Assertiveness Skills: Saying No

From time to time, people accept to do things that they are not responsible for, things that may be boring, or sometimes a heavy burden, in order not to hurt the feelings of the other person, not to make them upset or angry, thinking it would be rude to decline, and because they cannot ‘say no’. 

Many people might think it is selfish to consider their own comfort, and to reject other’s demands that might be beyond their capabilities. In fact, selfishness means only to regard one’s own needs and rights, and to care very little or not at all about the others. Another concept that assertiveness is often confused with is aggressiveness. However, there is a big difference between these two concepts. 

Aggressiveness may be defined as disregarding the personal rights of others in trying to fulfill one’s own needs. Aggressiveness does not permit other people to assume their rights, and uses emotional and physical coercion. It is generally the result of anger and hatred towards people, and results in loss of respect. 

On the other hand, disregarding one’s own needs or sacrificing one’s desires in order to make other people happy is a surrendering and/also shy behavior. 

If we were to plot these concepts on a line, assertiveness would be in the middle of two extremes of aggressiveness and shyness. 

The relationship between the ability to say no (or be assertive), and stress levels lies in the fulfillment of one’s needs. If you are generally unassertive, you cannot fulfill your needs, and these needs become sources of stress. If you are generally aggressive, you fulfill your needs most of the time, but disrupted relationships become a source of stress.

The principle of assertiveness lies on the assumption that all humans have certain rights. Unfortunately, social values and ethical systems often teach us that these rights are not always existent. A few examples are as such:

Cultural Values: 

·    It is embarrassing to make mistakes. 

·    One should be rational and coherent. 

·    Others do not want to hear about your problems. 

Personal Rights:

·    People have the right to make mistakes. 

·    People have the right to reject what is expected of them. 

·    People have the right to change their minds. 

·    People have the right to tell their feelings. 


Doubtlessly, our behavior cannot change overnight. It takes effort and patience to find the limits between our own needs and situation, and demands made to us by others. First step is to keep this in mind and understand how we feel and what we need. 

·    Evaluate your needs and demands openly. 

·    Identify the feeling that you get when you face demands that trouble you. For example, do you feel anger, disillusionment, hurtfulness, discomfort, embarrassment, anxiety? (for example, “I feel angry”, “I’m embarrassed”, “I like you” etc.) If you have gotten used to disregarding your feelings, trying to separate them out and naming them might be hard in the beginning. 

·    Spot the primary feeling that you get. Some feelings disguise deeper feelings. For example, some people might feel anger on the surface, but underlying it might be resentment or fear. 

·    Determine the intensity of your feeling. For example, anger might not just be a disturbance but might be a rave. When your feelings intensify, it might be a warning that you are not paying attention to certain personal needs. 

·    Determine your needs. For example, "I want to be listened” or "I want to be respected." 

·    The next step is explaining your feelings to the person in front of you.

·    Rule of thumb of assertiveness is to explain one’s self honestly, correctly, and without blaming the other person. The "I language" is used to explain feelings, thoughts, and desires. The “I language” consists of four parts: 

o    Indicate your feeling. "I feel....... " 

o    When (describe the behavior) 

o    Because (concrete effects or results in your situation) 

o    State your desires (I prefer......)

For example, 

"When you interrupt (behavior) me midsentence I get upset (feeling). Because I feel that I am not given attention to or cared for (concrete effect or result). I prefer that you listen before answering (desire). 

·    Do not predict what the other person thinks, feels, or how s/he will react. Evaluate his/her reactions objectively. 

·    Refrain from mockery that might hurt the other’s feelings, refrain from attacking his/her personality, or from using decisive remarks. Refrain from using sentences like, "You never supported me" "You always think about yourself ", or "You always criticize me anyways ". 

·    Stay away from labeling. (You are really selfish, you are boring etc.) 

·    Refrain from using sentences that begin with "Why?" and "You.....” This kind of language puts the other person in a defensive mood. 

·    Assess your expectations. Are they realistic? Be willing to negotiate. 

·    Do not forget that interaction needs to people.

·    As much as the person in front of you has the right to ask, you have the right to decline, and say no. 

The language of assertiveness might help you explain yourself without antagonizing others. You can use the techniques of assertiveness while defending your rights and declining an offer, while praising people or being praised, or while you are trying to constructively explain your anger. 

Some people just need to say “no” and refuse what is expected of them. The sentences below might be useful if you need to say no: 

·    I prefer not to. 

·    This is not my responsibility. 

·    I do not do things like that.

·    I’m busy. 

·    This could get me in trouble. 

·    I do not think this is appropriate. 

·    I feel uncomfortable about it. 

·    We are straying; let’s return back to our topic.

·    I can direct you to somebody. 

·    No.