Saturday 19th January 11:34

Assertiveness: Learn to Say "No"

People often agonise over saying "No" to others about things they are pressured into doing that they don't really want to do. This is often because they fear the consequences of saying "No", in upsetting others, and so prefer to take the easy route against their better judgment and say a reluctant and embittered "Yes". The solution to saying "No" without feeling bad lies in handling the situation skillfully and assertively. Here's how.

1. Saying No without Guilt

We all find ourselves occasionally in situations where we say "Yes" to others when we really want to say "No": the boss who uses the willing workhorse; the mother-in-law who invites herself to stay; the friend who insists on buying you another round.

You may think you are being "nice" by going along with their request but the chances are they won't see it that way and will simply impose on you again. You have exposed your weakness for them to exploit.

Reacting angrily to what you might see as an unreasonable request is equally inappropriate. It may result in you being seen as hostile. In the workplace an angry refusal to do a piece of work may brand you as being un-cooperative.

The only viable solution that does not upset others or make you feel bad is the assertive one.

2. Assertive No's

The following are some tips on how to give firm and assertive "No's" when others make demands which we want to turn down.
1. Check any contractual obligations you may have, such as a duty to work occasional overtime. Only say "No" if you are not obliged to comply.
2. Make up your mind to say "No".
3. Think through your fears about their possible reactions. Be rational about them.
4. Be determined to use a clear assertive style: no ifs and buts, no excuses, no apologising.
5. Thank the person for considering you for the request; say you are flattered and honoured.
6. Don't feel you have to find solutions to their problem; don't dwell on it afterwards or feel responsible for their problem.
7. If all else fails, tell them you're learning to become assertive and want to practise saying "No"!

3. Don't Apologise...

The best way to say "No" to requests you don't want to meet is to be decisive, make it clear what you're saying and leave no door open for them to sneak back in. Make it clear that the issue is not up for debate.

The following is an e-mail sent by a manager who had been pressured to join a project which she didn't want to do...
"I'd like you to know that I'm honoured that you should have thought about asking me to do this job and under other circumstances I would have loved to be able to say "Yes". It sounds like an interesting project. I'd like you to know that it was kind of you to have considered me. Please let me know how things progress. I'm sure it will be an outstanding success."

Being able to say "No" to others successfully is a combination of the right attitude, the right actions, and the right words. If you are in tune with your own assertiveness, you'll get these right every time. 

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