The Cost of Saying Nothing

Usually when I talk with a nanny about her decision to speak up or stay quiet about an issue she’s having with her employer, the conversation begins with the nanny focusing on everything that could go wrong if she spoke up. Her employer could get mad at her. She could be labeled a complainer, a whiner, a bitch. She could ruin the good relationship they have. She could show all her cards and still not get what she’s asking for. She could lose her job. She could lose her reference. The ‘what ifs” take on a life of their own and the nanny spirals into fear, anxiety and sometimes panic.

Now all those things could happen. But it’s not likely. My experience has been when a nanny goes into a conversation with an honest intention of working through the issue and the communication skills to share her thoughts and feelings in a respectful way, she gets a result she’s happy with.

But back to the “what ifs”. It’s easy to see all the bad things that can happen when you speak up. That list reinforces the idea that we should stay exactly where we are. That we should maintain the status quo and not rock the boat. Because staying where we are, even if we’re unhappy in that place, is always easier than making a change and taking a chance. But when it comes to emotional conflicts, there’s really no such thing as standing still. If you’re not moving in one direction, you’re moving in the other direction by default. If you’re not moving towards resolution, you’re becoming more and more entrenched in the conflict. If you’re not advocating for yourself, you’re getting angrier and angrier that others are making important decisions for you. If you’re not being heard, you’re feeling less and less valued.

There are real costs to not speaking up. Not only do you miss the opportunity to solve the issue in a real and lasting way, you send yourself the message that you’re not worth the effort. That life won’t give you what you want and need. That the people around you don’t really care about the things that are important to you. That your anger, fear, frustration, or disappointment isn’t justified, or real, or worthy. Imagine what all those negative messages do to your psyche?

Speaking up doesn’t mean being hurtful, mean, loud, aggressive, disrespectful, demanding or any of the other negative terms we often ascribe to it. It simply means that when someone does or says something that bothers you, you share your thoughts and feelings with that person. When you’re in a situation that you’re unhappy with, you talk about ways to make it better. It’s not about blame, or expecting someone else to solve all your problems. It’s about being heard. And from that place all kinds of wonderful things can happen.