Zainab Bawa

Zainab Bawa


Assertiveness techniques - five ways to say 'no'

Submitted Apr 18, 2021

Becoming skilled at assertive communication requires continuous practice. It is like building muscular strength - muscles develop with strength training over time. So does the ability to say ‘no’. At first, you may face difficulty in separating your emotions from the communication. Don’t beat yourself up when this happens or when things don’t go as planned the first few times you practise saying ‘no’.

Here are some techniques to practice assertive communication.

  1. Be specific. Express your needs clearly. Avoid padding with words. Keep it simple. Take responsibility for yourself.
  2. Empathic assertion - the other person involved in the situation may not be able to meet your needs. You are aware of their situation and sensitive of their position. But you still communicate your needs. It is ok if they say no (or even respond with negative emotions).
    Don’t become passive aggressive in the guise of empathic assertion. Take note of your tone and the words you use when expressing empathy.
  3. Consequences assertion - this is the strongest form of assertion and should be used as a last resort. This is huge - when someone has not considered the rights of others, or what was appropriate. Work situations demand using consequences assertion. For example, when a colleague has not followed guidelines and procedures. You inform the person the consequences if they don’t change their work style or behaviour.
    Consequences assertion can be seen as aggressive. Be very careful of the non-verbal signals you use. You shouldn’t be shouting or towering over the other person, or banging the table when you use consequences assertion. Make good eye contact. Keep your body and face relaxed. For example, “If this occurs, again, I’m left with no alternative but to apply formal disciplinary procedure. I really prefer not to.”
  4. Descriptors - this form of assertive communication works by pointing out the discrepancy between what has been agreed upon and what is currently happening. This is very useful to clarify any misunderstandings, contradictions or behaviour mismatch that you may encounter.
  5. Negative feelings assertion - is used when you are experiencing negative feelings towards another person, such as anger and resentment. With this assertive communication, you draw attention to the undesirable effects of another person’s behaviour. This allows you to deal with your feelings without getting into an uncontrolled outburst. It alerts the other person about the effect of their action. Negative feeling assertion requires you to describe others’ behaviour and the impact of that behaviour on you. Describe your feelings. Refer alternative behaviour in future.

Using the above techniques will not only help you to say ‘no’ effectively over time. They will also help you build a healthy self-esteem and create better relationships.


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