MBACP (Accredited)


helping you

to help yourself

Single form of behaviour: just say no, stand your ground, be a broken record - all quite difficult if you are truly unassertive, or in my jargon - simply too nice for your own good. The concept of asserting yourself, (getting your voice heard, being understood, being taken into account) needs to be broadened to include all forms of behaviour. The key point here is that the behaviour - nice, not-nice, nasty - is chosen. I emphasise the word key, because until people are able to choose behaviour that's free from the limiting effects of their fear of possible consequences, they will not be able to act no matter how well they are taught assertiveness. They will still feel overwhelmed in difficult situations.

 I Couldn't Possibly be Assertive

Then of course, there are the justifications; the reasons non assertive people come up with to excuse their compliant behaviour. Here are a few assertiveness excuses I've heard over the years:


"My husband gets annoyed when I disagree, so it seems easier to simply say yes, than cause an argument."


"When I don't want to do something for the umpteenth time (like the school run) my head says no, but my mouth says yes, and I end up doing it anyway."


"I'll be seen as too pushy and besides, politeness is important."

"I'd rather be in a relationship than out of one, so if that means keeping the peace rather than stirring things up, I'll keep quite about what's bothering me."


"My parents always expect me for Sunday lunch; I couldn't possibly disappoint them."


"Sometimes I feel as though I apologise simply for breathing; I say sorry whether I mean it or not."


"But everyone expects me to cook Christmas dinner. How could I stop doing it now for no good reason?"


"If my boss is late with his reports, he expects me to stay late to get them done. I won't get promoted if I refuse."


The thing about all this is not to do with assertiveness. It's that over accommodating people think it's normal; that they don't really have a choice about whether to behave like this or not.

Managing Feelings around Assertiveness

Am I A Lost Cause Then?

 A lot of unassertive people get caught up in a cycle of behaviour: being over accommodating, building up resentments, exploding into aggression (the aggression, by the way, may be internal as well as or instead of external), going back to compliance, and then the whole thing starts all over again.


Looked at from that point of view it's not about assertiveness, it's about extremes, isn't it? Compliant and passive at one end of the spectrum, aggressive and attacking at the other!


When you behave primarily at the two ends of this spectrum, you've left out a whole lot of alternative assertive behaviour in the middle that could suit your personality, resolve some tricky issues, and make your life a whole lot easier. So, no, you're not a lost cause!

What you may have to do is re-frame your idea of assertiveness and look at how to operate in the middle bit of the spectrum to get better, more effective results.

 Managing Strong Feelings


It needs to be acknowledged that the strong feelings associated with changing behaviour are real and valid. Once people do that, then these (usually difficult) feelings can be looked upon as a good thing, a sign that something new is happening. At this point people can start to "choose" to have these feelings rather than having to endure them or trying to pretend they are not happening.


The idea of choice is very important. If people feel they have real choice about how they behave, they start to realise that it can be okay to put up with something they don't like. They can choose it because they want to; it is to their advantage. They then avoid the disempowering tyranny of always having to assert themselves. (Which is almost as bad as feeling you always have to be compliant or nice.)


Many people think that in order to be assertive, you need to ignore what you are feeling and just "stand your ground". In fact, you ignore those feelings at your peril.


Often the magnitude of peoples' feelings is way out of proportion to what the situation warrants. They may well reflect a previous difficult event more accurately. But because that previous difficulty was so difficult, it feels as though every similar situation will be the same.


It is only by beginning to experience and understand how crippling these feelings can be that people can start to work on assertiveness and begin changing their behaviour. Many people know what they could say; they know what they could do. Most "unassertive" people have conversations in their heads about how to resolve a conflict they're in; but still, their mouths say 'yes', while their heads say 'no'. Knowing what to do or say is not the issue here.


Therefore, in looking at practising 'the art of saying no', it is wise to broaden the assertiveness brief so that it isn't about becoming more assertive; rather it's about changing your behaviour to fit the circumstances.


