Time to Rethink Quiet Politeness
how to speak up for yourself, and still
stay true to your warm, sensitive self
Can you think of a time when you felt reluctant to agree with someone, uncomfortable with something happening right in front of you, or somehow taken advantage of – and yet you bit your tongue and went with the flow, to keep the peace?
I’ll bet you can.
I know I can. In fact, a recent one jumps to mind immediately, and it’s remarkably ordinary.
I was in friendly company, talking in a small group with a friend-of-a-friend who I’ve met a few times. A harmless conversation about board games took a jarring turn when this guy casually told me how irritating it is that every version of Trivial Pursuit he can find these days only has the kinds of light, fluffy questions that are geared more toward “women and children” than “well-read men.”
He said it unflinchingly and with a smile, ready for me to chuckle alone with him and agree politely. And you know? That’s exactly what I did – and I’m still kicking myself pretty hard for it.
In that moment, what I felt was an immediate, intense conflict between the inner and the outer; my internal reaction (heart rate surging, rage-twinge in my chest, etc. as someone unapologetically belittled my intelligence and insulted my entire gender to my face) vs. the urge to keep things steady and harmonious in the outer world, and not ‘start something’.
As sensitive people, we know that conflict well.
Being a highly sensitive person means living in – and intimately knowing – the tension between inner grit and outer grace.
It’s that unmistakable, almost-physical conflict between two opposing forces: the way we feel (particularly when something doesn’t quite sit right with us) and how we believe we ‘should’ behave, to keep everyone around us comfortable. We regularly live in that tension. Or at least, I do.
But for us empathy-driven people, experiencing that conflict and then choosing to ignore our inner turmoil in order to prioritize outer harmony isn’t that unusual. And that same conflict between inner and outer shows up in our relationships pretty regularly.
It might not always look as brazen as my example above, but we’ve all felt similar feelings bubble up – resistance, discomfort, indignation – in those mini moments of crisis in our relationships. They’re the moments when something that’s asked of us is somehow in conflict with our values, our desires, or even our capacity to give.
So how do we navigate that tension, in a way that doesn’t simply mean always prioritizing someone else’s comfort or happiness above our own?
For me and my example, it was that deep-seated conditioning to be polite, to keep the peace, and to ‘not start something’ that ultimately took the wheel. That instinct to take on the burden of discomfort and diffuse the situation so no one else would have to suffer is what kicked my inner advocate to the backseat. (If you’re a woman, you’re especially familiar with this phenomenon, considering we’re socialized practically from birth to exhibit sweetness and prioritize politeness.)
And to be clear, it’s not that we should stop showing softness or selflessness in our relationships. I actually believe that our deep, natural understanding of compromise and empathy are some of the strongest tools we bring to our relationships as sensitive people.
But compromise and empathy aren’t the problem here. The problem is when we default to these behaviors, because we believe it’s our job to; when we unquestioningly stay quiet and put another person’s comfort and happiness ahead of our own, because we’ve come to believe that’s the best way to prove that we’re loving friends and partners.
But that’s a default setting that we have the ability to adjust within ourselves.
With mindfulness and self-work, we can start to reprogram our inner ‘quiet politeness’ default settings, and find our voice.
With a willingness and the right tools, we can learn to speak up more often and more confidently about our ideas, feelings, needs, and beliefs – and I’m here to help you do it! Because I’m a big believer that we often choose politeness because it feels better than instigating a conflict - but advocating for yourself in your relationships and prioritizing your own needs doesn't have to feel gross.
I’ve created something I hope will help, and I’m beside-myself-excited to share it with you.
The Use Your Voice quiz is designed to help you pinpoint your biggest barrier that keeps from speaking up clearly and confidently about your wants, needs, or opinions. Plus, at the end you’ll get a (free!) mini guidebook to help you work through through that obstacle, and take that first big step forward - all so you can start speaking up and getting what you need, without all the butterflies and anxiety.
I hope this new resource helps you connect some dots, find some clarity, and realize that you’re not alone in your struggles to do so. I can’t wait to hear how you like it, and what you’re able to accomplish with your (hopefully) newfound clarity. You can take the quiz and get started here, and I'd love to hear what you think!