Assertiveness: When and How to Say ‘no’

Often, in stressful situations at work, when someone makes a request of us we can get into a fight/flight reaction. We either argue (fight), We don’t listen (flight), or we really don’t want to do what they are asking of us, and rather than saying ‘no’ we give in.

We sacrifice what is appropriate to us and give in. We then may feel our energy is exhausted and resent the other person for asking us, rather than looking at ourselves that we could say ‘no’. We don’t want to say ‘no’, because they might become angry. We don’t want to say ‘no’, because we might feel selfish. We don’t want to say ‘no’, because we are afraid to lose their approval of us…

Being able to say ‘no’ is appropriate in proper situations. It is inappropriate when someone asks us to do something but we say ‘no’ without thinking, we use ‘no’ as a weapon to attack him/her and they feel so hurt that they walk away. Say I arrive at my desk after lunch and find my colleague has “again” left more files on my desk, or has booked meetings without consulting my schedule and availability. I feel it is time to be assertive, so I go and ask to talk to her/him:

Being assertive with awareness:

1. First of all I remain aware of my feelings, so that they don’t automatically trigger

my reactive behavior pattern (I am aware of anger or irritation, but don’t react out of anger).

2. I communicate my point of view appropriately (but I don’t make an excuse or manufacture one). For example: “As much as I like to help, I cant because right now I am overwhelmed and overstretched with my assignments). That is when it is appropriate to “decline” then I say so.

3. Use “I” statement and avoid “you” statement. For instance, you ask me to do something and I react and say “YOU, are so demanding, YOU make me feel …”

Compare that to saying “I don’t want to do that because right now, I am feeling really overwhelmed and over loaded. However, if you insist, we can discuss this with the manager to establish which of these assignments is her priority”.

Or “I felt disrespected when I saw the clip-on note on my monitor for a tomorrow morning meeting without being consulted for my availability.”

4. Learn to focus on the act and not the actor. For example, “when I arrived at my desk and saw the new files without being consulted with, I felt disrespected and ignored.” (Note, I did not say, “I am right” and “you are wrong”, rather, focused on the action). This way there is no perceived/imagined attack on the person and he/she might be more inclined to listen without having to defend himself.

You can practice this by filling in the blank to keep the focus on the action and not the actor.

I felt …when…

By following the above steps you are more likely to get what you want and your colleagues are more likely to be more cooperative.


Oct, 05, 2014