While in many circumstances assertiveness can be a straight jacket of it's own (often creating resistance and resentment), the full lexicon of behaviour can be freeing, because there is choice in the matter. Using charm, humour, telling the truth or even deliberate manipulation, may well get you what you want without having to attempt assertive behaviour that may go against your personality.

Assertiveness and Saying no

Here are some pointers towards what could make it easier to say "no".


If you're saying something serious, notice whether you smile or not. Smiling gives a mixed message and weakens the impact of what you're saying.

Assertiveness - Not Nice Not Nasty

Working in the Middle Ground

This kind of pushy approach to assertiveness leaves people with the impression that there are only two states or behaviours they can do: Nice or Nasty.

When, in fact, they have forgotten a whole range of assertive behaviour that lies between Nice and Nasty that can be termed Not-Nice (or even Not-Nasty). What I've seen with assertiveness, is that it is often seen as a  

& Control Issues First Appointment & Fees

To Make An Appointment With David Lloyd-Hoare
- Please Click Here

Back To The Homepage

Back To The Top Of The Page

1996 Mindscape Limited

Designed By David Lloyd-Hoare Bsc(Hons) MBACP(Accred) INLPTA

Share on Stumble Upon Share on Delicious Share on Google Bookmarks Share on Reddit

What exactly is The Art of Saying No?


A lot of people just don't like the idea of having to tell people they can't do something. Or they feel obligated when a colleague asks a favour; or feel pressurised when someone senior to them needs something done.

 There are even some work places where saying no is definitely frowned upon; and in, say, the police force, could be a sackable or disciplinary offence.

Of course, there are times when saying the 'n' word is a necessity. But in my experience, there is so much anxiety around the possible consequences of using it, that unassertive people don't say anything at all, or agree to things they'd rather not, or get landed with work that isn't theirs and so on.

 That can't be good for anyone, but especially the person who finds themselves staying late at the end of the day to get their own work done after they've finished everyone else's; or who swallows their resentment when they are volunteered for something they don't want to do; or who quakes at the idea of having to be a bit tougher with a supplier or even someone they manage.

Does Assertiveness Mean I Have to Be Pushy?

 In a word…No. So why is that?


It's really hard to change who we are - it's as simple as that. We can change how we behave, we can even change how we think and feel, but changing the underlying essence of our personalities takes an enormous amount of effort and will, and why would we want to anyway?


So now there's this dilemma: on the one hand you want to be assertive so that you don't get so intimidated, you want to be able to say no, you want to feel more in charge of difficult situations. On the other hand, you are who you are: maybe too nice for your own good, but also sensitive, aware, considerate and thoughtful. Why would you want to change those aspects of yourself?


If my premise is true, assertiveness has to be about something other than defending your rights and pushing yourself forward, because that may never happen, no matter how much you may fantasise about being the kind of assertive person who could do all those things.


"Yes, but sometimes I can be really aggressive. How does that fit in with being sensitive, compliant and accommodating?"

 Aggression versus Assertiveness

Here's what happens. There you are thinking that you're really accommodating, taking care of other people, anticipating their needs and wants, sensitive to atmosphere, wanting everything to be “nice” without conflict.


In this state people can often take advantage of you and by being so accommodating you will put other people's wishes often above your own. Inside, you get upset, resentful, hurt and know it just isn't fair, why don't people consider you for once?


A lot of the time you'll rehearse in your head things you could say to stop these things from happening. The problem is, you don't. What then happens is that all those little upsets begin to grow into one big one. It gets bigger and bigger every time you let these kinds of things happen to you, a smile on your face, while inside your tummy is churning.


Finally, one day you've had enough! The next time someone says something to you, expects you to stay late to finish up a report, drive the kids to school, or any number of little inconveniences, you're going to do it, you're going to say something. You plan the conversation in your head; you know exactly what you're going to say and even what they are going to say.


But this takes courage!

