People often hear that they should stand up for themselves, that if they know something important, they should go ahead and say it. That’s not always so easy, especially if you mustn’t offend anyone. Speaking your mind and not getting backlash can feel mutually exclusive at times. It’s just another stage in learning how to coexist with seven billion people. Here are nine ways to speak your mind without offending anyone.
1. Don’t Make Assumptions
Jumping to conclusions makes you seem careless and has led to many a debacle. Looking before you leap applies to constructive dialogue, so don’t go making assumptions. It’s disrespectful and caters to an inflated sense of self.
· Let Go Of Stereotypes
Even if you don’t believe certain stereotypes, referencing them has the potential to offend. People don’t want to be reminded of the unkind or unfair assumptions that come from stereotyping. If an observation you make is couched in stereotype, people will take you less seriously.
Good conversations require patience. Sometimes it’s best to keep listening before you run your mouth. Get the whole story, think about it, and then give your opinion. It’s all too easy to make unhelpful assumptions about a person or what they’ve been through.
· Learn About People Before Deciding You Know Them
People hate when you assume what their opinions are instead of confirming with them. If you’re about to make a logical leap, stop yourself and ask for more information. What they say could completely change your perspective and save you from making a fool of yourself.
2. Be Open To An Earnest Discussion
Have a good back-and-forth by being open-ended instead of confrontational. It’s a lot harder for people to get offended when you accept and encourage disagreement. No one has to be on any particular side when many opinions are exchanged in good faith.
· Make Your Biases Clear
You’ll appear relatable if you clarify who you are from the start. Whether you’re skeptical of veganism or an activist for gun control, say what you’re for and against. Getting everyone on the same page lowers the chance of misunderstandings.
· Be Firm But Fair
You can have strong opinions while also saying you could be wrong. Author Liane Davey, Ph.D. teaches to validate others by reflecting on what they’ve said, showing their perspective is clear. Argue in favor of your opinions, but not in a way that makes personal slights.
· Take Criticism Well
Getting things wrong in a discussion can be a positive experience. Learning something new is good and fosters common ground with those you’re talking to. The conversation doesn’t have to be a competition, and people will take what you say more seriously if you’re graceful about your errors.
3. Be Empathetic
Accommodate people’s emotions to foster positive thinking and prevent offense. When someone is trying to get their point across, please give them the benefit of the doubt. Develop a good rapport so that what everyone says receives a fair hearing.
· Reassure People
Make it clear that the emotions of others are essential to you. Include phrases like “how would you feel if,” “I’m not singling you out,” and “I know it could be uncomfortable.” They may return the favor and react less harshly to controversial things you say.
· Think Altruistically
Staying positive fuels altruism, letting you explore how the conversation can help everyone. Speak your mind, but request input and expertise. Pick up on details without interrupting, and then offer your opinion, so people know you’re attentive and they’ve contributed.
· Rudeness Is Risky
Disagreements shouldn’t lead to rude comments. Some research shows that rude behavior makes people more likely to perceive rudeness in later interactions, convincing them to be mean in retaliation, spreading negativity like a virus. If you pointedly respond to someone, be careful that you don’t sound angry and defensive.
4. Don’t Make Sweeping Statements
Rushing to prove themselves right, people like to make ignorant generalizations about the world. It can put others on the defensive, feeling slighted and condescended to. This is a recipe for disaster and something you can stumble into even if you’re typically more level-headed.
· Antagonistic Framing
Generalizations frame things divisively and easily create tension. This includes offensive accusations that everyone disagreeing with you is wrong. You might claim nothing a politician did was good, or no actor in a movie performed well. This is toxic, as research shows that being offended hurts a person’s sense of reputation, challenging their feelings of personal value.
· Over The Top Claims
It isn’t very reassuring to make bold, barely-provable claims, especially with some call to action. This can include trying to scare people into adopting your perspective or making people feel guilty for disagreeing. It’s best to back what you say with evidence and don’t jump to convert people to your thinking. Just say what you heard about and let others weigh in.
Privacy is tricky since it’s hard to gauge how much people are willing to share about themselves. In general, stick to the side of caution. If you touch a nerve, quickly apologize and get out of dodge.
· Choose Your Topics Wisely
Don’t ask a question you know you wouldn’t want to answer, and don’t abruptly broach sensitive topics. If you have something important to say about someone’s job or love life, assess what you know and proceed respectfully. Memorize what to say ahead of time to keep the situation palatable.
· Dance Around The Issue
Before you offer your head on a silver platter, say and ask things to guess what could offend. Scrutinize reactions to see if you can speak your mind more directly. Someone repeatedly changing the subject when you try to steer the conversation is a dead giveaway that you should drop it.
