Pick Your Battles | Knowing When to Speak Up & When to Shut Up

April 13, 2017
women puts her hand over her mouth

There are many times in life when we’ll be confronted with some kind of conflict. There’s always a balance when it comes to finding resolution – and some situations are easier than others to reach that satisfying conclusion.

The trick is to figure out how and when to pick your battles. There are some circumstances when arguing will just take too much energy at the risk of never finding common ground. At other times, it may be worth it to speak your mind!

Here are examples of circumstances when you should speak up, or instead, shut up:

When someone says something offensive.

When to speak up:

When someone has insulted you, or someone else in the conversation.
Address this situation tactfully, and with gentle firmness – especially when others are around. The best way to do this is by providing the other side of the story, by saying, “I don’t know if that’s true, but my understanding is that some people prefer…” or something of that sort.

If someone makes a truly inappropriate comment.
If they are being downright mean and disrespectful, it’s time to speak up. Due to the fact that this person may be holding on to resentment or anger (that is most likely misdirected), you may not get very far. But even just saying, “I don’t appreciate the comment you just made” and removing yourself from the conversation can be enough.

When to shut up:

When it’s relatively innocent.
Mom is a little tipsy at a wedding and she says the groom has a cute butt? You can laugh that off. It’s up to you to decide the innocence of the comment, but if it’s easy enough to shake off then do so.

When it’s (genuinely) said in jest.
Sometimes a joke can be offensive without someone realizing it, and everyone has a different sense of humor. If it truly was in jest, you can probably brush it off. If it meets any of the criteria above though, address it accordingly.

When someone owes you money, but seems perfectly okay to spend any new-found income on anything other than paying you back.

When to speak up:

If it happens consistently.
If this person has frequently been loaned money before and they’ve been flaky about returning it – it’s time to say something. This could be the type of person that never seems to have cash on them for the little things (a coffee here, a lunch there), yet always seems to be able to make big purchases when they want to. You may not be able to get the money you spent on them returned to you, but you can say “no” when they ask you to pick up the check from now on. It can be as simple as that!

If it’s a large sum.
Waiting for a big chunk of money to come back to you can be frustrating and nerve wracking. Address it with a friendly email or text, but don’t address the other purchase they made. Say something lighthearted like, “Just checking in about that money I lent you! If you want to send a smaller amount now, that’s fine too. I have a trip coming up I’d love to have the extra cash for.”

When to shut up:

When it’s a relatively small amount.
If they forgot their wallet (which doesn’t happen often), and ask if you can spot them for coffee or lunch, don’t be nitpicky about them paying you back. If it’s a frequent occurrence that’s another story, but usually can easily be remedied the next time you hang out by simply saying, “Hey, do you mind getting this one since I picked up the check last time?” If they’re a good friend, they’ll be cool about it.

If they’re keeping you updated.
If your friend made another large purchase before they paid you back, but they’re keeping you updated on their progress (ex: “I get paid next week – I’ll get you your money then!”), then trust that they’ll follow through. There’s no need to get worked up about another purchase when you don’t know the circumstances, especially if they are reminding you about their future repayment.

When you find out your work colleague got a raise, and you’re still getting paid the same amount that you did when you started 2-years ago.

When to speak up:

When you’ve put in the time.
You’ve been loyal to the company, and you’re a hard worker. It’s still up to your superior to make a final decision, but it’s up to you to bring your request to their attention. When it comes to asking for a review or a raise, you need to take charge. Politely request a meeting with your boss, and open the conversation.

When it’s in the appropriate context, and in private.
If you’re already in a private meeting with your boss and feel comfortable enough, bring up that you haven’t had a review in a while and you’d like to arrange for one. As long as it’s one-on-one, and not completely off-topic, feel free to bring it up!

When to shut up:

When it’s not the right time.
Let’s say another colleague was just let go the day before, or your boss is leaving for vacation in the morning – these are not ideal times to bring up a raise. Allow for a little more padding time for the adjustment.

When you’re in an emotional place.
Feeling stressed? Having a rough week? Still a bit upset that your colleague got a raise and you didn’t? Strong emotions won’t help with your negotiating skills. Let yourself cool off a bit, then open the conversation when you’re more level-headed.

When it comes down to picking your battles, it’s all about taking a step back and using some common sense. You’ll feel a little more at ease when you resist fighting back on things that don’t truly benefit your state of mind!

[Credit: Moore, Susie. “Here’s When to Say Something – And When to Keep Your Mouth Shut.” Greatist.]

Tags: mental health, personal growth, productivity