All my life, I’ve been dismissed and brushed aside. I have a successful life — so why is everyone still treating me like this?
Our elder has some strategies for becoming more assertive.
Hello. I’m 51 years old. I am a successful teacher and supervisor at a preschool. I’m also married with two children. I have more than my parents ever did and I’m very happy for the most part, but something has bothered me my whole life. Despite my success as a family man and an educational professional people, very frequently, dismiss what I say. If I offer a suggestion to my wife, she brushes it aside. When I contribute to a conversation with her, she corrects everything I say or disagrees with it. It has been that way all my life. My family never took me seriously and they often made fun of me throughout my life about my looks (I was very skinny growing up) and how I did things. I’ve had very few really close friends in my life. Now that I’m older, it continues. As a supervisor, if I make a decision about something at work, my boss will often undermine it. I’ve gotten to where I’ll just do what I think is right and deal with the consequences when my boss finds out. I know I’m not stupid and I conduct myself with confidence. I graduated from college with honors, and I have 12 years of military experience. My previous jobs are all the same. People I work with and supervisors have all walked all over me.
A few years ago, I was involved with a woman who was the same way. She was very controlling and verbally abusive. Before I knew it, I had allowed her to completely take over my life and over the course of several years I became so depressed I tried in earnest to drink myself to death in hopes I would pass out one day and just never wake up. I met my current wife and I love her very much. We have two beautiful children and I love them more than life itself. I’m glad I didn’t die but it seems that my life is going back to the way it was before. My wife likes to control things. I have tried to discuss things with her, but she ends up angry and yelling despite my efforts to keep the conversation civil. I don’t know if the whole world is just that way or if I’m an easy target for others to step on. I do assert myself when needed but it seems that when I do people act surprised or they’re put out that I’m standing up for myself. I’ve never brought this up to anyone before, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Thank you.
I’m not going to pretend to have an answer to a question like this. I’m sure we could look up the top ten methods to be more assertive and find some very common-sense answers that are probably true enough, but that really doesn’t help. So, instead, here are a few things I’ve seen and learned in my times, both in business and outside.
To begin with, as you know, you’re doing OK. Having a wife, kids, job and all of that is really a mark of success, one that shouldn’t be downplayed. Same thing with your background, which appears to be very strong. So, it appears to me that you’re getting the big things right. Congratulations, even if you don’t hear it from others.
So, onto the issue at hand. There seem to be a number of components to your question. Why don’t people react more to what you say? Is it that people are just pushy and you’re an innocent in a rough world, or is there something else going on? What is it about you that may be causing this to happen? How much does this/should this affect your life?
The first one is tough because I can’t speak for other people. In my working life, I was always a believer in listening or examining things until I actually understood a problem, then I’d provide my ideas and support them with reasons why in as much detail as possible. Facts, data and all of that. Most of us do this.
What I found, often, is people either already had their own ideas; they weren’t listening; they didn’t care what I thought; or occasionally, they’d see some sense in my answers and act accordingly. However, I kept on because I felt being thorough and thoughtful was what they paid me for. Still do.
Unfortunately, people are people. While there are tons of good people out there — most actually — they generally have their own agendas, their own ways of thinking, and their own biases. While it should make sense that they actually listen and care, it’s definitely not universal. Most are thinking of themselves instead. Just human nature.
So maybe you’re looking for more than is there when it comes to working.
As one of my bosses said to me coming from a presentation that I thought was a really good idea, “I don’t think they grasped the level of your genius.” In fact, years later was almost floored when a boss actually asked me to describe how I came up with my ideas and made me support each step, then he agreed.
The point? Do what you can; have good reasons to support your ideas — a logical, well-considered argument; then play your cards as best you can and forget about it. Don’t take a lack of attention on their part more seriously than you should. It may not be you; it may just be them.
So, now the second part of your question: Is there something in how you act that makes people tune out? Obviously, I don’t know you, so I can’t say. However, maybe a few thoughts here can help. Again, this isn’t a web-list, it’s just what I’ve learned.
Make headlines. In journalism school, they teach you to lead with strong statements or headlines, then provide details. It’s a pretty good idea for just about anything — speaking or presenting.
Be sure. If you’re not strong or providing emphasis, why should they care? It’s like watching a sports figure with no emotion; if they don’t care, why should we?
Keep the detail in check; if you’re an analytical person, you may assume people want a lot of information; while this has its place, it can kill discussions.
Don’t let them side-step of circumventing your comments by picking a piece and going off on a tangent; keep pressing with the main points.
Learn to listen extremely well, give back what they said, then implant your ideas. People want to be heard, so do that, give them what they want, then ask for what you want. In other words, control the conversation.
I know all this sounds a little ‘list-ish’, but it’s what I learned from teaching salespeople for years. Every communication can be strong if you make it so; even if they don’t listen, you can still make thoughts and ideas alive and vital.
Another item I could add here is persistence, or actually fighting for an idea. I think this can be done without being over-the-top, but by continuing to press your point. I understand that sometimes you have to pick and choose your wars, especially at home, but as they say, there is a time and place for everything. When you’ve taken too much crap, or they aren’t listening say enough is enough.
One friend of mine is a great guy, but he says the same things you say; no one listens, and people push him around. He’s laid back about it, but I can tell you he doesn’t do any of the items above, except listen well. Everyone loves him, but not many pay attention. This leads to the last comment; how much you care.
You wrote in because this is bothering you, so I am going to assume that you want to change something. As a person who was once quiet and shy and somewhat retiring, I can tell you that I came to a conclusion once upon a time that this wasn’t me; circumstances had led me to abandon myself; anxiety, new environment, a bit of depression.
Through a lot of self-examination, time, study, philosophy, and anti-anxiety pills, I decided over time to at least just be myself and not worry about the consequences. Much, anyway. As I used to say, “Life ain’t a rehearsal”. In addition, I had an old professor who once said to me, “We’re not here to pretend; we are here to be.”
Heavy, right? The point is that whether you become a different person, press your thoughts and ideas, do all the stuff I write here doesn’t really matter; whatever you choose, be OK with it and let it fly. There is no sense in worrying about what people think or feel about every word you say.
I know this is not easy. And I know it is kind of Zen. But whether you choose to just continue being the good, decent person you are, without people listening much to you, but getting the big stuff right; or you choose to be more outgoing, funny, driven and forceful in what you say; as long as it is authentic, you’ll probably be OK. What the hell do other people know anyway?
I hope this helps a bit and wish you all the best.
Letter #: 442122