· Be Wary Of Warnings
With a shrewd eye, you can tell if someone is starting to get offended. When you get closer to the subject you want, a person’s tone of voice can warn you not to go further. If someone outright says they won’t talk about a particular subject, you’re in a tough spot. One option is to apologize beforehand and then say your opinion.
6. Don’t Corner People
Being excessively argumentative is a good way to offend people. Don’t make things all about you, engaging in long-winded spiels that end with saying people should agree with you. Use positive thinking to maintain your emotional intelligence and speak amicably.
· Polarized Thinking
When you’re sure about something, it’s tempting to corner people into agreeing with you. But think for a second about how that would make you feel. You wouldn’t want someone giving you ultimatums, saying you’re immoral if you disagree. That sort of polarized thinking tends not to be convincing and makes people argue.
· Mutual Understanding
People will be offended by you trying to dominate them. You may be reciting what you think is a perfectly crafted, non-aggressive argument that will proselytize your listeners. But research shows that there can be a marked dissonance between your intentions and the reaction of the offended person. This relies heavily on context, and if you’re condescending to someone without giving them a chance to respond, you’re looking for trouble.
· Ranting Keeps You Agitated
Once you get started, it’s hard to stop. Ranting keeps you in a frenzy where you say anything to convince people you’re right. People can feel uncomfortable disagreeing because of how they think you’ll react. There’s nothing wrong with being passionate, but you should clarify that with everyone and respectfully ask them to hear you out.
7. Be Vulnerable
When speaking your mind, it helps to make it clear that you’re just a vulnerable human like anyone else. Be cheerful and generous, unafraid to make mistakes. Coming across negatively will bias people against your opinions, so cultivate an atmosphere of understanding.
· Maintain The High Ground
If someone sounds rude, don’t take the bait and get heated. You could even say something nice to the person so that they’re forced to give you a chance when you speak your mind. Pace yourself and don’t say everything on your mind all at once, which could hamper people’s sympathy.
· Prioritize Friendliness
Be self-deprecating and make jokes to lighten the mood. Keep your reactions measured and balance your opinions with concern for others. Life coach Carolyn Hidalgo, CPCC, recommends communicating non-judgementally by stating your personal feelings first and asking people for theirs.
8. Use Concrete Language
Say what you mean clearly and completely. Speaking vaguely can make listeners read between the lines and develop false impressions. They’ll put words in your mouth if you’re not careful. Speak groundedly by knowing what point you’re actually trying to get across.
· Begin With The End In Mind
When speaking off the cuff, you can end up rambling, leading to a lost train of thought and you plugging in any regrettable statement. While others are engaged, think for a moment to define your position. Be specific and prepare details that’ll make you convincing.
· Ambiguous Phrasing
The nuance of language is hard to navigate, so be positive that people understand what you’re saying. Ambiguous phrasing is open to interpretation and may get you in trouble. For example, the statements “unneeded inventory assessment,” “he’s been riding me pretty hard,” and “I’ve never tasted it cooked that way” have contextual meanings.
· Weasel Words
Weasel words are unnecessary qualifiers that keep you from commitment. They make you sound disingenuous, like someone speaking from a place of unearned authority. Be specific instead of saying things like “lots of people agree,” “nowadays we know,” or “political analysts will tell you that.”
9. Read The Room
Sometimes you need to read a room and consider what everyone has been through lately. If it’s someone’s birthday or an important holiday you’ll want to speak your mind with care. Unfortunately, a lot of this can boil down to guessing about what is and isn’t said.
· Arrange Things
It can be better to finish up a conversation with more sensitive topics. If you try to get too personal too quickly, people may clam up, especially if it’s supposed to be a happy occasion. Let everyone have their fun first and then get to the nitty-gritty.
· Signs And Portents
Be careful that speaking your mind doesn’t get you snapped at. If someone answers you with one-word replies and doesn’t make any comments, they could be in a bad mood. To know if someone is closed off, watch for crossed arms, crossed ankles, and staring off into space.
It doesn’t matter how badly you want to say something. You have to figure out the right way to way it. You can offend someone having a bad day even if what you’re saying isn’t bad. For example, don’t be forceful with phrases like “people in your line of work,” “have to use,” and “if you don’t.” Psychologist Jennice Vilhauer, Ph.D., says that it can be helpful to express what you do want before what you don’t, so people can start thinking of solutions instead of bearing the brunt of your negativity.
If you think human relationships are fraught and tiringly difficult, you’re right. Just hold on to your positive thinking and give people a chance. You may want to speak your mind, but so does everyone else. Please do your part to guarantee that there’s a little more patience in a world badly needing it.