How To (Nicely) Speak Up, Assert Yourself, & Ask For Things In Your RPs (And Why You Need To)
Is something in your game weighing on your mind, but you're not sure sure how to speak up without sounding like a jerk or a whiner, or without starting a huge fight? Here's how you can speak up without being rude - and why it's in everyone's best interests that you do.
Table of Contents
- Why you need to speak up now and then, and why it's okay to do it
- Take care not to be petty, mean-spirited, or unhelpful yourself
- Ways you can bring things up, ask for things, and assert yourself
- What if the other person reacts badly?
- What if you react badly?
Why you need to speak up now and then, and why it's okay to do it
Speaking up is sometimes the kindest action you can take. Not speaking up can have serious consequences. You might end up with your emotions bottling up until they explode, which might end up setting off a huge fight that splits your group apart. Passive-aggressively trying to avoid confrontation (such as by trying to have your character sabotage a plot you really don't want to do), or trying to curb a problem by taking executive action without really explaining why can easily make you look selfish, petty, and capricious. Since people who play like this are usually nightmares to deal with in the long run, experienced players may just leave.
Passive-aggressive behavior can also give people the impression that you just don't like them and are trying to push them out of the game instead of just telling them they aren't wanted. For players with anxiety issues, this can be agonizing - they might wonder if you hate them and/or whether they're terrible roleplayers or even terrible people. And for players without anxiety issues, they might just get so frustrated with you that they leave your game.
You are not a bad person for speaking up. Everyone has the right to make their opinions and feelings known in a calm and diplomatic manner. If you speak up and someone insults you, mocks you, or throws a tantrum, you're not at fault - the other person is being a jackass. If you're accused of being a bad, selfish, or disrespectful person, or of being a troublemaker or complainer, you might be dealing with a moral abuser or gaslighter. If the other person starts talking about how rough life is right now and how RP is an escape from all that and says something to the effect of "I'm just trying to have fun!", then this person might be trying to guilt trip you. You are not in the wrong here.
The good news is, people are often willing to listen and to try to accommodate others. Many people respond very well if they are approached in a calm and diplomatic manner! While you might be concerned that people might find you annoying, the occasional question rarely annoys anyone, especially if you're typically a considerate and amicable player. (It's usually the types of antics described over here that really get on people's nerves.)
Take care not to be petty, mean-spirited, or unhelpful yourself
When you speak up, you should make an effort to conduct yourself as best as you possibly can. There are three reasons for this. The first is that good conduct keeps drama to a minimum and helps get things back to a smooth flow as soon as possible. The second is that it helps prevent you from possibly doing something rude, inappropriate, or unhelpful yourself. The third is that coming off as mean-spirited or petty can put people on the defensive, and thus make them less open to hearing you out. So to this end:
- Do not exaggerate or use hyperbole to describe the problem or your feelings.
- Do not insult, berate, or lecture.
- Do not speak in vague and subjective terms. Be clear and unambiguous.
- Avoid terms like "always" and "never."
- Don't presume to know for certain what's going on in other people's minds.
- Don't be accusatory, and don't label those you're speaking to.
- Don't get snide or sarcastic.
- Suggest alternative options where possible.
- Let people know that you're open to ideas and suggestions.
Most importantly, do anything and everything else you can to keep the situation from escalating into a fight. If you don't know anything about de-escalation, you can easily look it up with a websearch.
Ways you can bring things up, ask for things, and assert yourself
The following is a list of ways you might bring up certain issues. Obviously this doesn't cover each and every situation you might encounter, but it hopefully will cover some of the more likely ones, plus give you some idea of how you might phrase other things.
...If you find something uncomfortable or distressing:
- "Hey, I'm actually really uncomfortable with [subject]. Could we have something else happen instead, or maybe could we skip over this?"
- "Hey, guys, this kind of thing really squicks me out. Is there anything else we could do instead?"
- "This type of thing makes me pretty uncomfortable. Is there anything else we might do?"
...If someone brings up something you don't feel like talking about right now:
- "I know this topic is important to you, but I'm not really up to talking about this right now. Maybe later?
- "I understand we need to have this discussion, but right now I'm not up to it. Can we talk about it later?"
...If someone seems to be overlooking how much something is affecting you:
- "I'm sorry, but this issue hits very close to home, so I have some very strong feelings about it."
