To Say, Or Not To Say, That Isn’t The Question

The question is not whether to speak up, but how. On playing small in a big world.

Drew Stegmaier
Change Becomes You
3 min readOct 24, 2020


image credit wikipedia

Often in relationships of all kinds, we wonder whether or not to speak up. This is the wrong way to think. You should speak up. You shouldn’t debate whether or not to speak up. Something gave you a feeling. You can suppress the feeling, but as the saying goes, what we resist, persists. Marianne Williamson says,

Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you…

And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we’re liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

The real question is, how do we speak up? There’s plenty of ways to speak up. It isn’t one size fits all. The key is to recognize context. You can use a context-specific framework for determining how to speak up, with 3 types of speaking.

  1. Passive
  2. Aggressive
  3. Assertive

Say your friend shows up wearing the ugliest t-shirt you’ve ever seen and asks what you think. Passive says, “it looks ok.” Aggressive says, “that is the ugliest t-shirt I’ve ever seen!” Assertive says, “it’s not my favorite,” or “other ones suit you better.”

Passive involves lying, generally with a lie of omission, though sometimes an outright lie. In the long term, this destroys any relationship. It erodes trust regardless of intent. Aggressive feedback destroys relationships in the long term too. Even if someone values your brutal honesty, it's hard to be around a dick all the time. They will dial back with you and see you less often. Assertive expression is the one size fits all approach to feedback, and works well.

Being assertive is about being direct, firm, positive and using persistence when necessary to create equality in relationships.-Your Perfect Right: Assertiveness and Equality in Your Life and Relationships

Assertiveness can be dialed up or down and you can always make it more aggressive if needed. Being aggressive or passive first makes backpedaling difficult later. It also trains the listener to distrust your initial statement.

Being assertive is all about telling the truth in a palatable way. Yes, the truth can be inconvenient. That doesn’t mean the truth has to be wounding. Your Perfect Right (I know, terrible title) is the best book I’ve read about assertiveness. As my friend says, most books should be articles, and most articles should be tweets. Luckily for us, the authors put a fantastic chart in the book. If you feel stuck, just look at the chart below.

Go back to the chart as much as you need. What we say is as important as how we say it. Learning how empowers you in your life and is worth practicing.