So you steel yourself for this encounter. By the time it comes around you've probably worked yourself into quite a lather, at least internally. When the moment comes this is what often happens: you're taken by surprise even though you were expecting it, and worst of all, all the words you had rehearsed go completely out of your head.


But in order to save the day you decide to go for it anyway. And blast the bad guy away with both barrels. Suddenly, your usual mild-mannered approach has turned into a full-scale attack. Not only that, you may be so horrified by what you have done that you either can't stop and keep on going, making things even worse, or you scurry away full of apologies and look for a corner in which to lick your wounds.


This is why what you wanted to look like assertiveness may seem like aggressiveness when aggression is the last thing on your mind. And this is another reason why assertiveness can sometimes get a bad reputation. If other people experience you as very accommodating and perhaps even a bit of a pushover, when you push back and it gets out of hand, people don't usually react very positively.

Pre-empt. As soon as you see someone bearing down on you (and your heart sinks because you know they're going to ask for something), let them know you know: "Hi there! I know what you want. You're going to ask me to finish the Henderson report. Wish I could help you out, but I just can't."


Pre-empt two. Meetings are a great place to get landed with work you don't want. You can see it coming. So to avoid the inevitable, pre-empt, "I need to let everyone know right at the top, that I can't fit anything else into my schedule for the next two weeks (or whatever)."


Any of these little assertiveness tips can help you feel more confident and will support your new behaviour. For that's what this is: If you're someone whom others know they can take advantage (they may not even be doing it on purpose, you're just an easy mark!) all assertiveness means for you is thet you need to indicate by what you do that things have changed.

 More tips to make it easier to say “No”.


First, it's important to get clear that the vast majority (this means you) of people who don't feel assertive weren't born that way. How many unassertive, accommodating infants do you know?


That's good news, because if we follow the logic, it means that you have learned to become unassertive, probably just after the infant stage of your life. This, in turn, means you can learn new assertive behaviours.


Second, I think there are some really positive qualities to people who aren't assertive. In all my years of experience, I know that people who aren't assertive tend to be (as I mentioned earlier) sensitive, interested in people, caring, insightful and really helpful. These are good qualities to keep hold of, so no throwing the baby out with the bathwater please.


Third, I know that small changes in behaviour are the ones that will stick when the going gets tough, so that's what I'll concentrate on here.


Fourth, give up your picture of assertiveness. The one that says you're going to change over night. You aren't. That's why I recommend small changes that fit your style.

 Assertiveness - A Few Things to Try


Traditional assertiveness training says, "Just say 'No'" Given everything we've talked about so far, it's really hard to do that without coming across as a bulldozer, if you haven't practised assertiveness in a long time. Well, I have a few other things you can practise which don't involve saying “no”.


1. Since you're probably already really good at apologising, over-apologise. Say that you really, really wish you could help them (whoever the “them” is) out, but you're so sorry, this time you just can't (do the school run again, stay late, cook for 10 extra people, etc.).


2. Offer solutions - lots of them - that don't involve you. Use your creativity to think of other options that could do just as well.


3. Know a man/woman who can. Pass whatever it is on to someone else, who could do just as good a job as you.


4. Buy time. This is a really good assertiveness technique - and you can master it. One of the ways non-assertive people get "caught" is that they get drawn into someone else's agenda and find it really hard to make their own equally (if not more) important. Practise some good time-buying phrases so they roll off your tongue easily:


The key here is that none of these are lies; what they offer is time for you to collect yourself, take a breath and decide, out of the heat of the moment, what you actually want to do about whatever it is you were asked to do.


5. Along with buying time is another simple assertiveness technique called “Giving them the good news”. So at the same time that you might say, "I really can't finish this by 6 o'clock," you add, "But what I can do for you is to give it top priority and finish it as soon as I get in tomorrow."


6. Pre-empt. There are loads of situations that you can see coming a mile away (or even a kilometre away). When the phone rings and you hear the familiar “I'm going to ask a favour” tone, get in there first, "I know what you're going to ask, and I'm so sorry, I already have plans."


