I will not be silenced

And neither should you (it’s bad for your health)

Dr. Ari Zelmanow
Jul 7 · 6 min read
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Stop being nice.

Have you ever been on your way to a party with your significant other, parents, friends, etc., and they tell you to “be nice?”

What the fuck does “be nice” mean anyway?

What they are actually telling you to do is throttle your assertiveness, fit into the group (even if it’s not authentically you), and steer clear of conflict, i.e don’t make any waves.

At its core, being nice is about being liked by others by making everything smooth. No waves, no friction. It’s based on this (woefully inaccurate) theory: If I please others, give them everything they want, keep a low profile, and don’t ruffle feathers or create any discomfort, then others will like me, love me, and shower me with approval and anything else I want (promotions, sales, friendships, dates, sex, attention). [citation below]

In short, Nice = Passive

So you go to the party, smile, nod, watch what you say, and be agreeable, even if it goes against what you actually believe. Maybe you’d laugh at the jokes and remarks people made, even if you didn’t get them. Maybe you’d avoid talking about certain topics. Maybe you would walk on eggshells.

This is bullshit. It is inauthentic. It is unhealthy.

Let’s hit pause for a second.

Please don’t take this as a license to be an aggressive asshole. These are the people who come across as bullies; those who disregard the needs, feelings, and opinions of others. Aggressive assholes are self-righteous or superior. On the extreme, these people go as far as to humiliate and intimidate others and may even be physically threatening.

Throw “nice” out the window and choose to be assertive but kind instead.

Before we get to the assertive component, let’s define kind as:

  • To be honest
  • To be considerately direct
  • To be positive (nobody likes someone who is always bitching and moaning)

Kind people are caring, sensitive to the feelings of others, attentive, generous, and maintain a good awareness of situational emotional intelligence.

Being assertive is a style of communication that is direct yet non-confrontational. Assertiveness is the middle-ground between an aggressive style and a passive style. Being assertive means having the ability to confidently communicate what you want or need while also respecting the needs of others.

But here is the twist; you can be assertive and kind.

They are not mutually exclusive.

The opposite of assertiveness is passivity.

Being easygoing or agreeable can be a good thing. However, like anything in life,

When you are overly easygoing, aka (also known as) a “pushover,” your behavior can be defined as passive. In this state, you probably appear shy or overly easygoing. You tend to avoid conflict. At this point, you are probably asking, “why is this a problem?”

The absence of conflict is good, right?

Not exactly. When you are passive, the message you’re sending is that your thoughts and feelings aren’t as important as those of other people. In essence, when you’re too passive, you give others the license to disregard your wants and needs.

Consider this real-world example. It’s Friday night and a colleague asks you to take over a project that is due on Monday. You say yes, even though your plate is full, and the extra work means you’ll have to work overtime and miss your daughter’s soccer game. Your intention may be to keep the peace, but you are really building up resentment. Always saying yes can poison your relationships. And worse, it may cause you internal conflict because your needs and those of your family always come second.

If all of this wasn’t enough to convince you that being “nice” and passive is bullshit, consider this.

Throttling your assertiveness could be harmful to your health.

The internal conflict that can be created by passive behavior can lead to:

  • Stress
  • Resentment
  • Seething anger
  • Feelings of victimization
  • Desire to exact revenge
  • Assertive vs. aggressive behavior

So like many things in life, you must follow the Goldilock’s principle. You must find the “just right” amount of assertiveness.

According to a series of studies published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2007, for assertiveness to be effective, it needs to be applied in exactly the right amount.

  • Too much and you may be seen as overly aggressive.
  • Too little and you may be thought of as passive.

Being assertive is a core communication skill.

Being assertive means that you express yourself effectively and stand up for your point of view, while also respecting the rights and beliefs of others. Being assertive demonstrates two things:

  1. It shows that you respect yourself because you’re willing to stand up for your interests and express your thoughts and feelings.
  2. It shows that you’re aware of the rights of others and are willing to work on resolving conflicts.

Let’s be clear here. Being assertive isn’t only what you say; it’s how you say it. Assertive communication is direct and respectful.

If you have to start the sentence with, “no offense,” you are being offensive.

Again, being assertive is not a license to be an asshole.

When you build your assertive muscle, you will:

  • Gain self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Understand and recognize your feelings
  • Earn respect from others
  • Improve communication
  • Create win-win situations
  • Improve your decision-making skills
  • Create honest relationships
  • Gain more job satisfaction
  • Learning to be more assertive can also help you effectively express your feelings when communicating with others about issues.

Ready to build your assertiveness muscle?

Here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Conduct a self-assessment. Do you voice your opinions or remain silent? Do you say yes to additional work even when your plate is full? Do you feel uncomfortable with confrontation? Do you feel uneasy when people disagree with you? Do you avoid conflict?
  2. Practice using “I” statements. Using “I” statements lets others know what you’re thinking or feeling without sounding accusatory. For instance, say, “I disagree,” rather than, “You’re wrong.” If you have a request, say “I would like you to help with this” rather than “You need to do this.” Keep your requests simple and specific.
  3. Practice saying no. If you have a hard time turning down requests, try saying, “No, I can’t do that now.” Don’t hesitate — be direct. If an explanation is appropriate, keep it brief.
  4. Rehearse what you want to say. If it’s challenging to say what you want or think, practice typical scenarios you encounter. Say what you want to say out loud. It may help to write it out first, too, so you can practice from a script. Consider role-playing with a friend or colleague and ask for blunt feedback.
  5. Keep your emotions in check. Conflict is hard for most people. Many get angry or frustrated. Sometimes, people feel like crying. Although these feelings are normal, they can get in the way of resolving conflict. If you feel too emotional going into a situation, hit pause. Then work on remaining calm. Slow down. Breathe slowly. Keep calm.
  6. Start small. At first, practice your new skills in situations that are low risk. For instance, try out your assertiveness on a partner or friend before tackling a difficult situation at work. Evaluate yourself afterward and tweak your approach as necessary.

Remember, learning to be assertive takes time and practice. If you’ve spent years silencing yourself, becoming more assertive probably won’t happen overnight.

But the most important thing is to start. There is no perfect time. Like any new skill, practice makes predictable.

Now get to it!


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Citation for the first quote:

Gazipura, Aziz. Not Nice: Stop People Pleasing, Staying Silent, & Feeling Guilty… And Start Speaking Up, Saying No, Asking Boldly, And Unapologetically Being Yourself (p. 16). Kindle Edition.

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