It’s apparently my week to remove myself from untenable situations and inform people that I’m doing so and why. Saying “no” and saying “I’m done” is horrendously difficult, especially, I think, for women but also or additionally for people of any gender with certain cultural and familial baggage. Putting up with a situation or ghosting out of it are far preferable to making trouble both in terms of societal pressure to “not be a whiner” and in terms of personal comfort to not be the squeaky wheel everyone is staring at or being annoyed by or otherwise being disliked. Asking to see a manager to register a complaint is considered so awful that it’s an entire set of memes, and not at all in a friendly way.
Certainly, the world is not here to cater to your every whim and to make you delighted with every circumstance (sorry-not-sorry). There are, however, times when service is genuinely bad, you are genuinely being treated badly, the conditions you’re suffering are genuinely bad. And times when trying to raise those issues gently goes nowhere. And times when failing to speak up means that your valid and legitimate boundaries around how you are willing to allow others to treat you are being violated without care. We speak often about defining boundaries and defending them as part of self-defense and personal protection, and it’s not just about telling the shady-looking stranger walking towards you to stay a certain distance away. You don’t have to just learn to live with something you don’t like. You have the power to at the very least explore your options before you decide what you want to do, and you have the power to decide that requiring a change from someone else is what you’ll require to be satisfied, and you have the power to leave. I know I’ve just made it sound far easier than it is, especially the leaving part, but don’t dismiss it entirely because the costs aren’t worthwhile to you today.
Leaving quietly may be the way to go, and there are many reasons for it. Sometimes, though, there are also reasons for making a little noise on your way out the door. It’s not all about the rage quit so that you can vent your anger about why you’re out. That’s satisfying, but not necessarily productive. You might instead open your mouth in hopes of not actually having to leave or leave permanently, or because you want to make improvements for others who might be facing the same situation. You might also want to tell the place or person you’re leaving why, because you still like and respect them and don’t want them to simply wonder where you’ve gone or why, but you need to protect yourself from the harm you would suffer by staying.
If you decide to speak up, you may discover to your surprise that you are the first to raise a systemic problem to the attention of someone who can change it and who wants to change it as soon as they find out about it. Much like calling 911 to report a major accident, often everyone assumes that someone else has already done it, so why bother? Don’t assume that just because a problem exists or that a bad situation has happened before that someone has decided that it was right for them to complain about it. They may have the same or even more baggage than you do that encourages silence, or they may simply not have been in the right time and place or had the right resources available to say something. When I shared my motorcycle class experience last week with the state coordinator for these programs, she told me she had not heard this issue ever, in the three years she’s been in this position.
You may also discover that your voice has a special weight. Maybe employees have raised the issue but management won’t listen until a customer does. Maybe you have a unique level of influence because of who you are demographically or who you are by way of occupation, audience, or something else that you aren’t even aware might be important to the person listening to you. Maybe you are able to articulate what went wrong in a way nobody else has been able to before, so that it was never truly understood before. Maybe you just got the right individual at the right moment and nobody else did. And while you might not have been the first to raise an issue, you might be the one who finally pushes the volume of complaints over into a problem that is perceived as needing to be solved.
So let’s call it boundary setting and defending 201. Getting the courage to not only set a boundary, and tell people what it is, and to not allow people over it is 101, but starting to gain the courage and the ability to also call people out on when they go over a boundary? Perhaps not always necessary or appropriate, but I think we can agree that it’s a good skill to be able to use when it is.