Docsplainin' -- it's what I do

Docsplainin'--it's what I do.
After all, I'm a doc, aren't I?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

It's Called "Assertiveness"

Reassigned Time: Taking Care of Self = Losing Patience with Others

Crazy's got another great topic going over at Reassigned Time. She's figuring out on the 4th day of this New Year that to keep some of her Resolutions, she's going to not only be saying "yes" to things that are good for her, but saying "no" to other people's requests in order to clear the decks.

She wrote:
Well, I'm going to have to learn to say no more frequently and more forcefully, because if I keep saying yes to idiots, I will end by making a lot of enemies, I fear. So, perhaps the taking care of the body business and putting oneself before other things does actually produce the very results that the goal aims to produce, for it turns out that although I did not resolve to say no more frequently, I'll have to do so if I don't want people to hate me for being a meanie. This is kind of awesome.

She's learning quickly what I find to be true for women as a rule--to wit, that we tend to say "yes" to everything, and then there's either no time for the things that are really important to us, or we, in trying to do too much, wind up doing none of it very well. We miss deadlines, let people down, resent the hell out of them... and nobody's happy, least of all us.

I disagree, though, that taking care of ourselves means losing patience with others. Probably because I don't define "patience" as meaning doing things for people that they could/should do for themselves, I find that we can learn to set limits/boundaries quite patiently--albeit firmly: It's called "assertiveness." What tends to happen here--and here is where the "more forcefully" part comes in--is that people who are used to you saying "yes" all the time won't like it when you start saying "no." You are violating the unspoken contract you've always operated on with them (this is true of society as a whole, too, by the way). So they will tend to ask again, and again, or ask more forcefully, or start trying to guilt-trip you (see the discussion on bitchiness, below). And then sometimes we lose our patience with them (and start yelling, "What is it about 'no' that you don't understand? Read my lips! NO!!"). This is, as my mother would say, "not attractive."

So here's where the patience part comes in. We have to remember that, human nature being what it is, people are going to resist change in us. If we see resistance, that actually means we are doing something right--that is to say, we are changing, and people are noticing. That is a Good Thing. And we have to remember that we are teaching them something new about us in particular and about the world around them in general, and that takes time. One-trial learning is not going to happen here.

And saying "no" in and of itself doesn't really make us "meanies", either. Men say "no" all the time, unfortunately women aren't supposed to. We will be perceived as meanies if we are assertive about our limits and boundaries, but it is not the same. Years and years ago (back before the Flood, but never mind--I digress) there was an article in Working Woman magazine on the subject of bitchiness. And the author wrote that "bitch" stands for "being in total control of herself". It's a socio-cultural gender thing. It's also a grand manipulation: People individually, and our culture as a whole, both use the B-word on us when they are not getting their way. It's intended to shame us into caving in to whatever it is they are wanting at the moment, or in society's case, into not demanding whatever we are demanding at the moment. It's about some other person or institution or other kind of group taking control back from us.

(By the way, you can't allow that to happen. In terms of the teaching process, it will set you way back with that particular individual/group/institution. You have to be consistent, persistent.)

But getting back to where we were, I believe that what does make us meanies is when we say "yes" and then resent the hell out of it later, becoming cranky or passive-aggressive, or worse, both. Crazy's right-on in perceiving that saying "yes" when you mean "no" is a prescription for angry outbursts and/or building resentments. A trick I learned for avoiding that is to (a) try not to answer one way or the other right away--ask the requester for time to think about it, put 'em on hold, whatever you have to do to buy yourself some time, and (b) when I've already said "yes" and realized that was a mistake, to go back to the requester and say, "I spoke too soon when I told you I would [whatever].... Sorry, won't be able to do that after all. Nope. Not gonna happen. No, sirree." It's bad form, not to say awkward, but it beats being mad or resentful, and you won't have to do it too many times before you learn not to say "yes" in the first place!

And Crazy is also correct that learning to say "no" without biting people's heads off requires practice. I therefore sometimes advise people, just for practice, to say "yes" to three things that they would ordinarily deny themselves, and "no" to three people they would normally accede to, per week until they get the hang of this. Learning how to do this, and do it well, is, as Crazy says, "kind of awesome."

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