Have you ever noticed how open and straightforward confident people are? They rarely resort to any subtle implications when trying to convey their thoughts and viewpoint to other people.
On the other hand, socially reserved person would be beating about the bush, sometimes infinitely, with no result.
There are cases when gentle approach and manipulative speech constructions may be quite useful. But is it really that effective?
Manuel J. Smith, in his book “When I Say No, I Feel Guilty”, insists that the more assertive you are, the easier it becomes for you to resolve social conflicts and attain what you actually desire.
However, this article does not describe any of techniques from that book (I’m only halfway through it, so I’ll review it later – when I’m done reading it. However, even by now it’s a safe bet to say that this book is the most helpful and insightful book I’ve read in the last couple years so far.)
The tips I want to share with you in this article are based on the points I’ve grasped from the book “Outliers” (please, check my book review here).
Linguists use a special term to describe such a soft way of communication – “mitigated speech”.
We use mitigated speech when we want to be polite, less assertive, gentle to other people.
For example, when you’re talking to a teacher, you are likely to use mitigated speech in order to be respectful to his/her authority and experience. You don’t say: “I want you to check my homework right now!” It’s impolite, irreverent and even unacceptable for some cultures. Instead, you go with something like: “I’m sorry for disturbing you, but I would like to ask you to check my homework as soon as you have some free time”.
When we want to avoid any sharp edges in a conversation, express our complaisance toward an interlocutor we use mitigated speech to, quoting the book, “downplay or sugarcoat the meaning of what is being said”.
Of course, there are situations when the mitigated speech is very effective and even a necessary condition to get what you want, but I think you agree, that socially insecure people use it way too often. In many life situations it is not only of no help, but makes you lose actually.
The linguists Ute Fischer and Judith Orasanu offer at least 6 ways to express your thoughts, using different level of mitigation. In the book I reference to, the following mitigated speech gradation is given in application to the safety of air flights, however, we can make good use of it by applying it to social interactions we are involved in on everyday basis.
So here’s an adapted to some social situation version of the mitigation spectrum.
- Command: This level is the most straightforward one. You don’t say, you literally give a command to the other person. No mitigation is involved here. Let’s consider an example. You and your friends are deciding which place to visit this evening. Someone asks: “Where do we go tonight?” You want to go to the X bar. The sentence “We go to the X bar.” – is the most direct way to make your intention clear to your friends yet be assertive.
- Obligation Statement: “I think we need to go to the X bar.” The use of “I think” and “we need” makes the whole phrase gentler.
- Suggestion: “Let’s go to the X bar.” The use of the pronoun “we” is less explicit here.
- Query: “Would you like to go to the X bar?” This sentence is more mitigated as you let your friends decide.
- Preference: “I think it would be great to go the X bar.” “Would” makes the phrase sound wishy-washy. Your friends may simply (and rightfully) ignore it, as it doesn’t even state any question.
- Hint: “The X bar seems to be a good place to visit.” The most mitigated level of expressing what you want.
Do you communicate clearly and assertively, or are you used to express your thoughts, opinions and desires ambiguously instead? Are you being too humble when it’s not necessary and even harms the conversation? Are you easily manipulated into doing something you don’t want to do?
Try to be more direct and assertive when expressing your ideas and intentions. Assertiveness is not aggression. It’s a powerful way to resolve social conflicts and raise your self-esteem with no fighting.
As with every social skill, adopting those pieces of advice may take some time and practice (and courage), but as a result, it will inevitably improve your social life on a bigger scale.