you to be.)
Suggestions for being direct:
- Scan your body and check in with the feelings you are holding inside. Make sure they are congruent with what you are saying. If your feelings are too intense to speak diplomatically, give yourself a "time out" to surf the waves of your feelings before opening your mouth.
- Before speaking, take Shirdi Sai Baba's advice and ask yourself first, "Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it true?" This will help you keep your ego in check and stop you from saying destructive things out of anger.
- Keep it simple. Concise, clear, and brief is always better.
- Speak in terms of "I" rather than "you" ("I need more physical affection" rather than "You don't show me enough affection.")
- Focus on the behavior, rather than the person ("I need you to let me know when you're running late because I worry" rather than "You are an insensitive ass.")
- Avoid "always" and "never" as they often are embellishments and will weaken your point.
- Avoid triangulation and becoming triangulated by speaking directly to the source and not putting somebody else or yourself in the middle.
- Choose to love yourself by saying, "no" as needed. Don't over promise or over extend.
Whenever possible, say important things in person. Phone is second best, voicemail third. Avoid saying difficult things via email and text as much can be misinterpreted. Mean what you say and say what you mean. The truth will set you free.
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