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#75434 - 03/10/07 04:58 PM Um, No Offense, But... You're Wrong
Ekaterina
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Registered: 11/16/01
Posts: 275
Loc: USA

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I have begun to realize lately that I have a little problem: I am unable to adequately criticize people, or to tell them that they are wrong, even when it is perfectly within my rights to do so. Case in point: I got a haircut at a new place, with a new stylist, because my old one moved. I asked for layers. I got a bowl cut. I thought I had been pretty specific, so at the end of it, when the hairstylist asked if I liked it, I gestured and explained the angles I had wanted. She insisted she had put angles in. I cowed and said something about how I didn't have my glasses on.

A week ago, a classmate said that there had been several long-lasting, successful Communist societies. There haven't been. Communism, much as I adore the idea, is one doomed to failure. I knew she was wrong - I could prove she was wrong - and yet I don't know how to say, politely, that someone is. Maybe this is because when I do point out that people are wrong, they seldom change their opinions. Whereas if someone presents me with a compelling enough argument, I'll always be open to changing mine.

So: how do you tell people that they're wrong? How do you deal with criticizing others without alienating them? What do you do when someone insists that 1 + 1 = 4? Do you think that your upbringing, gender or cultural background has anything to do with how assertive/unassertive you are? I definitely think that my unwillingness to criticize almost anything is due to the fact that I was constantly criticized and told how wrong I was when I was growing up, to the point where even now, I just kind of assume that everybody else knows more than me and has more of a right to an opinion than I have.

(And while you're at it, somebody want to tell me what to do about a blunt bowl cut that I already paid for? Do I just suck it up and wait for it to grow out, or try to find a different salon?)

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#75435 - 03/10/07 06:39 PM Re: Um, No Offense, But... You're Wrong
mashenka
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Registered: 11/10/04
Posts: 222
Loc: NY

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I think all the things you mentioned contribute to how assertive you are. In my case I was always criticized and informed that as a child, and later as a woman, I didn't have the right to an opinion. Like you, I am always open to changing my views if new evidence comes along, but I am very reluctant to argue with someone myself. Then I end up feeling weak and spineless because of my inability to say, "This is what my needs are." For example, in the haircut story, I would have reacted in exactly the same manner.

What to do? Oh I wish I knew. Maybe there's a way to train yourself, to *force* yourself to speak up, but... it's painful. Whereas other people seem to do it completely naturally.

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#75436 - 03/11/07 04:34 PM Re: Um, No Offense, But... You're Wrong
AlchemyGirl
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Registered: 04/10/05
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Definitely find a different salon, Ekaterina. And if you're feeling robbed, write to the first salon owner and tell him/her about your experience there and explain why you won't be returning -- because when you tried to tell the stylist that your haircut wasn't what you had in mind you were dismissed. It may be too late to make the stylist fix your haircut but it's not too late to tell them you were unhappy.

When people say something I disagree with, I usually say something like, "Really? I've always thought that ..." and go on to explain my opinion. On the one hand it does get my voice in there in a fairly non-confrontational manner. On the other hand, I suspect that sometimes I sound a bit condescending, which isn't what I want at all.

Also, sometimes a confrontational manner is called for and I can't seem to summon one. For instance, I'm a grad student and I frequently work in the library, where "No Cell Phones!" signs are prominently posted, and yet people frequently yammer on their cell phones there -- they hold half-hour conversations! In the library! Every time someone does that I want to say something, but I never do.

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#75437 - 03/11/07 09:24 PM Re: Um, No Offense, But... You're Wrong
LaSalleUGirl
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Registered: 06/25/01
Posts: 1895
Loc: Philadelphia, PA, USA

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Hmm...I seem to have this problem as well, particularly in situations like the salon one (I would have reacted in exactly the same way).

For me, though, the problem only crops up in certain kinds of situations. I work in a university writing center, where we frequently see student papers with factually incorrect and sometimes patently offensive arguments. In those settings, I have a set of strategies (along the lines of AlchemyGirl's "Gee, I've always thought..." or "In my thus-and-such class, we were taught x -- where did you find your information?"

Unfortunately, in more personal situations, I am either unable to psych myself up to confront the person in question OR I manage to be assertive enough to voice my viewpoint but then I get angry. My anger tends to manifest itself in tears. Not very effective when you're trying to make a reasoned point...

