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(9) Pearls of Life




Express Yourself

I just said that you need to control your emotions. But that doesn’t mean you can’t ever express how you feel. Just express it in words rather than by demonstration. Of course there are times when it’s important to let someone know that you’re disappointed, or angry, or hurt, or frustrated. They are more likely to give you what you want if they understand how you feel. However, it won’t help if you shout, or sulk, or burst into tears.

The way to let someone know that you feel angry is blindingly simple. You say, “I feel angry.” That’s so much better than yelling at them. No one wants to help someone who intimidates them-or puts them down, or makes them feel small, or puts emotional pressure on them, or makes them feel uncomfortable.

So don’t do those things to people if you want them on your side. In fact, to take it one step further, say “I feel angry when…” and then explain what the problem is. This phrase is handy because it’s not accusatory-you’re focusing on the other person’s behavior and not on them personally. No one wants to be told, “I feel angry because you’re being unreasonable because you won’t listen/because you’re putting your interests first.” Much easier to hear, “I feel angry when I feel I’m not being heard/I feel my interests are being ignored.” It’s just a less confrontational, more constructive way to get the other person to listen to you.

 Don’t Use Emotional Blackmail…

 Nobody likes being emotionally blackmailed. Some people may give in to it, especially if assertiveness isn’t their middle name, but they still know you’re doing it. And given half a chance they’ll say no to you. Personally I’m pretty intolerant of emotional blackmailers, and even if they have a valid request I find myself wanting to refuse them because I object to being manipulated.

“I’ll be in real trouble if you don’t help me with this….” “Please can I take Friday afternoon off? It’s my little girl’s ballet show and she’ll be so disappointed if I’m not there….” “Come on, let’s go out tonight. I’ve had a miserable week and I really need to get out, and there’s no one else I can go with.” All those requests are reasonable if they’re expressed without emotional pressure. It’s fine to explain that you want the afternoon off for your daughter’s ballet show, but not fine to lay on the emotional stuff-implying that if your boss says no they’ll be personally responsible for your daughter’s misery.

Emotional blackmail is a sly and underhand way to try and get what you want, and my experience is that people who use it may be successful this time, but in the long run they lose out. I wouldn’t want to be that kind of person, and I hope you wouldn’t either.

Besides which, it won’t actually get you what you want in the end, and people will be likely to see you as someone they’d like to say no to, even if they can’t always manage it.

 …and Don’t Give In to It

You need to avoid being on the receiving end of emotional blackmail, too. Otherwise you’ll end up saying yes to things you don’t have the time or the enthusiasm for, just because you’ve been guilt-tripped into them. Some people, me included, find this avoidance quite easy. Emotional blackmail irritates me and I give it short shrift. But I know that if you’re not very assertive, or you’re susceptible to guilt, it can be hard. The first thing is to recognize it. If you’re feeling guilty or uncomfortable about the way you’re responding to someone, ask yourself if you’re being emotionally blackmailed. If the answer is yes, focus on that fact and not on the guilt they’re trying to engender in you.

Listen, emotional blackmail is not responsible, adult behavior. It’s unfair and it’s manipulative and people who do it don’t deserve to get what they’re asking for, even if their request is otherwise reasonable. They’ve isqualified themselves by cheating. Now just practice whatever technique you have for saying no to them, such as the stuck record technique. Sometimes it can help to challenge them, especially if you can do it with humor: “Careful now, or I’ll think you’re trying to emotionally blackmail me….”

And if that doesn’t help you to resist, think about this: Every time you give in to emotional blackmail you encourage that person to do it again. So you’re partly responsible for the discomfort of the next person who gets guilt-tripped, and the one after that…or am I just emotionally blackmailing you now?

 Treat People with Respect

Everyone deserves respect, and more to the point everyone wants it. If you remember that, people will be far more likely to be on your side, to want to help you when you need it. How many neighbors, bosses, family or colleagues have you encountered who make you feel unimportant at times? Maybe they don’t bother to listen when you speak, or perhaps they ignore you because you’re junior to them, or they expect you to do things for them without asking properly, or they never bother to thank you for anything. I had one boss who used to take credit for all my ideas. I know people who’ll shout at you just because they disagree with you. I had a colleague who wouldn’t make me a cup of coffee because she considered that I was slightly junior to her.

Then again, I once encountered an important client who insisted on making me coffee on the grounds that I was much busier than he was at that particular moment. I’ve had other bosses in the past who credited my ideas (one who did so only when they turned out right, and took the rap herself when the ideas were lame), and neighbors who have brought me gifts to thank me for the simplest of favors. I know which of all those people I’d want to help out and which I wouldn’t be bothered about. It’s especially important to treat people with respect as you become more senior-at work, in the family, as a school parent, or a local resident. People are especially sensitive to being ignored or put down by people they see as being senior. So even if you mean no disrespect but are just preoccupied or busy or in a hurry, you need to make sure you never forget to show people that you’ve noticed them.




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