- "I have a lot of very strong feelings over this, so this kind of thing affects me a lot."
- "I've had some very bad experiences connected to this kind of thing, so this issue hits me very hard."
...If someone otherwise doesn't seem to understand the point you're trying to make, or what you're asking for:
- "I'm not sure my point carried across. What I'm trying to say is, I feel that [how you feel about the matter]."
- "The point I'm trying to make is, I feel that this [how you feel about the matter]."
- "I'm not sure I'm communicating very well. Could you tell me what it seems like I'm asking for?"
...If you're tired and need to rest:
- "I would, but I'm really tired right now. Maybe later?"
- "I'm sorry, but I'm really exhausted right now. Can we continue this later?"
- "Hey, I'm really tired right now. We can continue this later, is that all right?"
...If you just don't want to do something:
- "I'm not really in the mood for this kind of thing right now, actually. What about [alternative subject]?"
- "No thanks; it's not my thing. Would you consider [alternative subject], or is there something else you might like?"
- "Actually, I'm more in the mood for [alternative subject]. Would you be interested in that?"
- "This type of thing isn't really to my taste. Is there anything else you might be up for?"
- "Hmm, this isn't my type of plot. I was hoping for more [subject]. What do you think?"
...If you don't have time:
- "I'm sorry, but I don't have the time right now. Maybe later, perhaps around [time that would work for you]?
- "I'd love to, but there are some things I need to see to first. Would you be available at [later time]?
...If you find yourself in an RP and don't like where it's going:
- "I'm really sorry, but this isn't working out for me. [Subject] isn't really my thing."
- "I'm really sorry, but I think we're after very different things from this RP. I was looking more for [experience you were looking for]."
- "Hey, the game isn't working out for me very well right now. Is it all right if we try to work something else out to try with it, maybe some new ideas or approaches we might take?"
...If you just can't figure out how to get your character into the game:
- "Hey, I'm having some trouble getting my character into the plot. Is there something we could do to get my character in?"
- "I'm having trouble thinking out a way to get my character in with everyone else. Any ideas?"
- "Hey, I want to get in on the plot, but there doesn't seem to be anything for my character to do. Is there anything that can be done about that?"
...If there's something you'd really like to try doing in the RP:
- "Hey, what would you think if we [idea you'd like to try]?"
- "Would you be interested in trying [idea]? No big deal if you don't want to, of course!"
- "Would it be possible to [idea]? If not right now, then maybe in the near future?"
...If you're confused about what's going on in a game:
- "Hey, I'm having some trouble figuring out what's going on. Can I get some help?"
- "I'm not sure what the plot is. Can I get some help here?"
- "I'm a little confused about what's going on. Could somebody help me out?"
...If someone wants to do something in your group RP that just doesn't work for one reason or another:
- "I'm sorry, but your idea doesn't really fit into the type of game we're trying to play. Is there anything else you might consider?"
- "I'm afraid your idea doesn't really fit into this setting. Is there anything else you might consider? Or would you consider modifying your idea a little?"
- "Hey, [Player Name], we already have a pretty busy plot and adding that in would end up with us having just too much going on. Could you wait until later for that, or is there something else you might consider doing in the meantime?"
If a player doesn't seem to be meshing into your game...
- "Hey, [Player], I notice that what you're trying to do doesn't really fit the type of game we're trying to play. We're going for something more [traits of your game's tone/style]. Is that all right?"
- "I'm sorry, but it seems like your playstyle really isn't compatible with the game we're trying to play. Maybe this just isn't the right kind of game for you?"
If a player keeps bringing up inappropriate or disruptive topics in your group RP...
- "[Player name], this topic is inappropriate for our group. Please drop it and talk about something else, all right?"
- "[Player name], I understand that you care about this a lot, but we're here to RP. This really isn't the time or the place to go into this."
- "[Player name], right now we're trying to RP. If you want to talk about this, we can do it later/in private, all right?"
Again, this doesn't cover each and every situation, but will hopefully help you out in many. Also, if you're a game master/roleplay admin, then Dealing With Unhappy & Complaining Roleplayers might be of further use. If you're a player, then Right & Wrong Questions To Ask A Roleplaying Community might also be helpful.
What if the other person reacts badly?