7. Validate where they're coming from: it's always good to let the other person know you understand their point of view.


8. Take yourself seriously. If you're not quite up to that, take whatever is on your agenda seriously.


What I am saying with this list of assertiveness tips (and there are many, many more small things available for you to try) is that in each case they are small, barely noticeable things. When you use one of them, no one is going to accuse you of going on an assertiveness course; they should be practically invisible, except to you. It may feel really big to you, but to the outside world, it won't make a ripple.


Another thing to add is that when you try any of my assertiveness suggestions (in your own words, of course), make a big effort to "zip your lip" and not go babbling on to make it all right. Say what you have to say, and keep the mouth shut for a reasonable amount of time, till you get a response from the other person. Many times, people will throw away a perfectly good opportunity by talking too much and justifying what they've just said.


To help reinforce your taking steps into the middle of the spectrum, see if you can identify a friend, colleague, buddy who will support your attempts at new assertive behaviour. Whenever you get even the smallest "win" let that person know. It's great to get acknowledgment for even the simplest triumph.


This way, you also build yourself up to be able to tackle the real tough ones ("I'm so sorry Mother, this year we won't be coming to Christmas lunch, but the good news is that Frank and I will drive over the weekend before to give you your presents and have a lovely meal together.")


Finally, you aren't alone. Many unassertive people can feel very isolated because their unconfident behaviour is like a magnet for unpleasant things to keep happening. By practising small things, in your own time, you, too, will gain confidence and will surprise yourself that you can even begin to "play" at assertiveness when you choose.

If someone comes over to your desk and you want to appear more in charge, stand up. This also works when you're on the phone. Standing puts you on even eye level and creates a psychological advantage. If someone sits down and starts talking to you about what they want, avoid encouraging body language, such as nods and aha’s. Keep your body language as still as possible.


Avoid asking questions that would indicate you're interested (such as, "When do you need it by?" or "Does it really have to be done by this afternoon?" etc.)


It's all right to interrupt! A favourite assertiveness technique of mine is to say something along the lines of, "I'm really sorry; I'm going to interrupt you." Then use whatever tool fits the situation. If you let someone have their whole say without interrupting, they could get the impression you're interested and willing. All the while they get no message to the contrary, they will think you're on board with their plan (to get you to do whatever...)

 Changing others by changing yourself

A lot of us wish that the person we are in conflict with, or feel intimidated by, would change. Then everything would be all right we would not have to be assertive. We've all heard this from a colleague, friend, partner and even said it ourselves: "If only he'd listen to me, then I wouldn't be so frightened." "If only she'd stop complaining about my work, I'd be much happier. " If only" is like the assertiveness fairy. It puts the onus on the other person to change how and who they are and makes them responsible for how we feel. By using some of the tools outlined above, people can get a sense of being in charge of situations, rather than being victims to what other people want.


It does seem to be part of human nature to blame others when things go wrong in our lives, or when we're feeling hard done by. If you take away the "if only" excuse you also take away the need to blame and make the other person wrong.


It's also rather wonderful to think that rather than waiting for someone else to change to make things all right, we all have the ability to take charge of most situations and make them all right for ourselves.


What also makes assertiveness easier is that we all just have to get better at "the art of saying no"; none of us has to change our whole personalities to create a more satisfying outcome!

Telephone to make an appointment to make these easy changes in your life today.


Counsellor Paignton and Torquay Homepage

Therapy Offered by Counsellor in Paignton and Torquay

Your Problems Help Pages

Choosing a Counsellor in Paignton and Torquay

About David Hoare

First Appointment with Counsellor Paignton and Torquay

Online Counselling Shop

Testimonials about Counsellor in Paignton and Torquay

Personality Quiz

Directions to Counsellor in Paignton and Torquay

Counselling Articles

Counselling Supervision in Paignton and Torquay

Medication Advice

Suicide Help and Advice

Contact Counsellor in Paignton and Torquay