The Balancing Act of Voice & Respect.

When I was growing up, my parents taught me to treat people with respect as long as they were respectful to you. The common golden rule that murmurs something closely related to ‘treat others as you wish to be treated’.

For several years, I struggled to find my voice when faced with people who hadn’t been raised with the golden rule. Instead of being disrespectful or confrontational in negative situations (to treat the person the same way they treated me), I would sink into myself and accept the poor treatment. A few months ago, I put my foot down and declared that I needed to learn “no” and find my voice.

Since then, “no” has been slinking its way into my vocabulary while I’ve been pushing away fear of backlash. This experience has made me start to realize how much I don’t say; how much I accept with a nod of the head, despite the disrespect behind someone else’s words.

Lately something has been itching under my skin. There’s an urge to be honest and real, to share my voice and thoughts, even in negative situations layered with disrespect and disagreement.

When someone’s angry words ripple my way, I feel the need to say “no”. To tell them they are wrong/hurtful/over-the-line. To have them hear my voice, hear my words, and know that I won’t continue to just nod along.

When someone makes judgmental comments about how I feel or what I want in life, I feel the need to say “no”. To tell them it’s not their place to say what I think, feel, or want. To have them understand that their beliefs do not outweigh mine, regardless of biological years or life experience.

Go Ahead, Underestimate Me / from

The challenge lies in finding a balance between forming a voice and still giving respect to others, whether we find ourselves in positive or negative situations. While this balance mostly still alludes me, I’ve found that similar to love, many clichés prove true in balancing your voice and respect.

It’s wise to pick your battles. Not all battles or words are worth fighting over. Similarly, sometimes it’s better to be the bigger person. To look beyond the words of someone else and try to see to the root of their emotions, the drive behind their words. Most importantly, in some situations, it’s best to just let go. You’ll never be heard by a person consumed with their own negativity or hostile voice.

And last, but not least, the cliché reminder according to either Dr. Seuss, Mark Young, or Bernard Baruch: Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.

With the golden rule, how do you handle negative people or situations?
How do you make your voice heard?

36 responses to “The Balancing Act of Voice & Respect.

  1. I had a boss who used to say, pick your battles carefully, are you willing to die on the hill for that?’ If someone is crossing the line in a way that is not harmful and I hardly see them for instance, or their opinion means nothing to me, I might just let it slide…. Good for you for trying to find the balance… you looking to find your voice, whereas I needed to learn to listen more…

    • Diana, I love that quote/idea. It’s so true too… some battles simply aren’t worth fighting for. I find myself in a difficult situation for the last year because I’m faced with a lot of negativity (in my career life), and I have to deal with it day-to-day. I’m trying to see it more as a learning experience, but some days I just want to yell “No!”

      Always seeking that balance… 🙂

  2. Let me know when you figure out how to balance it, k? 😉 Sometimes it’s so hard to be the bigger person.

    • betternotbroken

      You can’t control what other people of but you can control how you respond to them. I have to work on this every single day myself to let the negativity of others wash off of me and not leave a residue. No is one of the most important words anyone can say, great post.

    • Right, Jennifer?! It’s so hard sometimes! Trust me, more often than not I want to stomp my feet and demand to have the last word when dealing with foolishness or negativity.

  3. Great post, can totally identify with struggling to pick your battles. I used to get so caught up in little details, I would get so upset when people let me down or treated me badly – I wouldn’t say that I expect it now but I am more prepared for it and now I just let it wash over me. I’m not afraid to stand up to people who are treating me badly but my first instinct is still to avoid confrontation. I think for me it was just about putting things in perspective and realising that not everyone in the world will live up to my high expectations. I am a thinker and often I will let things lie for a while so I can put together an argument with examples in my head so that when it gets to a point where I have to say something, I sound reasonable rather than hysterical. Sit down and explain calmly what the problem is – don’t bring emotion into it, just lay out the facts. This always works the best for me. Hope that helps you, and that you find your own balance xx

    • Lucy, so glad you can relate to this post 🙂 I definitely have learned to expect the worst from some people – just based off of daily interactions. But, I still feel hopeful that a negative person could surprise me… they could turn it around.

      I definitely am a thinker too, but I tend to stay silent in the moment, then ruminate on everything I could have said afterwards. A lot of the situations I face with negativity don’t provide an opportunity to sit down and discuss things calmly, so I choose to try and be the bigger person, and just avoid the negativity like its going out of style 🙂

      Thanks for the kind words, xx

  4. I face this problem of saying no especially to people whom i love and care the most. But lately i have realised that we are our best defender and we tend to understand ourselves much better than the others. A no is always and definitely a better answer than suppressing our unheard voices. Truly an inspiring post..:)

  5. Personally, I don’t have a golden rule to face people. Each kind of situation has its own “ideal” solution. Still, I find that the simple and honest ways are the best kind. I laugh off what others think might be humiliating, I say before-hand that if my friends force me into doing anything then I’ll leave (or at least go somewhere else until they’re done doing whatever it is).
    But being under-appreciated isn’t always a problem. Not for me, anyway. It’s a way to learn humility and to be sincere. (There IS a difference between this and being used over and over again, though.)
    Also, I don’t have to be heard on EVERY discussion. As long as I can voice out my thoughts when it counts, then I’m good.
    Whether you agree or not, I’m glad you’ve found a way to stand up for yourself, Caitlin. Good luck with life and all things! 🙂

    • You’re so right that often times we have to approach each situation individually. Depending on the situation, the other person’s disposition, the history between people, etc., you may act one way or another.

      And I agree that some under-appreciation helps with humility. I think it’s hard when you’re unjustly or unfairly under-appreciated, but such is life. I usually take the high road and sit quietly in situations, but the situations that are layered with negativity and hurtfulness make it hard to not use my voice.

