I had two situations arise over the weekend where people I am close with were asking me for things that I did not feel good about giving. The first was a request for a substantial amount of money to help someone make a down payment on a house and the second was to send a letter with a false statement about a business purpose so they could treat a personal trip like a write off.
“All you have to do is send me an email saying that we are going to have a meeting!” And it was true, we are going to meet. But that’s not the primary purpose of the trip, it’s an after thought. I just did not feel right about it, and I did not want to lend my name to it. I had to respond that I did not want to be involved in any way in creating a false pretense for a trip. Period. I have a seven minute long voice message in my Telegram that I received in response that I still have not listened to.
The second request was to assist a distant relative. Sure that person is having a difficult time right now, but my assessment is that the situation they are in is a result of their own bad decisions. It’s not my job to bail people out from the consequences of their own bad choices. This is not charity, this is enablement.
But people do not see it that way right? A lot of people see what they want in what we have, and they want us to give it to them, and if we refuse, they make us feel like we are failing to be generous. It leaves a kind of guilty feeling in the conscience. And then it becomes unpleasant to talk to the person. I feel a little threatened, like something is going to be taken from me that I don’t want to lose.
Truth is, I could have given the money and written the email and it would have been no skin of my nose. As my Brazilian friend told me “Não tira pelo do meu nariz”. It does not take any skin from my nose. This is not an idiom of Brazilian Portuguese, but it still sounds funny. Yes I could have given the money and it would not affect my bottom line at the end of the year, and yes I could have written the email and it would never come back to bite me. But it did not feel right to me, and I did not want to do it in either case.
And I did not even want to debate it, so I left my negative reply in recorded Telegram messages, and I have not listened yet to the replies. One because it is seven minutes long and I do not even want to open it. The other because I have not received a reply at all. So I have managed to say no to both of these requests, but I still feel some angst about it in my chest.
I am highly aware of stress these days, especially since stress blew a gasket in my brain and caused me to suffer a cerebral infarction. No fun! So I really do not want to wind up my stress response just for saying no to things I have no obligation to be involved in.
Stephanie was also a party to the request, and we are in agreement about both decisions. One was more clear for me, and the other more clear for her. I wanted both of them out of my inbox, and so it was me who left the responses. But she and I were definitely both on the same team, and she was fully supportive. So it was a joint decision and joint action.
My friend told me, Spencer you are an upstanding man, and you have integrity, and if something is not in alignment with your integrity, you should say NO. And I realized that is the key to these communications. Assertiveness is simply speaking clearly about our needs and decisions. It does not require any defensiveness or argument…unless I am feeling insecure.
So the real problem is not the request that I am receiving. The real issue is that I am not in alignment within myself, then I feel threatened, and then the request seems like an attack, and the requester like an enemy. But if I am confident in my own inner guidance, then I am simply reporting the outcome of the computations of my inner conscience.
So I could say… “oh you want me to write an email to support a false statement that a trip is for business purposes?” OK… Let me get out my magic quantum 8 ball calculator.
Shake shake shake…. “it appears that the answer is NO WAY”. I am simply reporting the results of my examination of my inner voice, that speaks through a feeling of tension or relief in my gut. If a request makes me feel anxious and stressed, that is a “NO.” If a request makes me feel like “oh wow, that’s awesome” then it’s a “YES.” In either case, I can simply report the result without getting distressed over it.
If I were at a school fair, with a magic eight ball booth, I could take a quarter from passerby in exchange for offering a response to whatever question they have. No stress at all right? But when they are asking me for something, it is more personal. But why?
Because I want to make people happy, and I don’t feel all ok when they are not happy with me. When I say no to a request, even an unreasonable one from an unreasonable person, and they are not happy and want to discuss it further, it becomes a personal squabble. So the key is for me to have my own personal integrity as a guide AND the confidence that I am going to follow my internal guidance, and that it’s ok for me to do that. I am enough, as I wrote the other day, regardless of whether I grant every request that is directed to me.
From this place of confidence and calm, I can report on the answers I receive from my own examination of my conscience without anxiety. And then being assertive is not longer stressful. It is simply stating the truth about how something feels to me. If I end up alienating people who make unreasonable requests and get mad when they are refused, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
To those people, I say, Go Singing, Go Dancing… but GO!
One thought on “Secret to Assertive Communication”
Hi! Keep up the writing! This spoke to me. I’ve been a lending institute for too many people because I felt guilty for having more than most and also I’m a softy. By no energy of my own those people stopped talking to me. I guess they got what they wanted? Lesson learned.
I’m glad your integrity doesn’t have a price. Always loved that about you. I’ve been praying for your continued healing. Big love to you . ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️
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