Emily Postmodern: How Do I Disagree Without Being Disagreeable?

Our first reader letter!

I’m constantly being told by media (The Frisky included) to stand up for myself, speak my mind, defend the defenseless, but I’ve got to tell you, I am irritating a lot of people! If I speak my mind, everyone thinks I’m being stubborn, if I tell my opinion, they think I’m being difficult. If I disagree with someone, I’m being a bitch. I’m sort of at a loss here. I am actually a nice person, I have a great husband of 11 years, two adorable toddlers, I care deeply for my friends and family, do a lot of volunteer work, help out people who need it, go out of my way to make other’s lives easier, but apparently I’m a loud spoken bitch that people are irritated by. I am full of ideas and opinions but I find myself just keeping my mouth shut and my head down so as not to ruffle any feathers, but that just isn’t me. What happens when no one likes your authentic self?

Best,
Authentically Aggravating (?)

Dear Authentic,

I’m going to start off by saying that those people in your life who know your authentic self–your husband, your kiddos, your friends and family who you care for deeply– seem to like you just fine. I think what you articulate about feeling difficult and disagreeable when you speak up for yourself (or others)is a pretty common feeling, especially among women.  And plenty of real and virtual ink has been devoted to telling women how they need to act like men to assert themselves, or not act like men, or not act at all

We are, however, here to talk about manners and etiquette. How you can find that place where you’re able to stand up for yourself and others, while respecting other people’s thoughts and opinions as well?  Just because you’re being polite to someone doesn’t mean you have to be fake or dishonest. Being sensitive to etiquette and social mores in both the workplace and your personal life, especially as a woman, will help you find that comfortable space.

Push back politely.

I’m not telling you to apologize for speaking up for yourself, but when you find that you’re holding your tongue to avoid ruffling feathers, try to think of a way to diplomatically introduce your dissenting opinion.  Don’t start off by telling the other person they’re wrong. Let them know that you have been listening to them. There are silly little tricks for this; repeating what the person said before you tell them what you think (“So what I hear you saying is this… but I think that…) and making eye contact can help.  When you show someone you have been listening to them they are more likely to listen to you.

Be gracefully assertive.

You want to let someone know that you want to open up a dialogue and that you aren’t trying to shut things down.  Don’t interrupt!  It’s hard, when I have a thought or idea I often want to speak it aloud before I forget it.  When you show someone that you are listening to them they are more likely to listen to you. You can always ask them more questions about the opinion you disagree with because it is important to remember that…

Know that disagreeing doesn’t make you DISAGREEABLE.

The sad truth is that no matter how polite you are you can’t control how someone else interprets your behavior. The more know you’re on your best behavior the less likely you are to be bothered when people think you aren’t.

Julianna Rose Dow is a thank-you note enthusiast working in higher-ed communications and marketing in NYC. She likes puns, telling people what to wear and baking with bourbon. Got a burning etiquette question? Drop her a line here.