The “I Didn’t Want to Say Anything” Syndrome


Everything becomes a little different as soon as it is spoken out loud.

Hermann Hesse


The pandemic has reminded me just how much I don’t like to cook and how much I miss my local hangouts. Sadly, one of those joints, an Italian bistro, has shuttered its doors. It’s going to be hard after the pandemic ends (it will end, yes?) to replace this eatery because the servers knew my usual order and the food was way better than anything I could rustle up.


Ellen, the owner, used to have a manager, Louis (names changed), who treated customers as friends, but in an annoying kind of way. He’d stand too near the table, lean in too closely when telling a “joke” and talked incessantly, even after food arrived at the table. He had no sense of boundaries and wouldn’t / couldn’t take a hint.


Oddly, no one complained, including me. People simply stopped coming in (not me). Eventually, Ellen figured it out and let Louis go. Customers returned, but Ellen was puzzled.


Why hadn’t anyone said anything to her since she could have taken action sooner?


Maybe it’s because I’m from New York and am used to neighborhood “characters,” but it wouldn’t have occurred to me to simply stop coming in because of Louis. Besides, I always brought a book and used it as a shield.


So why did people not want to tell Ellen about Louis?


She asked returning regulars and some claimed they didn’t want to be responsible for him losing his job. Seems it never occurred to them that if they stopped giving Ellen their business, she wouldn’t have money to pay his salary!


Other customers gave the vague reason they “didn’t feel comfortable saying anything.” It was easier to stay away from a place they enjoyed than complain.


Wow! We can all be so odd!


Way back in the lost land of January, I coached a team of four managers who worked in the same department. I was brought in to help them generate a smoother flow of communication. Ideas ranged from replying faster to email to socializing after work so as to get to know each other better. Ah, the good old days of “Happy Hour!”


The youngest of the group, Marie, said they needed to have more direct lines of communication. On the job less than six months, she shared with me that she already was afraid to go directly to two of her colleagues as she found them intimidating. Instead, she’d go to the remaining member of the team who usually couldn’t help her, but who lent a sympathetic ear!


“Nice” people don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings and don’t want to get others into trouble.  And so, I’m often asked, “What should I do when it really is easier to just say nothing?”  


And, in turn, I always ask, “Is it really easier to just say nothing?”


Matt came to me wanting to learn how to be assertive. Although embarrassed, he told me the story that drove him to me. . .


For eight years he never told his roommate that he wanted the guy to make space for him in their shared freezer. For eight years he stewed – and never said anything. Then, one day, he snapped and emptied half the roommate’s freezer items into the sink. That’s how the roommate found out Matt was annoyed that the guy hogged the freezer!


Remember – Matt told me the reason why he had not said anything to his roommate is because he didn’t want to hurt the guy’s feelings.


Again, I say, Wow! We can all be so odd!


Hey, this is a blog post and not a book on how to have a crucial conversation (thankfully, that book has been written by others and I highly recommend it!)


For now, though, consider this:

Before focusing on the risks of having a conversation that you worry will go “wrong,”

focus on considering what the risks are of NOT having that conversation.


Louis encroached on customers’ space and drove them away. Because it was no biggie for me, I didn’t feel a need to confront him. For other customers, it was an issue.


Rather than not saying anything to the owner, here’s what an unhappy customer could have said:


Your manager is a nice guy and tries to give good service. The only problem is he doesn’t seem to have a sense of boundaries and we find it annoying when he leans over and talks while we’re trying to eat or have our own conversation. I don’t know if this is just my issue or if others have said something. I hope you could have a chat with him.”


That is what being assertive looks and sounds and feels like.

You’re not complaining or being rude. You’re simply letting the other person know how you feel, why you feel that way and what you’d like from them.


Being assertive is grounded in your attitude – towards yourself, the other and the relationship.    


None of this is simple since most of us weren’t instructed as children in how to non-manipulatively express our needs.


So, yes, it can be awkward.


That’s okay – for what’s the alternative?

Give up a favorite meal?

Drown your frustrations at Happy Hour?

Stare longingly at your freezer?

Why complicate your pandemic life? Trust yourself. Trust the other.


Do you want to become comfortable speaking assertively so as

to develop and nurture successful professional relationships?

