I AM KATIE BASKERVILLE
You're reading: Language Mitigation
Abuse, rejection and the fear of a bad reaction.
If you’ve ever had the misfortune of being in an abusive relationship at work, at home, in a friendship or romantically you’ll know all about mitigation; even though you may not have put a name to it before now.
Mitigation by definition is the action of reducing the severity, seriousness, or painfulness of something. Often that ‘thing’ is rejection, but for some people altering, or mitigating, the way in which they ask for things means that they’re not scared of the answer, they’re scared of asking to begin with. This is often due to the unpredictability of the person in they’re questioning; will they get angry? Are they going to think I’m incompetent? Could they get nasty? Is this my Imposter speaking?
Sound familiar? If so, then I imagine that you’ve been forced to think this way; by an event or person that shook your reality and confidence. And, if this is the case then I am sorry that we are meeting under these circumstances but hey, you’re not alone.
From suffering for years with Imposter Syndrome and Perfectionism I understand that this leads to a ‘risk management’ attitude when it comes to asking for what you really want. To this day I still think to myself; ‘prepare for the worst, hope for the best‘. But, I don’t know how healthy that is.
The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is that the action of asking isn’t punishable if we’re asking for rational things. Sadly many of us face irrationality when we are tangled up with bad or poorly people. This is where mitigation can be a tough obstacle to overcome because there are very real reasons as to why we put these safeguards in place. I’ve been there, I see you and, I recognise it’s validity.
As victims of abuse, we immediately create a more palatable, smaller version of ourselves to stay under the radar and to keep ourselves safe. Have you ever noticed that you use words that soften the directness of your wants and desires? I speak about this in my article on ‘How To Accept Compliments’, give it a read.
Many of us are conditioned throughout our lives to speak in a way that makes our femininity palatable, be we mxn or womxn. The difference being, as womxn we are taught that being direct or confident is synonymous with arrogance and bitchy-ness. So, we enforce language mitigation to make what we want sound more reasonable by being submissive to the *often* patriarchal machismo we are confronting. (Sensing a pattern here?) Although, if anyone is telling you that being sure about the way in which you ask for things is anything other than confident and self assured do yourself a favour and get rid. You don’t need that kind of toxicity.
The big worry is that when we ask for things we are putting something at risk. It could be that we see this risk as our reputation, our job, our validity and even our perceived self. There are four main ways that we deal risk; accept, avoid, transfer & reduce.
Mitigation is a form of the reduced, transferred and in some ways the avoid spectrum of risk management. People who mitigate do it because it makes it easy to prepare for the worst possible outcome which more often than not, is not the outcome we would like.
Examples of mitigating questions & confident questions
I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you Vs. Would you repeat that for me, please?
I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Vs. Could you explain this to me?
Sorry to bother you but… VS Do you have a moment to talk?
Sorry, I’m late Vs. Thank you for waiting
A rational person would never be annoyed at you for asking simple questions that make your life, work or happiness easier to navigate. Additionally they would never ask you to make yourself smaller or perform a mitigation service to appease them. This is narcissistic and frankly an indication of really shitty behaviour. The issue being that when you accept this behaviour you set a precedent for the behaviour to continue.
In times like this I often put the boot on the other foot. I think to myself, what would you do if someone asked you a ‘confident question’. The answer is that I would almost definitely be impressed. I wouldn’t hit back with a criticism. Personally, I love people who are direct, because I don’t have to second guess anything.
Asker vs. Guesser
In 2017, Andrea Donderi responded to an Ask MetaFiler post which perfectly explains the dilemma the poster is facing about a guest coming to stay. She states that:
“… In some families, you grow up with the expectation that it’s OK to ask for anything at all, but you gotta realize you might get no for an answer. This is Ask Culture.
In Guess Culture, you avoid putting a request into words unless you’re pretty sure the answer will be yes. Guess Culture depends on a tight net of shared expectations. A key skill is putting out delicate feelers. If you do this with enough subtlety, you won’t even have to make the request directly; you’ll get an offer. Even then, the offer may be genuine or pro forma; it takes yet more skill and delicacy to discern whether you should accept.”
Which one are you and why do you think that is?
When we become adults we tend to be quite self-centric with how we perceive people’s behaviour. We assume that our normal is the same for someone else unless we are told otherwise. This is because we use empathy as our gauge for understanding those around us. It’s both a strength and a weakness at times. It can mean we miscommunicate when we ask in our ‘normal’ way.
This is important to note because the way in which we ask for things can sometimes be jarring, or jarr the person being asked. Having this knowledge in your toolbox will help you discern the sociological context of the question and in turn help you react in a rational manner.
Why you should always try to ask confidently
The worst thing someone can do is say no, and if for some reason they decide to say no with malice you’ve learned something about them, not about you.
What we need to remember is that confidence is only something we borrow from ourselves when we need to be brave, not a perpetual state of being.
What we also need to learn as askers who like to wait for a yes, is that a no isn’t the end of the world and isn’t a reflection of your self-worth, value or character. Getting a no is better than lurking in the wings ready to pounce on a yes that you might never get. Plus, getting a ‘no’ means you’ve got an answer to your question and that means that you can go and ask someone else who might be able to help you out.
Get used to the discomfort and put the worry of rejection in a rational space where you can direct a few eye-rolls at it. Suspend your disbelief and borrow some confidence from the person to your right, you can always give it back once you’ve asked your question.
Has this been helpful? Tell me what you thought in the comments below.
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I am looking at you, fellow perfectionists. It’s time to call out the behaviours holding you back and see how you can put a stop to your perfectionist standing in your way.
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Copyright. Katie Baskerville 2020.