Ultimatums are a myth.
“…and then he gave me an ultimatum. So I left.”
For years, that phrase — and its many iterations — have bugged me. After hearing someone claim victim to an ultimatum, I feel uncomfortable and queasy. Kind of like eating cooked chicken that was in the fridge a bit too long. It doesn’t sit well with the gut.
I had an epiphany of sorts the other day that cleared it up for me.
---> Claiming an ultimatum is a form of self-victimization.
An ultimatum implies that something is being done to you. That you are being acted on by an outside force against your control. It implies a lack of agency. It says ‘look at this awful person doing awful things to me against my will.’ It hints at oppression. It suggests you believe you are a victim.
Why is it that when someone says ‘he gave me an ultimatum’ it makes me feel like they are trying to get me to excuse whatever behavior follows? To sympathize, shake my head, and say ‘poor you?’ When people leverage the ultimatum talk, I feel like a hostage in the conversation. It seems calculated to elicit a contrived response from the hearer — one of reflexive sympathy and complete absolution.
‘Ultimatum’ is just a fancy word for decisions we don’t want to make.
We’d garner much more respect by saying ‘she gave me a hard decision’ instead of ‘she gave me an ultimatum.’
See, a decision implies responsibility. It takes courage, a stepping up to the plate, and owning what follows. A decision says ‘Yes. This is what I choose. Yes. I own it. Yes. I take responsibility for it.’ More importantly — a decision comes from a person who has agency, who has control of their own mind. A decision can’t be done to you or done for you, it must be self-determined.
How about instead of ‘ultimatums’ we just own our decisions.
How about the next time someone gives us a hard choice to make, we make it confidently without reservation.
But MaryBeth, how can I be confident in a choice when it is sprung upon me? This “choice” came out of left field. And btw, have I mentioned it’s hard?
Just because something is sprung upon us doesn’t mean we have to respond in equal speed. Confidence does not materialize out of the ether; it is a result of deliberate thinking. To be confident in our choices, we must take the necessary time to determine the best course of action. Confidence comes from knowing what we are doing is right.
So what do I say when someone asks me to make a choice I’m not ready to make?
‘I’ll have to think on that. Let me get back to you.’
And if they continue to press you, here’s another version, a bit stronger..
‘I’m not ready to make that decision right now. I’ll let you know when I’m confident in my answer.’
Take all the time you need to ensure your decision is the right one. And be prepared to own the consequences.
And if it turns out to be the wrong decision? Have the humility and fortitude to make it right.
Let’s end the self-victimhood.
Let’s have the funeral for ultimatums.
4/14/2019 02:16:13 pm
Marybeth, I ABSOLUTELY love when you say: "...a decision implies responsibility. It takes courage, a stepping up to the plate, and owning what follows. .... — a decision comes from a person who has agency, who has control of their own mind. A decision can’t be done to you or done for you, it must be self-determined." This is key to knowing who we are. This will prevent a cop-out or the excuse to do nothing. I think that those who give us ultimatums are the type of bullies we must resist and disarm. Thanks for this most excellent post.
4/14/2019 08:03:26 pm
Thanks so much for the comment! I like your observation of ultimatum-givers being bullies that we must 'resist & disarm
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