To explore how business skills coaching can help you present you with enhanced confidence,

please contact me

  [email protected]


The Year Is Half-Over – What Have You Learned?!


The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory. Victory comes from living as human beings should live.

Howard Zinn


Hi! How are you?


Have you noticed how hard it’s become to answer that question? Back in the good old days of February, a“Good. How are you?” would have sufficed for an answer. Now, I’m hesitant to use this cliched greeting for fear the other person might tell me how they really are!


I Zoomed recently with Alex (names changed) a client who is a partner at a boutique financial firm. Alex mentioned he’s been able to guide his team efficiently via remote conditions BUT he’s uncertain how they’re doing personally. He doesn’t know how to check-in on their overall well-being because he views Zoom as an agenda driver. As he said to me, “Just asking ‘how are you?’ seems lame today.”


I suggested Alex ask his team non-cliched, unexpected questions, so as to get non-cliched, revealing answers. For instance –


  • Now that we’re headed into the 3rd Quarter, what’s something you’ve learned about yourself these past months that will help you going forward?


  • What have you learned about yourself that surprised you?


  • What do you NOT want to return to when things return to (new) normal?


Well, you get the idea. . .


I told Alex that asking thought-provoking questions will reassure his team that he’s actually thinking of them.


BUT – here’s the thing –


You don’t have to lead a team to ask thought-provoking questions.


In fact, the first person to whom you should ask thought-provoking questions is – YOU!


The year is half-over.

What have YOU learned about YOU that surprised you?

That encouraged you?

That disappointed you?


I hear people offer the refrain of how they can’t wait for things to get back to normal. I get it. I’d love to be offering workshops and keynotes on site again. BUT – I sense that too many people consider all of what has happened as a huge, pain-in-the butt interruption to life as it should be.


A pandemic + a historical racial reckoning are not mere interruptions to life!


We are living in a time of transformation. Personal. Collective.


As we ask collectively who we want to be as a society, we need to ask who we want to be personally.


According to philosopher and theologian Richard Rohr, there are only two ways we really learn:

Great Love + Great Suffering.


Look around you and you’ll see both in abundance. And so, I have to believe that there is a lot of learning going on!

What have you been learning?

Who do you want to become more of as a result of these both numbing + exhilarating days?


If we do not ask our own self these questions, then truly this has all been an utter waste of human spirit and effort.


But there’s more. . .


Asking these questions excites me. Why?


Remember back when you’d be asked why you did something in the way you did it – and your cliched answer was, “Because. That’s the way I’ve always done it!”


These are the days when you can ask yourself – do I have to do it the way I’ve always done it?!


What better time to reassess your life than when life has been turned upside down?


What better time to determine (as psychotherapist James Hollis puts it) if we are pursuing a life that enlarges us or a life that diminishes us.


As unnerving as this time has been and continues to be have you learned in however bittersweet a way what really matters to you? Have you developed a renewed appreciation for friendships, reordered priorities, living in the moment, small acts of kindness?


When the crisis subsides, we might have occasion to ask whether we want to return to normal, or whether there might be something we’ve seen during this break in the routines that we want to bring into the future.

Charles Eisenstein, economist


In the words of New York writer and director Julio Vincent Gambuto, “We get to Marie Kondo the sh*t out of it all!” (LOVE IT!)


This is the time to examine all the dusty, cliched, cluttering aspects of our lives and ask why we’re keeping habits, modes of thinking, half-baked decisions, draining relationships and some- day dreams. What do we want to keep? Why? What do we want to toss? Why?


By the time life reverts to whatever its new normal will look and feel like, sure, it would be nice if you had created a money-generating side gig or could speak six Babble languages – BUT – the real question and hope is –


Will you emerge from head-spinning 2020 with a clearer sense of what and who matters in your life – andwill you have more of the confidence you need to create, endorse and cheer-on  that renewed and new YOU?


The simple truth is: A change in the world begins with a change in our own self.


Change grounded in an attitude of possibility and a posture of generosity – to oneself and to others.


Here’s to the second half of 2020 – may it be days of grace and kindness and confidence!


Do you want to break through the negative thinking that is preventing you from being influential and heard?

To explore how one-on-one communication skills coaching can help

you present you with enhanced confidence,

contact me at:

  [email protected]