Sometimes it happens that someone will react badly to what you say. Maybe the person will just get really upset and break down. Maybe this person will get angry, or snide, or try to guilt trip you. Maybe this person will mock you or get sarcastic with you. Maybe this person will accuse you of being mean, unfair, or boring.
The first step is to try and keep your cool. This can be difficult sometimes, but if you do your part to keep things from escalating you can keep drama to a minimum.
If the player cites real-life issues behind behaving inconsiderately, or claims that real-life issues are making things hard right now, try to be sympathetic, but remember that they don't justify the behavior and that you are not a bad person for speaking up. You might also say something to the effect of, "If you're not up to talking this over right now, that's okay. We can have this discussion later, when you're feeling better."
If there seems to be worry that you just don't like this person at all or are thoroughly disgusted with the game, try to be reassuring. You might say something to the effect of "I really enjoy playing with you/having you in the game, and I don't want to stop. I just want to get this smoothed out so we can keep roleplaying, all right?"
And remember: never condemn other people's emotions, nor condemn them for being emotional, nor try to frame their emotional states as selfishness or similar. People cannot choose the emotions they have in any given moment; they can only try to manage them as best they can. And remember, heightened states of emotion tend to make people irrational and short-sighted. If you're dealing with someone who is highly emotional, the goal should not be to immediately get this person thinking rationally, but to first get the person into a better emotional state. (Acknowledging the other person's feelings and offering sympathy can often go a long way toward this.) Once that's done, then you can try a more rational approach.
Never forget, you always have the right to politely disengage if the player keeps behaving rudely or won't calm down, or if you find yourself repeating the same points over and over with no success, or if you find yourself getting frustrated and behaving nastily. If you're a game master/roleplay admin, or if you're doing a one-on-one RP, you might say something like, "We don't seem to be getting anywhere with this right now, so I'm going to take a break from it now to calm down and clear my head. We can continue it later." If you're a player in a group RP, you might say, "I'm not trying to pick a fight or start drama; I'm just trying to get this worked out. We can talk about it later, but it is something I want to get worked out."
Beyond this, exactly what sort of measures are appropriate to take tend to be pretty situational. You have to decide for yourself whether it's worth trying to keep negotiating and playing with this person. Types Of Roleplayers You Don't Want In Your Game might help you work this out. When A Game Master Or Roleplay Admin Might Be Power-Tripping - And What To Do About It might also be of help if you're trying to work things out with a game master/roleplay admin. How To Spot & Handle Parasitic Roleplayers might be helpful if you're dealing with the kind of player who doesn't do much of anything to move the plot forward and/or expects everything in the RP to be just so.
What if you react badly?
Sometimes you've had a really bad day and have run out of patience. Sometimes something just really hits a nerve somewhere. Sometimes... well, sometimes it's just apparently not your day. Next thing you know, you lose your cool and go completely off the rails. When that happens, it's best to try and get back on track as soon as possible. To that end, always try to be aware of your emotions and your behaviors. Do you find yourself...
- Getting frustrated and angry?
- Calling names?
- Making accusations?
- Being passive-aggressive?
- Being snide or sarcastic?
- Or basically, just arguing to win?
Then you might need to do something about yourself. Some things you might do:
Stop. Whatever you're arguing for, making all this drama over it probably isn't going to help. Remove your hands from the keyboard. Lean back. Take a few deep breaths. Think about what it is you really want to accomplish here.
Ask yourself if you might be misreading the situation. Could what's going on here be explained by misunderstanding or miscommunication, rather than callousness or malice? Did you perhaps jump to conclusions somewhere along the way? Are you assuming the worst and letting that tint your perceptions? If you think you might be misreading the situation, it can sometimes help to stop and say something like, "Hang on, I think we might not be understanding each other. Can you clarify what you meant/tell me what it sounded like I was saying?"
Apologize. It doesn't have to be long or elaborate. Sometimes a simple "I was not fair to you, and I would like to apologize" can do. Or so might a "I apologize for going off on you like this. But please understand that this matter is important to me, so I'd like to continue this discussion/explain myself better when I've cooled off."
Take a break, if you're still worked up. Let people know that you're going to take some time to cool off, and do it. Work on calming yourself down. Think about what you really want here and how important it is to you. Reflect upon how you could handle yourself with more tact the next time.
Try again. Whatever you were trying to say the first time, try again - but try to keep your cool this time!
Also, these might be relevant to you: