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Day 23. Broken Record – stand your ground on unreasonable requests

When we’re around people who are more assertive and aggressive than us, we can feel intimidated by their response. This means that if we don’t hear or see what we want and expect the first time we state something, we dilute or even retract the original statement by either explaining, justifying, and rationalising, or by complying with whatever they’re wanting and expecting (or that we assume they do). We feel afraid, guilty, and start questioning the validity of our needs, expectations, feelings, etc., while also now considering it of paramount importance to be pleasing so that we can feel better, i.e. less afraid, guilty, and full of doubt.

It’s the misplaced belief that if our needs, expectations, wants, feelings and opinions are valid and ‘right’, that people will just capitulate to or even know them without us having to put ourselves out, again. It’s also the assumption that people will look to reach a compromise without us having to assert ourselves and be clear on our own position.

My first acupuncturist taught me to use what’s commonly known as Broken Record technique, which not only teaches you to stand behind you and to be more persistent in a calm, respectful way that reinforces your point but it also means that you are in the present, are listening to the other person and that you are recognising that regardless of what they say or do, your answer is still that you cannot meet their request because of your recognition of you.

And there’s a hint: You’re most likely to have to use Broken Record with people who habitually attempt to bulldoze you into doing what they want and who may have no shame about tugging on your guilt strings. Think situations where you give up your rights, where the person seems to think that they have ‘clever’ arguments to distract you from your own needs, expectations, etc., and any situation where it’s likely to detract from your self-esteem.

You learn to let what may be the deluge of prodding in the form of ‘whys’ and justifications from the other party that are really there to trigger your guilt so that you comply.

The aim of what you’re doing is to clearly state whatever it is that you need to say in as calm and relaxed a manner as possible, with the end goal being that if it’s an unreasonable request that they listen, accept your answer and back away, and if it’s coming from a respectful source, and it’s something that with some further discussion, could respect each of your needs, expectations etc., that you can potentially find a solution you can both live with.

Stick to the point and don’t be distracted by anything that’s ‘off-topic’. This is key because often the person who uses clever little arguments is the type that will bring up old stuff or slip in a sly dig, or drag in what they think are side issues. Stay on topic and stick to what you’re saying and repeat it.

EXAMPLE #1

Carrie and John are having a discussion when it takes a sudden twist, and John makes a wholly inappropriate assertion.

In this situation, you need to do the ‘Why did you say/do….?’ and repeat what they said as closely as possible and be factual about anything that’s been done and then go into Broken Record.

Carrie: John! Why did you say __________________________?

John: Well, you know what I mean.

John gets defensive.

Carrie: No I don’t really know what you mean when you say ____________________. Use the techniques from Be Factual to explain your position.

John now wants to dodge facing what he’s said.

John: See this is why I don’t bother talking to you about this stuff because you’re too sensitive.

Carrie: But John, the issue is not me being sensitive, it’s that you said _______________.

John brings up something else irrelevant.

Carrie: That’s not the main issue here, John. The issue is ______________. You said _____________.

John brings up another side issue.

Carrie: Like I said before, I asked you about that and yes, I was a bit taken aback because you said _______________________.

John: Well, that’s not what I meant when I said that.

Carrie: OK, John but you still haven’t said what you did mean when you said ______________.

John: Well, what’s the point? You’re not going to listen to me anyway.

Carrie: I am listening to you, John and I hope that you’re listening to me. As I said before, the reason why I was taken aback was that you said _______________.

Now, this may go on for some time if they’re used to doing this until you cave, but stick to your guns. And if after several attempts to stick to the main point, they refuse to, suggest that you pick up this conversation when you’ve both had a bit of time. See the Be Factual Approach for more guidance.

EXAMPLE #2

You originally did something as a one-off favour that became something regular.

Friend: Can you lend me £100?

You: I’m sorry. I won’t be able to lend you money this time.

Friend: But I really need it! I promise I’ll pay it back / I promise I’ll pay it back with the other money.

You: I hear you, but I can’t lend you the money. You will have to get it from someone else.

Friend: But you earn more than I do and I really need it!

You: I understand {showing empathy} but I have my own commitments, and I’m not going to be able to loan you the money.

Friend: I thought we were friends.

You: We are friends, but that doesn’t mean that I have to loan you this money. I’m not going to be able to lend you the money. OR We are friends, and I’ve loaned you money before, but this time, I’m not going to be able to.

EXAMPLE #3

Person you’ve just started dating: Hey… I’ve been thinking we should heat things up a little. How about you send me a nice sexy pic of yourself to help me go to sleep with a smile on my face.

You: I’m not comfortable with that. You’ll have to look forward to seeing me this weekend.

Them: Go on… Don’t be such a spoilsport. I’ll send you one of me to get this going.

You: Please don’t. I’m not being a spoilsport. I don’t want to do it.

Them: Is it because you’re afraid I’m going to show them to somebody? It’ll just be between us.

You: No, it’s not. I really don’t want to. Let’s move on from this conversation.

Them: I thought you liked me. I had you down as being more fun.

You: I do like you and I thought you liked me, but I’m still not going to send you those photos.

You could also add, If that means I’m not fun, that’s OK, I’ll live!

EXAMPLE #4

Mother: You’re going to have to cancel your plans this weekend as I need your help with __________.

You: I understand {empathy} that you’re ______________, but I won’t be able to.

Mother: But I really need you to do this stuff!

You: I’m sorry mum but it can’t happen this weekend.

Mother: Maxine’s (her neighbour) daughter is always dropping whatever she’s doing to help her out. Why can’t you be like that?

You: Mother, I’ve dropped things on many occasions to help you out {clarification of the facts instead of drowning in guilt}. In fact, this is the first time I can ever recall saying no to you. I can’t help you out this weekend.

Mother: I bet what you’re doing isn’t even that important! I suppose I’ll have to ask your brother.

You: I’ve made plans, mother, and I’m not going to argue with you about how important they are. I think it’s a great idea that you ask him! (You’re suggesting an alternative which is a form of negotiation. You get to have your weekend, and she will still get her objective met – getting those tasks done.)

EXAMPLE #5

Co-worker: Ugh, I need some help on this project [and proceeds to go into explanation where you realise that it’s too much for you to take on].

You: I understand that you’re stuck but based on everything that you’re looking to get done, I won’t be able to help out this time.

Co-worker: I know it sounds like a lot, but you’re so bright and super-fast at stuff that I’m sure it wouldn’t be too much for you. We’ll have fun together, and I’m sure it will look good to [the boss]. Oh, go on, please!

You: Thanks, but really, I can’t. I’ve got a lot on myself, and there’s no way that I’d be able to do all of that stuff too. I wouldn’t want to overstretch myself and end up letting you or one of my other projects down.

Co-worker: I can’t imagine that you would ever be in that situation. I’m sure it will be fine.

You: I guess I’m not being clear enough, but really, I can’t take it on.

At this point, you can suggest an alternative person or, you could say, ‘As I said, there’s no way I’ll be able to take that on, and I appreciate you having such faith in my capabilities, but if you’re still stuck once I’ve completed my own deadline, I could help you out with ______ and _______ [specific elements of the project as opposed to all of it].

The TAKEAWAY

  • Broken Record affirms your point and position in a conflict.
  • People who are more assertive and aggressive, especially if you’ve already been passive with them, don’t tend to take your first no seriously.
  • Use the Broken Record technique when saying ‘no’ once is not enough and when turning down unreasonable requests.
  • We need to be more persistent in representing ourselves instead of giving up at the first sign of discomfort.
  • If you sound exasperated or angry, it will become aggressive communication instead of assertive communication.
  • It’s about it being unreasonable to you. You don’t need to give a rat’s about whether they agree with your boundaries and your sense of fairness – it’s not fair or reasonable for a person to expect that you should compromise yourself while they get to reap the benefits. Not. On.
  • Remember: Assertiveness is not about looking to rule the other person or make them ‘give in’ first.
  • It’s difficult to find a healthy compromise – a solution you can both live with that respects each of you – if you don’t know and haven’t vocalised your own position.

    JOURNALING: When you think about standing your ground on something, what are the thoughts and feelings that come up? What are your associations? What are your concerns? Explore these and use what you have learned so far as well as awareness of the alternative (doing something unfair and unreasonable and so busting your boundaries), to soothe those feelings and provide you with support.

    TASK: Adapt these scripts to suit some of your own typical situations. Practice them a few times so that the words now sound familiar to your own ears – don’t just keep them in your head because when you go to say them, you want them to sound like words that belong to you.

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