9 Reasons You Should Quit Dropping Hints and Just Use Your Words Already

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There’s a balance between being polite and being assertive. We’re expected to not be demanding or selfish, but neither are we supposed to be too meek. It can be a never-ending minefield of questions and social missteps to try to find the balance.

A lot of us try to work around this problem by speaking politely and hoping that our body language, or unsaid words, or facial expressions, will convey what we really mean. But whether you’re hinting to your neighbor to sweep their driveway (by energetically sweeping your own in front of them) or hinting to your boss that it’s time for a pay raise (by handing in your work early, with a big, ingratiating smile), here’s why that approach doesn’t usually work and why you need to start speaking up instead:

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1. The Message Is Too Subtle

Is there a reason you’re trying to drop hints, rather than just coming out and saying what you want to say? If you’re trying to convey a message you feel is too delicate to be verbalized, it may also be too complex for significant eyebrow raises, nudges or overly-emphasized gestures.

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2. The Means Is Too Subtle

You may think you’re being crystal clear, but that’s because you already know (a) that you’re trying to get a message across, and (b) what that message is. You may think that leaving an internet tab open to that one online shopping item is just screaming “My birthday is in only five months! Buy this!” but chances are your partner will have no idea that your interest is anything more than fleeting.

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3. The Message Was Misunderstood

Maybe your partner (or friend, or child, or parent, or co-worker) was able to figure out that you were trying to say something – but they didn’t figure it out exactly right, especially if #1 and #2 apply. Everyone’s time and sanity could’ve been spared if you’d just asked for what you wanted.

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4. No One Wants to Assume

The same way that it’s seen as impolite to say things in a straightforward way, it can be impolite to make choices for other people without their explicit agreement. If there’s any doubt about whatever it is you’re trying to hint about, the other person may not feel certain enough to follow it through, which leads directly to #5:

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5. In the Face of Confusion, People Opt for the Path of Least Resistance

Rather than take a risk and getting it wrong in the almost infinite number of ways that people can get things wrong, people will often adopt the simplest option of getting it wrong in the one way that is both easy and easily-understood – doing nothing at all.

People-Are-Just-Not-That-Into-YouCREATISTA / Shutterstock
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6. People Are Just Not That Into You

The harsh reality is that the person you’re talking to probably just isn’t paying close enough attention to you to notice the hints you’re trying to convey. This isn’t to say that they don’t care about you, or what you’re saying – just that people have a lot on their minds, pretty much always. Think about it – when was the last time that you gave the person you were speaking to absolutely 100% of your focus?

We-Hear-What-We-Expect-to-HearLuis Santos / Shutterstock
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7. We Hear What We Expect to Hear

The human brain is full of tricks. Just as the eye fills in the gaps so that it looks like the drawing on a flipbook is actually literally moving, so the brain fills in our social interactions with the things it expects to see. It’s like when you learn a new word, you start to notice it everywhere. The word had always been in use, but because you didn’t recognize it, you didn’t assign it any importance and it was quickly forgotten.

Our-Lives-Are-Busy---We-ForgetPathDoc / Shutterstock
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8. Our Lives Are Busy – We Forget

Let’s say that the person you were trying to communicate with actually understood what you meant. Fantastic! So why, the next time you see them, is it like it never happened? The reason is probably a lot simpler than whatever conspiracy you’re imagining – the other person probably just forgot. Memory is a frail thing, and it is better at recalling the physical than the abstract, which is to say that something that can be perceived by the senses (written words seen by the eyes, verbal words heard, Morse code tapped onto skin) will hold a more vivid memory than an intangible signal that may or may not have even been there.

It's-Worth-Saying-It-Plainly---Nobody-Is-a-Mind-ReaderFer Gregory / Shutterstock
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9. It’s Worth Saying it Plainly – Nobody Is a Mind Reader

Nobody but you knows what’s going on in your head. The only way to convey to another person what you’re thinking about with some degree of accuracy is to say it aloud with words. You can’t begrudge a person for not being able to read your mind. It’s worth a few uncomfortable moments for the satisfaction of knowing everybody’s on the same page.