I would very much welcome ideas on becoming more assertive in these situations. And Ekaterina, I agree with Alchemygirl -- definitely find a new salon!

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#75438 - 03/11/07 09:59 PM Re: Um, No Offense, But... You're Wrong
vanillabean
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Registered: 04/12/06
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This reminds me of a situation recently I was in, where I couldnt find the words to debate/argue a point with someone because I hate any sort of conflict or unease that would have resulted. Especially since I know a person that annoys me with her constant I'm-so-right attitude, which I don't want to resemble! I have problems being assertive, but I think I'm getting a little better.

Tone of voice, voice inflection, body language, etc helps with increasing assertiveness.

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#75439 - 03/12/07 09:16 AM Re: Um, No Offense, But... You're Wrong
crumpet2
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Registered: 12/17/02
Posts: 719

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I have always been encouraged to voice my opinion, but I have also been taught that my opinion really only counts when I think and reason and support my opinion with a credible argument.

I am outspoken and I often find myself saying "I don't see why you are upset with me for having the courage to say what everybody else is thinking." This is when I cast a glance around the room, willing the others to join me, and watch them cast their eyes to the ground and pretend they have no opinion.

When I speak up (I do try to be polite and respectful of others' opinions) I accept, and this gets easier as I get older, that some people will admire and respect me for it, and others will dislike and respect me for it (and a few will just think I'm a bitch, but I can live with that \:\) ). And I'd usually rather socialize with those who admire freedom of expression, anyway.

One thing I find helps to work things out with fewer hurt feelings, when in the situation of criticising service, is to acknowledge the role of the person who is taking the brunt of it. "I understand that you are doing your job and following the policy, and I am not upset with you personally when I say that x, y and z do not make sense for the following reasons, and may I please speak with the manager."

I also try to pick my battles. I just can't see how being honest (more than a few comments like "I wonder if you could shorten it up a bit here") to the stylist about my disappointment with a haircut can be helpful. I mean, she's the one with the scissors and the power to make me live with evidence of her irritation for 6 whole weeks! I'd probably just not tip, and try a different stylist next time. So, focus on what I can change, rather than what I can't (or don't want to risk).

My sister-in-law asked me if I liked the ring she was wearing. I don't like lying, and I didn't want to hurt her feelings, so I said "I think it suits you very well." But then she kept hounding me and hounding me until I finally said I didn't like it. Then she was upset, and I was frustrated. Why did she keep asking for my opinion if she didn't want it? It's more that kind of thing that eludes me in human interaction, rather than correcting misinformation. Maybe that's off topic.

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#75440 - 03/12/07 12:11 PM Re: Um, No Offense, But... You're Wrong
polly#2
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Registered: 06/21/04
Posts: 135
Loc: Ireland

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I aim for neutral questions myself – “What were you comparing with what to count a Communist country a success?” - but that doesn’t work to deflect someone who has already got their head of steam up.

My favourite kind of conversation is a genuinely exploratory one; and my least favourite is one in which someone who has a lot of angry energy built up uses a conversation about Communism, or apples, as an excuse to off-load it.

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#75441 - 03/12/07 08:07 PM Re: Um, No Offense, But... You're Wrong
AlchemyGirl
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Registered: 04/10/05
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Good point about the haircut, crumpet2 -- I wouldn't want an angry stylist going at my hair either! But I think if you don't like the cut and don't intend to tip you should say something about it, like "this isn't what I had in mind, I don't see the layers." Otherwise the stylist might not realize you didn't tip because you hated the haircut, he/she might just call you a cheapskate and continue thinking their work is brilliant. Plus, it gives a nice stylist the chance to fix the problem if there was genuinely a miscommunication.

That's another question -- when do you offer honest, but negative, feedback? Only when something can be changed? Only when it's solicited? In a case like the sister-in-law with the ring I don't like, I tend to just lie and say it's gorgeous (and then I feel guilty for lying). I guess I tend more towards avoiding conflict with people I see in my daily life; I care less about whether I upset someone I may never see again.

