Never walk away muttering to yourself again.
Anyone who has ever walked away from an exchange mumbling the things they "should have said" knows the crushing defeat that comes with not reaching deep into one's vocabulary and putting together that one punchline phrase that would embolden a boundary, silence a bully or crush an inner critic.
Thanks to many stumbles (and plenty of practice), I've found five phrases that never fail in those trickier situations that too often leave us at a loss for words.
1. "That's not going to work for me."
We're all told that compromising is a good thing, and it is. UNLESS it's your health or value system. Take, for example, the time I dated a guy who told me "we can just use condoms" when I demanded he have an STD test (uh, no). Or the time I had to explain to my boss that missing my girlfriend’s wedding in order to help him catch up on work he should have done the week before was not going to happen.
Now, if you're like me and abhor confrontation, don't fret. It's a fallacy that one has to be pushy to push back. A gentle-yet-firm "That's not going to work for me," supported by a brief explanation and an alternative solution will usually do the trick. Those who respect you will respect your honesty and boundary-setting. Those who don't? Why would you worry about them?
2. "It's OK for me to feel this way."
I once spent an entire year feeling bad about a breakup. The first six months were spent crying over the loss of the relationship, and the next six months were spent punishing myself for the time I "wasted" crying. Uh, is there anything worse than feeling bad about feeling bad? Talk about a double-whammy. While it's not always verbalized, the truth is that strong people wallow, worry, cry, and get stressed, too.
The good news is that there is often a breakthrough in those breakdown moments, and stress often leads to brainstorming new ideas as to how to deal with life as we know it. It's when we are hiding under the covers and chasing our tail for a prolonged period of time that's concerning (and if that is happening, reaching out for professional help is also a sign of strength).
3. "Do not speak to me like that."
Newsflash: Bullies don't just hang out by the jungle gym. They're everywhere: online, in the supermarket parking lot, and sitting in powerful positions in the corner office. Worse, they're bringing stress that far exceeds handing over your lunch money. I once had a boss who loved to belittle me. Whether it was my opting for heels over boots in winter or my latest "pedestrian" blog post, it felt as though she was taking notes to send to God to prove I was a total failure as a human being.
I spent two years dreading her presence while trying to kill her with kindness, but nothing worked. Finally, after enjoying a full-blown panic attack in the company kitchen, I realized that it was time to take a stand.
Just as she began to dissect my outfit, I looked her square in the eye and found the courage to hit back with a powerful phrase that stopped her mid-sentence: "Do not speak to me like that." The look of shock on her face was all I needed to know that I had just shifted our dynamic forever. I walked away and she never picked on me again. Since then, the phrase has worked no less than a dozen times to stop a drama before it starts.
Bottom line: Brutal bosses, passive-aggressive colleagues, jealous frenemies and nagging neighbors who can't say something nicely should not be allowed to say anything at all until they can do so like a human being.
4. "This is not about me."
In my late twenties, I found myself in a relationship with an anomaly. I dated the only man on earth who was never at fault for anything, not even cheating on me. In fact, he did just about everything he could to convince me his sleeping with someone else was my fault for not supporting his career enough (say what?). His teflon-don approach to life and love was annoying to most of the outside world, but for me, it was utterly devastating.
I wasted too much time trying to make sense of his nonsense instead of realizing that, while accountability is an essential component in all healthy relationships (including the one with yourself), sometimes you don't need to take half of the blame — or any of it, for that matter.
I finally accepted that his issues were his, and would remain his, regardless of who he was with and left. It was the best decision of my adult life. The next time you’re dealing with someone who refuses to compromise, communicate, or otherwise resists a respectful and healthy exchange, say, "This is not about me," and remove yourself from the situation. They may not like it, but taking the words of someone who is struggling to find a lifeline in their current chaos would be a dire mistake.
5. "I am happy for you!”
Listen closely: Happiness begets happiness. Sure, it's a bit of a zinger when your best friend meets the love of her life while you're still swiping right, or your colleague drops twenty pounds while you're struggling to get motivated. But understanding that someone else achieving their goals doesn't mean there's one less achievement available to you will make life a whole lot easier.
The next time you find yourself with a desire to rain on someone's parade (even internally), smile and tell them how thrilled you are for them and be inspired by their joy. They'll not only appreciate your generous statement, they may even be more inclined to help you down your own path to happiness.