It’s that time of year!
The time for family togetherness, group gatherings, and LOTS OF PEOPLE-ING.
This is mostly great, right? Except that sometimes—sometimes—we find ourselves talking with people who didn’t get the memo about practicing being brave and kind in our conversations.
Maybe you have that one relative whose preferred method of communication is passive-aggressive-ese.
Or maybe there’s that one group of not-quite-friends that you end up chatting with every week at church or soccer practice or the neighborhood association meeting, and every time you walk away thinking: You know, what I should have said was…
You know what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about the “oh, that’s FINE” when something clearly isn’t fine.
I’m talking about the “good natured teasing” that actually isn’t good natured at all.
I’m talking about barely-veiled-criticisms of your appearance or your relationship status or your parenting or your choice not to parent or how you work or where you live.
I’m talking about the comments that you might ignore in the moment, but then you spend the rest of the day thinking of all the things you could have said.
Here’s the deal. Those awkward or rude or passive-aggressive comments? What they’re really saying, almost always, is this: You aren’t meeting my expectations.
But you are not responsible for other people’s expectations.
Other people’s expectations of you are like the universe: they’re continually expanding and hard to fully comprehend. You can get lost in there. (Yes, that is absolutely a quote from my book, Permission Granted.)
So first things first: your highest calling in life is not to spend all your time and energy meeting someone else’s expectations. That is not what you’re here to do. Not even if that person is related to you. Not even if that person works with you. Not even if the other person feels really strongly about their opinion.
And saying nothing is the same as agreeing.
Especially in matters of justice or fairness or kindness, saying nothing is the same as giving the other person a thumbs-up across the table. It’s allowing their unhealthy assumption to go unchecked.
Okay, so, saying nothing is not a great option. But shaming the other person isn’t cool, either. So how can you respond with truth and integrity?
(Important sidenote: these suggestions only work if responding to the other person is a safe option for you. If that isn’t your reality, find a safe person or a safe place that can help you sort out what needs to change, and what your own best options are. xo.)
1. Ask questions.
Start by asking the other person questions about what they just said or implied.
What did you mean by that? Why do you think so? How did you come to believe that? Where did you learn that? Is that true? How do you know? Has that been your experience?
The trick with questions is that YOUR TONE MATTERS. Asking in a shaming or disgusted tone will not be super helpful! Asking with curiosity and compassion is what we’re aiming for here.
Asking questions does a bunch of helpful things all at once:
- It shows the other person that you’re listening, and helps you respond more specifically to what they’re saying.
- It gives the other person the benefit of the doubt—maybe you really did misunderstand what they meant, and now you’ll know.
- It invites the other person to see what impact their words might be having. We’ve all been guilty of saying stupid things without realizing it at some point. If that’s what happened, your questions let the other person see where they’ve gone off the rails.
- And at the same time, your question points out that you’re not going to let their comment slide. You’re not cool with what was said, and you’re not willing to pretend.
2. Tell the truth.
If you don’t agree with what they just said, disagree out loud. Try one of these:
I don’t agree.
That hasn’t been my experience.
That doesn’t work for me.
I don’t see it that way.
I don’t think that’s true.
3. Share your experience.
Your experience is not an argument, your experience is a story. It’s your story, and your story is just as valid as anyone else’s. Your observations of the world, your history, and your opinions are just as important as theirs.
And when you share your own story, you invite everyone to widen their perspective to include your experience.
Give yourself permission to be who you are, not who they want you to be.
The person you’re talking to has opinions. Okay. They’re allowed. But you’re allowed to bring your whole self into the conversation, even if they expected something else from you.
You might not change the other person’s opinions, but that’s not really the point, anyway. The point is for you to feel comfortable in your own skin, instead of feeling defensive about who you are and how you’re showing up in the world. (The point is not to be OFFENSIVE, either. Just truthful.)
Remember that you have choices.
You don’t get to choose how the other person behaves. You don’t get to choose what they say or do or believe. (That wouldn’t be “choosing,” that would be “controlling” and controlling is really not our goal.)
But you DO get to choose how you respond. You get to choose WHETHER you respond. You can choose whether to continue this conversation, or if it’s time to walk away. You get to choose whether to spend more time with this person at all.
You can’t choose their actions, but you do get to choose your boundaries.
Try it: ask questions, tell the truth, share your perspective.
Yes, the conversation might get more awkward before it gets better, but here’s the thing. The conversation is ALREADY AWKWARD no matter what you do. You’re ALREADY uncomfortable with whatever was said or unsaid. This isn’t about whether you’re going to rock the boat; the boat is already rocked. The question now is how you’re going to respond. xo.