“Meow!” It is 6:45 a.m. and Snickers, my chunky tuxedo cat, has his face on my face, yelling at me to get out of bed so he can have breakfast.
My cat fascinates me with his strict schedule. He will never fail to tell me when it is time to eat, when he wants to go on the patio, and when I need to clean his litter box. Snickers is not afraid to express his wants and needs. He will lay on my chest while I am playing Candy Crush on my phone because he needs attention and feels that is his best way of telling me.
As cute and humorous as my kitty is, I admire the fearless attitude Snickers portrays. I often wonder why I cannot be as direct as Snickers. When it comes to co-workers, loved ones, or even myself, I struggle with putting the words together about why my opinion matters for work projects, saying no to others when I need rest, or guilting myself for not constantly working.
I Didn’t Know How to Communicate My Needs
At the time, I was sharing with her about my struggles at work and how there never seemed to be enough time to finish projects as I was constantly being assigned new assignments. I got overwhelmed and my thoughts led me down a dark tunnel of wondering if I was good enough for my role or believing that no one liked me because I was not fast enough or creative enough. These thoughts ruin my day, and sometimes, my whole week.
She stopped me in the middle of my pity party and asked me if I ever expressed that I had too much on my plate to take on more tasks. I quickly told her that I do not like saying no because I felt I was letting my colleagues down.
Does anyone else feel this way when they tell someone no? No is hardly used in my vocabulary.
4 Types of Communication
After some self-reflection, I learned that I am horrible at sharing my needs because of fear of what others will think of me. I tend to be more passive when I communicate with others.
According to this article from Alvernia University, people tend to fall under four categories when it comes to how they communicate: aggressive, passive-aggressive, passive, and assertive.
Passive communicators developed a pattern where they avoid expressing their opinions or feelings, yet allow others to do so. We avoid confrontation and easily build up anger and resentment. An example could be when your spouse says they want Chinese for dinner, but you do not care for it and would rather have something else. Instead of simply saying you’d rather have something else, passive communicators will respond with “that is fine.” Sound familiar?
There have been countless situations where a co-worker has made me upset and I quickly grow cold towards them, even though I am deathly afraid to tell them what I am really thinking. If I was open and honest, in a professional way, I would not feel so irritable and take it out on others who do not have a part in the situation.
The next type is passive-aggressive and falls between passive and aggressive. This is when users appear passive on the surface, but later build up resentment that leads to acting out in subtle, indirect, or secret ways. For instance, if someone at work suggests an idea that you do not like, a passive-aggressive person would respond with “that is fine with me, but don’t come to me when you get in trouble.” I had a co-worker say that to me over something so small. It did not help that I was too afraid to directly ask her why that idea would not work. Instead, I ignored her and moved on. It did not help the tension though.
Aggressive communicators express their feelings and opinions strongly and as they occur. They are often loud, demanding, and believe “it is my way or the highway.” I worked for a manager during my retail days who was just like this. No matter what you said, you were somehow wrong and she made you feel like you did the worst thing in the world.
I will never forget when she pulled me to the parking lot and yelled at me because I offered to cover a co-worker’s lunch break. In one of my rare moments, I stood up for myself and asked why and how I was in the wrong. She got very quiet and barely spoke to me since then. I think she was more upset that someone stood up to her. Everyone I worked with was afraid of her.
The final type of communication is what we all should strive for: assertiveness. This means expressing your point of view clearly and directly, while still respecting others. When you communicate in an assertive manner, you can minimize conflict and control anger.
A different manager I had, and probably my favorite one ever, taught me how to professionally say no to co-workers and clients. He always encouraged me to not completely shut someone down because of their idea, but to explain why it would not work and then offer a solution to compromise. This practice can work in other aspects of life as well. Maybe you are too tired to visit family on the weekend. That is when you come up with a solution and invite them to dinner the weekend after. Your needs are just as important as others.
We all battle guilt to some degree. I hate letting people down, especially the ones I care deeply about. However, you cannot make everyone happy no matter how hard you try. It is okay to say no, it is okay to be honest about your feelings, and most importantly, you need to take care of yourself before you can care for others.
Think of my cat Snickers when you are struggling to give yourself a voice.
We might struggle to find our voice when we communicate with someone who is narcissistic. Check out this video for tips on how to manage during those interactions: