Your son is starting to hang out with someone who makes you uncomfortable. Your sister comments on your weight. Someone at work is irritating you. You’re worried that your partner isn’t taking good care of himself. Your boss is a jerk. You disagree with your cousin’s politics.
You’d love to say something but aren’t sure exactly what to say, or how to say it, or how to deal with the fallout if it goes badly. So for now, you say nothing. But that feels crappy. Maybe you’ll just speak your mind and damn the consequences. No, that doesn’t feel right either…
Most of us find ourselves in quandaries like this now and then. Why? There are several possible reasons:
- We don’t know how to speak up for ourselves confidently and calmly. We didn’t have good role models for this at home and no one taught us at school.
- We don’t want to make matters worse by upsetting someone important to us.
- We think that we are stuck with things the way they are.
- We believe, for whatever reason, that we don’t have the right to ask for things to be better.
But I believe we do have the right to be empowered and to stand up for ourselves and make positive changes in our lives.
Here’s this six-step method I use and have taught to everyone from my coaching clients to my own children, and recently published as a book called “ISPEAQ: How to Stand Up for Yourself and Have Difficult Conversations.” ISPEAQ is an acronym for the six steps in the process; here is a summary of them, followed by some example of it in action:
1. “I” for Intentions
First, what’s your intention for your relationship with this person? Think of the big picture. If they are someone important in your life, how would you like your relationship to improve, and how could speaking up help with that?
Second, what’s your intention for this particular conversation? Think of the little picture here, something specific like wanting them to be on time, or to stop talking about your weight or making suggestive comments at work.
2. “S” for Suitable Setting
You’ll want to choose the right time and place, ideally when you won’t be rushed and somewhere comfortable and free of distractions.
3. “P” for Positivity and Praise
Getting yourself into a positive mindset will help calm your nervous system and this in turn will help the other person feel calmer. There are several ways to do this, including deep breathing, reminding yourself of your positive intentions, calming music, going for a quick walk.
Then, start the conversation by telling the other person how much you value them and saying something you genuinely admire or respect about them. This will help them relax and be open to what comes next.
4. “E” for Explicit Example
Next, you’ll want to refer to a very specific instance of the thing they’ve done that upset you. The more explicit you can be the better; if you generalize or are vague, they will almost always look for an example to prove you wrong and you’ll have a battle on your hands.
5. “A” for how you were Adversely Affected
Then, say how the behavior affected you. Did it cause you to be late? Frustrated? Embarrassed? Worried? Again, try to stay calm as you speak.
6. “Q” for reQuirements and Questions
Lastly, tell them what you require in the future, and then give them the chance to respond or ask questions. If they learn this process to, you can take turns until you reach an agreement.
Here are some examples of conversations using this approach:
“James, I want to talk to you about something important. You’re my son and I love you and want the best for you, now and in the future. Because of that, I’m worried that you’ve disrespected our agreed curfew a few times, like coming home at 12:30 instead of 11 last night. We have house rules for a reason, primarily to make sure you kids are safe and get enough sleep. When you come home late, I worry that you’ve been in an accident or are doing something that might not be good for you. I’d like to reestablish an agreement about what time you come home at night. What do you say?”
“Alia, I love you and I know you mean well, but your comments about my weight hurt my feelings. Even when you hint at it, like when you said you wished we could go shopping at the same stores together, I feel embarrassed and even resentful. It hurts especially because you’re not only my sister but one of my closest friends. In the future I’d love to get together without worrying that you’ll mention my weight. There are so many other things we can talk about! How does that sound?”
“Robert, you’re a very friendly guy and it’s possible that I might have misinterpreted something you did. When you leaned over my chair yesterday and said my hair smelled good, it made me uncomfortable and made me tense up. I respect you as a colleague and want to have a purely professional relationship with you like I do with everyone else here at work.”
We can’t force anyone to change their behavior. But we can try to improve our own lives by speaking up for ourselves calmly and confidently. This process is one way to help you do that. And if you and your relationship matter to the other person, they may be willing to listen to what you’re trying to say and make changes on their own.
My hope is that you find the words to say what’s in your heart and that your life improves by getting those words out into the world, where they belong.