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#75442 - 03/13/07 11:05 AM Re: Um, No Offense, But... You're Wrong
setara
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Registered: 07/28/02
Posts: 471
Loc: Alberta/Canada

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Since I noticed this thread I have been thinking about it. My problem is the opposite: I can be too assertive, too the point that I come across as too aggressive. I have come to some of the conclusions that crumpet2 did:

 Quote:

When I speak up (I do try to be polite and respectful of others' opinions) I accept, and this gets easier as I get older, that some people will admire and respect me for it, and others will dislike and respect me for it (and a few will just think I'm a bitch, but I can live with that \:\) ). And I'd usually rather socialize with those who admire freedom of expression, anyway.
But I feel that this is not only a personality trait of mine, but also an aspect of the culture I grew up in (I am from Brazil). Brazilians are much more upfront about their feelings and opinions. We shoot from the hip, as they say here. The question about the ring, for instance, if someone didn’t like it, he/she would have told you so even before you asked.

In the past year I have found myself in a series of occasions when I have wondered about where the golden mean of this assertiveness/passiveness lay. I do admire Canadians capability to “think” before they answer, and different times have regretted my quick reactions or answers to people. I do hope, and watch myself, that I don’t tell people how I feel about a ring they are wearing before being asked, but if asked I certainly don’t feel any qualms about saying it. And in a situation as the haircut, I would have said so, because I do feel that it is a right I have in such a situation.

I do feel critical of Brazilians “too aggressive” ways. However I have noticed that the “Canadian” way can be too passive. An attitude that seems to be: “lets never create polemic” can lead to many problems, and in a bigger scale, to social injustices. I sense a fear among Canadians to voice opinions. There are too many people, like crumpet2 says, that lower their eyes to the floor, completely uncomfortable with taking a stand. That is ultimately hurtful to us all.

I believe that politeness and sensitivity to other people’s feelings are of extreme importance, but when we confuse that with a fear of confrontation, we may miss the chance to state our rights, being it a right to a hair cut I paid for, or the rights of others that shape the communities that we live in.

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#75443 - 03/13/07 03:15 PM Re: Um, No Offense, But... You're Wrong
GingerCat
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Registered: 04/12/03
Posts: 784
Loc: Philadelphia

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 Quote:
I am outspoken and I often find myself saying "I don't see why you are upset with me for having the courage to say what everybody else is thinking."
How does this strategy usually work for you? I ask because, when expressing my own opinion, this would be one of my primary things not to do. No one can really speak for anyone else, and if we try to do so we risk alienating everyone, not just those with whom we disagree. In my opinion, we only have, and should only take, responsibility for our own opinions. Sure, it's upsetting when people refuse to speak up, but trying to speak for them can create a lot of trouble and misunderstanding, in my experience.

 Quote:
In a case like the sister-in-law with the ring I don't like, I tend to just lie and say it's gorgeous (and then I feel guilty for lying).
Don't feel guilty! In a situation like this, it's obvious the person just wants you to say you like it. It's better to just say that and keep the peace in the family. Some things aren't worth being honest about, because it will just hurt someone with absolutely no positive gain for anyone.

The haircut, on the other hand, is different: if you speak up, you'll get a haircut you like and the hairdresser will potentially hang on to your business. That's worth the possibility of momentarily upsetting the hairdresser, IMO.

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#75444 - 03/13/07 05:28 PM Re: Um, No Offense, But... You're Wrong
AuntieBellum
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Registered: 02/13/07
Posts: 35
Loc: Denver, Colorado

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In the case of the sister-in-law and the ring, it sounds to me as if she was looking for a reason to be angry at you, and if it wasn't the ring, she'd have drummed up some other lame excuse to pick a fight. So you probably saved yourself another snit later by getting it over with now.

For a bad haircut, I *think* I would have the nerve to speak up to the stylist and demand that she fix it. You're paying good money for it, after all, and you are entitled to change you mind. Even if she did do exactly what you asked her to. But if she's particularly nasty, I might wimp out. I would certainly avoid going back to her, though. I wouldn't want to have to fight with her every time I need a haircut.

I'm good at telling other people "You should do thus" in difficult situations, but as far as what I would do myself in that situation, it's usually more a case of what I wish I had the courage to do.

And I completely agree with GingerCat. I would be very careful about presuming to speak for other people. Maybe they don't agree with me as much as I think they do, and they are just too chicken to stand up to me.

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