For a long time, there was a point in our lives where the things we were saying were not being heard. Nobody was listening, and we didn’t understand. But we saw our mothers and fathers get things done in more evasive ways. They never came out and said directly what they needed or what they wanted done, but things got done. As we got older, we noticed that we had picked up the habit, but that other people didn’t communicate in the same way. They felt no shame asking someone for what they needed, and they didn’t have to stomp around, cursing and making noise in order to get a message across.
For the most part, passive-aggressive tendencies are not appreciated. For instance, someone I once knew moved to college and was put into a suite with several other ladies. Having an early class, and not wanting to wake the other girls, she left a note that asked if the person that left the dishes in the sink could please clean them up. Well intended as the note was, it did not have a happy reception on the other end. The note ended up causing tension, and the writer of it did not understand what was so bad about it. In her mind, she was doing what she was taught – tell someone something indirectly when she felt like she couldn’t directly. She felt since the note wasn’t angry or very urgent, it wouldn’t make sense to wake someone up just to tell them that. The other girls, however, thought that she was too afraid to go directly to the person that left the dishes and ask them. Of course, things were returned to normal afterwards, but it led the note writer to examine her communication skills, and find that she really was not very direct – even though, in this case, it worked out.
Other cases may not be so lucky. There is a saying that goes, “Never assume something, because you will make an ass out of ‘u’ and ‘me’.” This is pretty much the truth for indirect communication and passive aggression. When we don’t explicitly voice our needs or opinions, we leave that information for the other person to assume or guess. But other people are not mind readers. Just as we get frustrated when we do not get the response we want from people, others will get frustrated with us. The good news is that we can change our ways of communicating. It won’t happen overnight, but it IS possible.
I’d like to challenge you all today to try and find a moment where you find yourself thinking, “I really want this,” or, “I need this from this person.” Notice how you are trying to get what you want. Are you being direct? As much as body language and sounds can show emotion, direct and clear words are always best. Instead of groaning and cursing at the sight of the dirty dishes in the sink, then loudly banging them as you put them away, ask yourself what you can do to be more direct. Was it someone’s responsibility? Have a chat with them and let them know your feelings and what you need. But remember that other people cannot read minds, and you must be direct.