Dorland’s Medical Dictionary defines assertiveness as:

“A form of behavior characterized by a confident declaration or affirmation of a statement without need of proof; this affirms the person’s rights or point of view without either aggressively threatening the rights of another (assuming a position of dominance) or submissively permitting another to ignore or deny one’s rights or point of view.

A component of assertiveness is being able to say no and the ability to set boundaries.  Many people struggle with this.

Why can it be hard to say no?

You don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings

You always say yes

You want to be helpful

You avoid conflicts

Why is it important to say no sometimes?

If you say yes when you really mean no you usually end up resenting completing the task you agreed to do. When you never say no then your yes answers don’t mean as much because you are not showing you are truly committed to whatever you agreed to.

How can you learn to say no

1. Break the habit.  Often people who struggle with saying no automatically say yes to everything. They don’t even give themselves time to think before answering. Start answering questions with “Can I get back to you in an hour?” Use this whenever the situation allows. This gives you some time to think about what you really want to do

2. Practice saying no. For one week say no in a situation where you would normally say yes. If the cashier at the grocery store always asks you for a charity donation start saying no instead of yes. Start this process in situations where there is less emotional pull to say yes. This allows you to practice before you start saying no to your family and at work. Remember this is a habit and it will not change overnight you will need time to practice.

3. Before you say yes, consider what saying yes, means. Time is limited. Do you really want to spend time doing things that you do not want to do?  What if the task makes you tired or grumpy, you then have to factor in lost quality time at home. Weigh these scenarios out before you say yes.

4. Set preemptive boundaries.  Know what you will and won’t do ahead of time.  You won’t go to engagements on a Sunday night; you won’t bake for work events etc.  If you have a line you have already mentally drawn it makes it easier to say no when someone asks you to do something over that line.

When you say no

An unassertive no means you say no but then you start making excuses about why you can not do it.  This is usually because you feel you have to rationalize saying no.

An aggressive no means you yell or say no in a mocking matter.

An assertive no means you can just say no without, further explanation.  If you explain it is brief.  No, I cannot do the carpool that day as I have to work late.

If you have been saying yes to everything for a period of time I would anticipate that you will be uncomfortable when you start saying no.  You may also get some backlash from people that are accustomed to you always saying yes.  If people challenge your no answers you can just answer them back using the broken record technique. That means each time you are challenged you simply repeat back the exact same explanation you gave the first time.  Learning to say no can be a powerful way for you to take care of yourself and keep good boundaries.