Are You Tired of Eating Your Words?

Have you ever choked down the words you wanted to say, or spoken up for yourself and then ate your words in the next breath by backtracking? Have you been there? A friend told me recently that she spoke up for herself at work recently but then second-guessed herself later and sent an email taking back everything she initially said. Bummer.

These situations happen in all areas of our lives – whether it’s our careers, our romantic relationships, family or friends. Why is it so hard to speak up? Why does it feel difficult to say no, or to have healthy boundaries? For most of us, it’s because we haven’t been taught. Most of us did NOT learn healthy communication skills or how to set boundaries in our primary families – in fact, we often learned the opposite. Many times people bring their poor communication skills into the workplace which can turn teams into their own form of a dysfunctional family. So, how do you fix it?

The important thing is not to beat yourself up about it, or think there is something wrong with you for not having learned this skill. And, I promise, it is a skill you can learn. No one is born with assertive communication skills. So, how do you learn it and how do you stop eating your words?

If you are facing a difficult conversation, here are a few steps to get you started:

  1. Get clear. Are you in a clear and neutral place emotionally? I often talk to clients about ‘assuming good intentions’ in order to come from a place of kindness whenever possible. What is your intention for the conversation?

  2. State the behaviour. Can you clearly state the specific behaviour you’d like to address? Pretend you are a newspaper reporter and have to describe the situation from a different perspective.

  3. Describe the impact. Can you describe the impact of the stated behaviour? This can be about your feelings, the effects on your relationship, or other impacts.

  4. Make a request. What request do you have? Many times people point out an offending behaviour but don’t make a clear request about what they would like to happen differently.

  5. Listen to the response and confidently collaborate on next steps. This is a conversation between two people so listen deeply for understanding and for ways to move forward.

In terms of boundaries – get clear internally about what you will and will not allow in your life. Always trust yourself first. Listen to your instincts and intuition rather than placing your trust in someone else. We’ve all talked ourselves out of red flags or funny feelings in our stomach, but let’s stop now, together. Let’s support each other in trusting ourselves and having clear boundaries. Let’s honour each other’s words and speak up for ourselves and others.

Let’s say you have a ‘friend’ who gives back-handed compliments, but you don’t speak up because you’re not sure what to say and don’t want to make waves. Or, there’s a guy at work who makes inappropriate remarks, and so you avoid him rather than speaking up for yourself. These are opportunities to practice speaking up for yourself and for others. If these things are happening to you, they are likely happening to others as well. Take a chance and be assertive – for yourself and for change. You can do this!

How do you get yourself into the right space for a difficult conversation? What are some tangible ways you can support others to have healthy boundaries?