How to Speak Up for Yourself (Without Feeling Like a Jerk)
Do you let things go that really bother you or agree to do things you don’t want to do because you’re afraid of being “mean”? Learning how to speak up for yourself is a super important skill you'll use for the rest of your life. (And no, it doesn’t make you a jerk.)
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This probably doesn’t surprise anyone who has met me, but my mom is a seriously tough lady. She has no problem sending back food if it comes out wrong. She will return things to the store in a heartbeat if they’re damaged or don’t work properly. And she does not play when the phone or cable company tries to overcharge her.
So, naturally, when I was growing up, she made me do the same. I’m going to lie. I hated it at the time. But as I’ve grown up, I am so glad that she made me send back my own chicken nuggets. In college, I had more than a few friends ask me to return things for them because they were too scared to do it!
I’m not going to try and tell you that it’s fun to ask for favors or call people out. Honestly, it can feel so much easier to just let it go sometimes. But I am going to tell you that if you’re going to be a successful person, it is absolutely necessary to know how to speak up for yourself.
I think the reason it’s so scary for nice girls to say something is the fear that people will see you as mean. Or that you’ll hurt their feelings. Or that it will ruin your relationship with somebody. I want to free you from that. It really is possible to get what you need without being mean. I promise!
1. If You Want Something, Freaking Ask!
If you are ever going to get what you need in this world, you are going to have to ask for it. It is very rare for people to spontaneously anticipate and fulfill our needs. Think about it. So, be clear and specific and don’t feel guilty for asking. You’re allowed to want things and you are allowed to ask for what you want. Unless you make demands or use guilt to manipulate people, it is 100% okay to do this.
Related: How to Balance Your Daily Life
2. Stop Apologizing
Over-apologizing is such a common problem with women that Amy Schumer based an entire skit on this. Stop apologizing for being a human with needs. Don’t apologize for asking for something and don’t apologize for saying no. If you think you have inconvenienced someone, try thanking them for their time or their patience instead. Save the apologies for when you have truly offended or failed somebody.
For example, let’s say that you’re at a restaurant and your chicken strips are raw in the middle. None of this, “I’m sorry, but can I send these back?” What are you sorry for?!
Instead, try saying, “Hi, I need to send these back to the kitchen, they’re not fully cooked. I’d also appreciate it if you could remove that charge from our bill. Thank you.” Unless you yell at that poor server or call him names, you are not being mean. I promise.
3. Emphasize What the Other Person Will Gain
If what you’re asking for will benefit the other person, make sure to communicate that, because it’s very helpful. At first glance, it might be hard to see how what you want benefits the other person, but if you give it some thought, it is often there.
For example, let’s say that you want to ask for an extension on your English project. Telling your teacher that the extra time will allow you to turn in your best work will be a lot more convincing to her than telling her that you’ve been too busy with soccer and haven’t had time to work on it.
4. Speak Up For Yourself by Saying "No"
It is absolutely okay to say no. There are times when it is, in fact, necessary to say no. You are not a jerk if you say no. So say it with me, “N.O.”
Hey, can you head up the fundraiser for the lacrosse team? Nope. Do you want to go out with that insufferable know-it-all from your AP History class? I do not. Of course, you don’t have to be that blunt. You can soften it up. But you do NOT have to feel bad about it.
How about something like this for the fundraiser example? “I’m flattered that you would trust me with such an important job, but with SAT’s coming up I won’t really have the time to do it justice." Not so horrible, right?
Related: 8 Smart Ways to Be More Productive
5. Consult Your Alter Egos
When you find yourself feeling guilty about standing up for yourself, ask yourself these 2 questions. This is an important reality check, because girls often feel guilty or mean for just for speaking up for themselves.
1. What would an actual jerk do in this situation?
When I ask girls to give me an example of a mean way to handle a situation, they usually say something that’s perfectly fine in a firm voice. That’s not mean. Sometimes it’s actually necessary! Being mean means being disrespectful or insulting. Unless you’re calling someone names, or cursing at them, or threatening them, you’re probably fine.
2. What would a complete doormat do in this situation?
Then, I ask girls what a doormat would do in that situation. And the answer is generally, “Well, what I usually do, I guess.” Exactly. If you have trouble speaking up for yourself, I can almost guarantee that you’re not capable of being mean. So just go for it!
By now, I have a lot of experience speaking up for myself. But I know it’s really hard when you’re first learning how to do it. If you need some extra help, make sure to download my “Speak Up For Yourself Cheat Sheet”. You'll learn 4 different ways people get what they need. It makes your choices really clear so it's easier to speak up for yourself (without feeling like a jerk).