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


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