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HOW TO SAY “NO” by Kate Swann & Kristina Mamrot
20January/2016

HOW TO SAY “NO” by Kate Swann & Kristina Mamrot

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How good are you at asserting yourself?

Can you say no in a firm and believable way? Or do people question your decisions and try to talk you into things? Or worse, do you question yourself, feel guilty, and end up agreeing to things that don’t suit you? Assertiveness is all about expressing your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and opinions in a manner that is respectful of others.

 Characteristics of assertive people

  •          Keep their message brief so it doesn’t get clouded or confused
  •          Are honest without being rude or offensive
  •          Use I words instead of you words. “I feel irritated when I’m interrupted in the middle of a thought”, verses “You really piss me off when you interrupt me”
  •          Speak with warmth – friendly but firm
  •          Maintain open, friendly body language
  •          Make eye contact in a confident manner
  •          Don’t apologise for saying no or not agreeing with someone
  •          Manage their stress levels when they want or need to assert themselves

Can you think of someone you know who has assertiveness nailed?

Assertive people make wonderful friends, partners and colleagues. You always know where you stand with them, and you’re not afraid or hesitant to ask them to do something for you. An assertive person won’t agree to do something that you’re sure is really inconvenient, or that they really don’t want to do. That’s a passive person. Likewise, an assertive person won’t yell at you for asking them to do something, or put you down so you feel stupid. That’s aggressive, not assertive.

So what is the difference between an assertive person and a passive person?

Characteristics of passive people:

  •          Give you so many reasons why they’re asking you to put yourself out for them, it gets confusing, and you’re worn out explaining it’s not a problem
  •          Are afraid of giving you an honest answer in case they offend you – they’ll try and tell you what they think you want to hear
  •          Use I words, but in a timid way – they’ll apologise for themselves, find it difficult to make eye contact, and back down so fast your head will spin
  •          Speak in a quiet, timid voice
  •          Use body language that makes them appear vulnerable – too open, too deferring, or they’ll make themselves look as small as they can, or even invisible
  •          May have difficulty with eye contact
  •          Apologise for their existence, and start sentences with, “I’m so sorry
  •          Are clearly stressed and worked up if they need to ask for something

Remind you of someone you know?

Passive people often need a lot of propping up. Their friends, family and colleagues wear themselves out with helping them feel confident. Now let’s take a look at a third communication style – aggressiveness.

Aggressive people:

  •          Bark orders in a ‘don’t mess with me’ manner
  •          Don’t care about whether their manner is rude or offensive – they’re seemingly oblivious
  •          Use you words: “You really piss me off when you interrupt me”, or I words in a threatening manner
  •          Speak with coolness and sometimes disdain
  •          Have closed or dominant body language: arms crossed defensively, taking up more room than is necessary, standing when everyone else is sitting
  •          Make eye contact in a distressing way – staring you down so you need to look away
  •          Are completely incapable of saying the s word – I’m sorry
  •          Create stress for others every time they enter a room

Are you thinking of someone you know? Are your stress levels rising?

Take a moment to think about the three people who came to mind as you’ve been reading: the assertive person, the passive person and the aggressive person. My guess is: one makes you feel warm and valued, one makes you feel heavy and worn out, and one makes you feel stressed and nervous. 

So do you have these three communication styles clear in your head? You can think of these as being along a continuum. Aggressive people are up one extreme end, while passive people are the extreme on the other end. Assertive people are nicely placed in the centre. Because it’s a continuum, a person’s communication style can be anywhere along the line. Where do you want to be? My guess is smack, bang in the middle. But how do you know if your communication style is too aggressive, or too passive?

Signs you are too aggressive include when:

  •          People look visibly nervous when you’re in the room
  •          People struggle to make eye contact with you
  •          People disappear as soon as you finish talking
  •          Few disagree with you
  •          People apologise a lot to you
  •          You suspect quite a few people don’t like you

Have a good think about this list. Could your communication style be aggressive? Is that really how you want to live your life? Let’s take a look at the signs you are too passive. These include:

  •          People look tired or worn out around you
  •          You’re aware the attention of others starts to drift while you’re talking to them
  •          You start wondering if people are avoiding you
  •          Everyone says you need to work on your self-esteem or confidence
  •          People are always trying to build you up
  •          You suspect people use you, and this makes you feel resentful
  •          You feel guilty all the time, especially when you need to ask for something
  •          Life feels very stressful

Take a good look at this list. Could this be you? Is it time to make some changes to your life and your communicating style?

Like any life skill, assertiveness needs to be practised. Remember that it’s your right to express yourself, and to feel heard and understood. You can’t go wrong if you aim for the middle ground of assertiveness. Think grey, not black or white.

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