Why biting your tongue to keep the peace may be damaging

Do you constantly find yourself agreeing with others to avoid conflict? Or mulling over a conversation in self-regret about the things you didn't say but should have?

Fitting in with the needs or wishes of others to maintain the peace may earn you praise as being easy-going, selfless and the go-to person for every office task. But this can evolve into resentment and become the cause, not the solution, to your problems.

‘Emotions like anger can stir up and leak into the relationship, turning it toxic.’Credit:Stocksy

"In some instances silence can be golden, but when you fall into a recurring pattern of not speaking up for yourself, that can result in missed opportunities for personal growth and career advancement," explains Dr Jo Lukins, author of The Elite: Think Like an Athlete, Succeed Like a Champion.

"We're the ones who teach people how to treat us. Therefore how they perceive us is up to us, which suggests that what we need to think of is our own responsibility in the conversation."

So, what's stopping us? One reason we retreat into silence is fear. "When you feel unsafe in a conversation or aren't confident about the information you want to share, keeping quiet rather than risk being rejected, misunderstood or ridiculed about your opinion will seem to be the safest option," says Lukins. "It's also the way we avoid creating tension or conflict with other people which may upset them and damage the relationship."

But we're not responsible for other people's feelings – only our own. Queensland-based psychologist Dr Samantha Clarke says we may protect other people's feelings in the short term by not speaking up. "However, if the matter you're not expressing is connected to your values, this may start affecting the relationship in other, more covert ways.

"For example, we may tend to act more passive-aggressive in the belief that the other person always gets their way, or has control over the relationship. As a result, emotions like anger can stir up and leak into the relationship, turning it toxic, and this can have very problematic effects on our wellbeing. By not letting others know what we want and just allowing them to dominate the relationship, we disadvantage ourselves."

How do you hold a healthy, assertive conversation? Research suggests people will speak up in difficult situations only if they feel psychologically safe and know that their words won't result in punishment or retribution.

A good way to practise expressing your opinion is by writing it down. "Using the phrase 'When X happened, I felt Y' allows you to create ownership over your feelings rather than blaming others," explains Clarke.

Preparing prior to a conversation can also help to break the silence.

"Get clear on what you want to say, jot it down, and practise saying these phrases before going into a situation," adds Clarke.

"In the beginning, if you find yourself feeling anxious, take a few deep belly breathes and just keep practising, as the more you do, so the more these skills will show up when you need them."

During the conversation, if you need to buy time because you're not sure of how to respond, or because the other person is becoming angry with you, use phrases such as "I need to think about that and get back to you" or "Let's have five minutes on our own to reset and then come back to talk about it." Both are intended to take the pressure off and get your mind clear about your response.

Lukins adds that being mindful and self-reflective over how you and others are feeling gives you the space to know how to deal with the situation in a helpful way. "It's also vital to realise how you don't always need to raise an issue – choose your battles, and come to terms with the fact that not all issues will be resolved."

Luckily, assertiveness is a skill that can be learnt. As Lukins says, "We just need to change our mindset around conflict and to keep practising speaking up. Once we do so, we'll discover the unique power of our voice to say what we mean."

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale July 14.

Source: Read Full Article