There is nothing wrong with passivity. In some situations, it can come in handy, like when you don’t wanna start a fight on the subway or when you’re working in customer service and can’t scream at Miss Karen who is fighting you because of a 10 cent price discrepancy. But for the love of God, please do not communicate that way when there’s a serious issue going on between you and someone you care about.
If you want to lead up to the discussion with hints to gauge how assertive you need to be, that’s perfectly okay. But when you start thinking people should just “take the hint,” you’re clearly failing to realize that no human on this earth can read your mind 100% of the time. Not even your best friend knows you so well that you can communicate telepathically. I get it. Confrontation can be scary as hell. But I promise you, losing a good friend because you chose to treat them like garbage and punish them for your inability to properly convey information that they can’t know otherwise is a lot worse.
Here’s a few tips from a former hint-dropper on how to overcome the fear:
1. Realize that anyone who gets upset because you respectfully express your opinion is probably not a person you want in your life. You’re a human, not a doormat. Communication is a two-way street which means BOTH people need to understand what’s going on.
2. Realize that even if people make mistakes and hurt you, the responsibility ultimately comes to you if you refuse to communicate. You have no right to hold anyone accountable but yourself if you do not make your boundaries clear. Obviously, this excludes the no-brainer things like stealing, racism, sexism, etc., but be aware that someone who makes jokes about your height or even expresses that they find your mother to be bossy may not know that they’re crossing your boundaries.
3. If your boundaries have been made extremely clear—and yes, this may take a few discussions for someone else to understand—people who keep doing those same things have no respect for you. It’s okay to yell in some situations if someone has clearly done something despite how you feel, but in general, yelling should be your last response. Make sure the person understands you before making assumptions, but beware of people who say they don’t understand and make no effort to understand. These people just want to manipulate you. After all, why would you yell at someone for a “simple misunderstanding,” right?
4. Remember that assertiveness is not the same thing as aggression. Assertiveness aims to come to a common understanding between one another, while aggression seeks to come out with a winner and a loser. So long as you are actively trying to be respectful and clear in your communication, that is all you can really do. The longer you put off being firm, the more your relationships will turn sour unless you’re communicating with someone else who is EXTREMELY sensitive to hints (which is pretty rare).
5. If you’re not sure where to start, just use a simple “Hey, I know you didn’t mean to make me feel this way, but I felt ____ when you ____.” Watch how they respond. If it’s anger, cut them off. If it’s genuine curiosity, concern, and being apologetic, that is how a good friend should react.
6. Be patient with yourself. It takes a lot of work to become a better communicator, and chances are, you won’t get it right the first time. It’s okay to mess up, but it’s not okay to blame other people for “not getting the hint.” If you want, you can have practice communication sessions with a therapist or trusted friend. It’s really not so scary to take up space.
7. Remember that the most effective communication style in most situations will be assertive. That doesn’t mean you have to be that way in every situation. In fact, being assertive means you know when to stand up for yourself firmly against someone, versus when to politely and softly decline them. It is always okay to START OFF passive, but with a lot of people, you’re going to have to be firm before they understand you. When in doubt, always ask if they do.
Most people are going to treat you the way they like to be treated. For example, I call all of my friends mean names like “bitch” or “whore” because that’s how I grew up showing affection with my sisters. Some people would never dream of doing that. Obviously, with something that others may find offensive, I should be courteous and ask before I do that thing. But if I slip up and do so before checking in with them, it wouldn’t be right of that person to assume the worst of me. They need to communicate that me calling them those names, even out of love, hurts them. Assumptions ruin perfectly good relationships. That is why clear and effective communication is so important.