      Thanks for the insightful comment!

      • I wouldn’t call that insightful. But sometimes people don’t always understand about appreciation. Like when I was in elementary my parents never complimented me when I get good grades. They just nod in acknowledgement.
        Turns out part of the reason is they expect me as a student to do well. And they don’t want me to get big-headed or anything. So I may have higher tolerance in this case due to that.
        Doesn’t mean you’re weaker or I’m stronger, it’s just what we’re used to.

        • Appreciation comes in all shapes and sizes, as does tolerance to negativity. Every time we approach a situation, we are not just approaching it by ourselves. Our pasts, our beliefs, our feelings, etc. are attached to each interaction, which inevitably will end in some negative interactions.

          Experience builds tolerance and strength, but beliefs and personal morals affect how we perceive and react to situations.

  6. when i was younger i would always shy away from speaking up because i hated confrontation. then when i got a little older i took a 180 and would speak too much & be disrespectful. now i’m learning the balance between the two and how to pick my battles wisely. you’re so right – not every hill is a hill to die on! 🙂 it’s definitely a balancing act.

    • Robyn, I can completely relate to avoiding confrontation. I tend to stay away from negativity as much as possible, but when it’s unavoidable, I just try to deal with it in a balanced manner. It’s always a challenge and there’s time when my mouth gets the best of me, but I always strive for that balance 🙂 Thanks for your kind comment!

  7. To be honest, I generally try to avoid negative people and situations. I know it’s the cowards way out but life’s too short to spend it with people who bring you down.

    • I’m with you Kathy.. I try to avoid all negativity completely. I don’t think it’s cowardly at all! It’s a peaceful way of living, letting the important things in life get your attention and energy 🙂 You’re so right.. life is way too short to spend it being brought down!

  8. Balance is incredibly hard to find. I think for me, I’d rather err on the side of the golden rule because to me not all battles are worth fighting…but every once in a while, one is. And then I’m willing to fight it.

    • That’s a really balanced approach, Rachel.. definitely one that I strive for! I tend to stay quiet for such long periods of time, then there will be “the straw that broke the camels back” and that’s when I just want to yell “no” and really use my voice, regardless of the situation. It’s always a balancing act 🙂 Thanks for your kind comment!

  9. I think we need to be respectful to all people, whether or not they are respectufl to us. That being said, I also think there’s a respectful way to say “no” or tell someone that they’re not treating you well. Being respectful doesn’t have to equal being a pushover.

    • Susannah, I agree with you – I definitely go into every social interaction with a good attitude and hopeful it will be a positive exchange. I always let the first few negative interactions with a person slide and I stay respectful. But after several negative interactions, I use my voice and explain to the person that what they’re doing isn’t okay towards me. I don’t actually say it in a disrespectful way, I just feel disrespectful for even saying it aloud in the first place (if that makes sense… it’s cause I never have said “no” to anyone in my life until now.)

      I think being respectful is a strong trait; it shows someone has the ability to rise above any negativity and/or bad treatment 🙂

  10. good for you! it’s is something i had to learn as well. Even in my field of work. Most of my friends or FB friends think they can come to be with any graphic design issue have (as if i’m not someone that enjoys having her free time). It got to a point where i actually just told everyone, if i’m not OFFERING to do it for you, then it means i dont want to do it, so DONT ask. and it worked!

  11. I so agree with this. My reaction can depend on the situation. If someone is being rude to someone in my family or one of my friends, the angry side can come out. But if they are just being ignorant and insulting me I can shrug that off and go on with my day.

    • I definitely gauge the situation before reacting. I tend to be a bit hot-tempered when it comes to someone hurting my family and loved ones, but other than that, I try to let it slide off my back and remind myself it’s not important. Some days are easier than others!

  12. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately too. Those times I want to throw things and yell and the co-worker who is totally out of line or just ridiculous, but most days it’s just not worth it. I tend to speak my mind and stick up for myself, I suppose by virtue of going through years of felling pushed around and knowing that if I’m not willing to fight for me, no one else will. You’re right to choose battles carefully, though. I like to operate in a way that I speak my mind, but only get truly worked up about things when it’s a big deal so that I’m not the girl who cries wolf and people pay attention when I say something is wrong.Good for you for sticking up for yourself when necessary!

    • You described how I feel perfectly! It’s difficult sometimes to not want to yell, throw something, or just plain stomp your feet when you have to accept and deal with negativity/disrespect in the workplace. But it also eats up so much of our energy, that you have to step back and assess: Is it worth it?

      Usually it’s not worth it, but I still have a hard time reminding myself of that “in the moment”. It’s so much better to take some calming breaths and really look at the situation before reacting.

      Great point about crying wolf!

  13. It is a little bit of a sticky wicket~ I often just walk away in amusement, knowing that the type of person that made the negative comment is pretty much unreachable anyway…it has taken me many years to learn this and toss it off…AND I often forget, but still, I like to think that there are many things you can change but you can’t fix stupid! Some people just aren’t worth wasting the energy on~

    • Jenna, I keep telling myself with more years I’ll master this skill of walking away, but ooh – some days it’s just so trying! My mouth can get the better of me if I’m not careful, so I have to continually remind myself to walk away, it’s not worth it.

      You’re so right though… some people/situations just aren’t worth the energy!

  14. Hi Caitlin!
    No = one of my favorite words. Learned it in college and wield it as needed and then some, just for good margins. 🙂

    “The challenge lies in finding a balance between forming a voice and still giving respect to others, whether we find ourselves in positive or negative situations.” Very true. 🙂


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