Should You Stand Your Ground? How To Be Assertive Yet Empathetic.
There is always a misconception where many believe that being kind is mutually exclusive to standing your ground. This means that if you’re kind, you cannot stand your ground, and if you stand your ground, you cannot be kind. The problem with this belief is that it conveys the message that you can either choose to be nice and be liked, or stand up for yourself and let it all go to hell. Many prefer to opt for the former since standing up for ourselves could carry a few risks. This may entail others negatively judging, ostracizing, and even hurting us. This is especially prevalent in Asian cultures where disagreeing with others, especially elders, is perceived to be disrespectful. However, this statement is the furthest from the truth because being kind and standing your ground can definitely be done at the same time.
Before we dive into the hows of doing so, let’s look into why it is important to do both. Assertiveness is a good skill to possess. It is extremely handy when it comes to setting boundaries and standards on how you should be treated. In most cases, you are the one who decides how to let someone else treat you.
Being kind is also an equally important trait. However, when you’re kind without showing any assertiveness, there is a high chance for people to take your kindness for granted. When your needs are ignored and forgotten and you do nothing about it, you’re basically sending a message that their treatment of you is acceptable. This further worsens the situation if your kindness stems from your tendency to be a people-pleaser. Thus, it’s incredibly vital for us to break the misconception above and learn to do both. And here’s how you start.
1. Communication is key.
When you need to be assertive and stand up for yourself, you will have to communicate your point of view and justify your reasons for them. However, how you communicate here is what matters the most. You essentially cut off the opportunity to have a proper discussion to solve the problem with the opposing party if you’re unconsciously defensive or aggressive when communicating.
Thus, to balance between kindness and standing your ground, you will have to communicate your point of view with empathy. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and feel what they are feeling. In this context, you have to understand why they have an opposing view and their justification for treating you a certain way or saying a certain thing. Although you might disagree with their perspective, empathy will enable you to validate their feelings, thoughts and actions. This is crucial because when you invalidate someone, it is a form of disrespect that will cause them to turn away from having a fruitful discussion with you.
Therefore, when you stand your ground, it is important to firstly state that you understand where they’re coming from and why, but you disagree with them and state your reason for doing so. When you respectfully and empathetically communicate your point of view, the opposing party will not view you standing your ground as an attack. Thus, they won’t feel the need to be defensive.
2. How much do you have to say?
Most disagreements turn into clashes not only because of how it is communicated but also how much is communicated. Being kind when you’re standing your ground also includes knowing what to say, and when to say it. It is incredibly easy to make a disagreement with someone into a problem with them, rather than a problem of differing perspectives.
When you view the person themself as problematic instead of only their perspective, there is a tendency for you to criticise them as a person. Try to avoid personal attacks that trigger the other person to become defensive. For instance, when you want to stand your ground with your parents on what you want to pursue in your studies, there is no need to personally attack them by labelling them as selfish or inconsiderate. Here, knowing the extent of what is necessary to say when communicating your perspective will definitely aid to reach more favourable outcomes.
But sometimes, you just have to choose your battles wisely. Is it worth it to stand your ground with certain people? Do you really owe them an explanation for your actions? Maybe even after trying for the 372253884th time to stand your ground and explain your perspective to someone, they have still chosen to invalidate your feelings and thoughts. Is it really worth it especially when their validation doesn’t change anything?
3. Take some time to think things through before responding.
One of the ways we fail to stand up for ourselves is by giving them an answer right away before taking sufficient time to think things through. Saying ‘yes’ or agreeing to the request of others almost becomes second nature when that is all we have been doing for the longest time ever. It becomes a reflex.
But the truth is, you do not have to provide your response right away. Letting them know ‘Please let me think and get back to you on this’ is in no way disrespectful. But rather, it is certainly respectful towards yourself. Because you are allowing yourself to have the time to think about everything else that is going on in your life right now (which is something only you know), weigh the pros and cons and finally decide if this can be added to your plate. This is extremely vital because not doing so can easily pave way for everything to get overwhelming.
4. Build it like a skill.
If you’re someone who is very timid and finds it difficult to voice your opinions and be heard, standing your ground won’t be a bed of roses for you. But assertiveness can be developed, just like a skill. It is not easy and also very irrational to expect someone who has not stood up for themselves before to go against others to state their perspectives. This applies to setting healthy boundaries too. So, start small. Maybe start with getting familiar with saying ‘no’ when you mean it. This could look like training yourself to say ‘no’ to a colleague who has asked you to take over their shift and you don’t want to or are not in the position to do so. Slowly but surely, you will be able to build the courage to stand your ground and be kind at the same time.
For far too long we continued to believe in the misconception of kindness and standing your ground being mutually exclusive. We have let this take over our lives and struggled to find the balance in between. But now is the time to take our power back from the misconception that rendered us powerless. It’s finally the time to say ‘Thank you, but no’.