Assertiveness: Can you say no?

Have you ever been told to do something you really didn’t want to do, but you just couldn’t say no?

Being assertive has been my Everest. So much so that I even joined a six week course, took a self reflection test at the beginning and end, and came out of it even less assertive than going in.

But it was only when I had to deal with difficult health issues that it really kicked in because suddenly I was aware I needed those boundaries to be able to function. So why is it so challenging to say no to people?

Thanks to the following guests for participating:

Travel editor Siobhan Warwicker

Jennie Miller, psychotherapist and author of Boundaries

Here are some of the resources from the show:

James Altucher at a TED Talk in San Diego, 2015:

Marcus Weaver, from Weav Told Me talks about assertiveness:

Books looked at this week:

Damon Zahariades: The Art Of Saying NO: How To Stand Your Ground, Reclaim Your Time And Energy, And Refuse To Be Taken For Granted (Without Feeling Guilty!)

Jennie Miller and Victoria Lambert: Boundaries: How to Draw the Line in Your Head, Heart and Home

James and Claudia Azula Altucher: The Power of No: Because One Little Word Can Bring Health, Abundance, and Happiness

PS. I do not receive commission for reviewing books and talks.

Transcription

Exploring how we can master ourselves by looking at how experts say it is possible with your host Suswati Basu.

Intro music

Welcome to the second episode of How To Be…with me Suswati as your timid presenter, guiding you through life’s tricky skills by taking this learning journey with you.

Before we begin here’s what travel editor Siobhan Warwicker thinks about assertiveness.

SIOBHAN WARWICKER

Have you ever been told to do something you really didn’t want to do, but you just couldn’t say no?

ITS HARD TO SAY NO

TROUBLE SPEAKING UP

Being assertive has been my Everest. So much so that I even joined a six week course, took a self reflection test at the beginning and end, and came out of it even less assertive than going in.

But it was only when I had to deal with difficult health issues that it really kicked in because suddenly I was aware I needed those boundaries to be able to function. So why is it so challenging to say no to people?

Lifestyle management expert Damon Zahariades says that as people, we can be big avoiders of rejection in his book The Art of Saying No.

A self-described “recovering people pleaser,” Zahariades applies his real-world experience to this universal issue. He says he used to turn himself inside out to help his friends, family and colleagues with any requests for assistance.

Although he always offered his valuable time with a big smile, inside he would be miserable and feel like a sap.

By explaining why you should speak honestly and directly about what you want to do and don’t want to do, including saying no when appropriate, he promises that the more often you say no now, the less often you’ll need to say it in the future.

DAMON ZAHARIADES

Some key takeaways include:

In trying to be “nice” or helpful, some people become doormats who say yes to every request.

Always saying yes to others means you’ll have little time for yourself.

When you constantly say yes to everyone else, you are constantly saying no to yourself.

Always saying yes is habitual “learned behavior.”

Being able to say no is an essential life skill.

You can learn how to say no and how to be more assertive – which is not the same as being aggressive.

“People pleasers” can’t stand rejection; the idea of saying no fills them with dread.

Successful people know how to say no.

You aren’t responsible for other people’s negative feelings when you turn them down.

The more often you say no now, the less often you’ll have to say in the future.

This is rather similar to what was learned in the NHS assertiveness course that I undertook.

It explained that the basis of the whole philosophy of assertive behaviour is to stand up for your rights while respecting those of others, hence writing out a Personal Rights Charter that sets out what you can and cannot tolerate.

But as a friend pointed out, it’s important to think about how some of the advice isn’t written with the mind that people may approach you differently due to a pre-perceived perception of your race, gender, etc. Women are seen as bossy if they are assertive for example under some circumstances.

Researchers Carlson and Crawford wrote in a Sage Journal study named Communication Stereotypes and Perceptions of Managers that even in 2012, there was need for more research on this topic but also the fact that biases continue to exist.

Life Coach Marcus Weaver from the YouTube channel Weav Told Me that “the mask worn by those who perceive black men and women as “bossy” or “very aggressive,” are hiding their true feelings of prejudice.”

However, he added: “We cannot control what is in the minds of others…but all we can do is shed light on the stereotypes that exist, and continue to be a better version of ourselves than we were the day before.”

The next book made me realise how many different aspects to explore about assertiveness. Boundaries: How To Draw a Line in Your Head, Heart and Home is one book out of an entire series in the collection.

Written by psychotherapist Jennie Miller and journalist Victoria Lambert, they’ve created a four-step programme using boundaries to firstly focus on yourself, followed by the workplace, love, and then family. Jennie was kind enough to share her thoughts with me.

JENNIE MILLER

As someone who can be assertive in many respects but still finds it challenging to say no, I was immediately intrigued by Boundaries.

Miller and Lambert refer to the Drama Triangle which we create in our heads setting out the roles of persecutor, rescuer, and victim in ourselves.

We might be telling ourselves “only I can help”, or “I know what you need to do”, or “it’s all too much”.

They recommend to switch to a Winner’s Triangle mindset, turning persecutor into assertive, rescuer in to caring mode, and victim in to vulnerability which isn’t a dirty word as some may believe.

So they suggest that it is vital to set self-boundaries before tackling boundaries with others.

Similarly, in the workplace, establishing healthy boundaries is key to work–life balance, including the people that you choose to become friends with outside of work.

In terms of relationships, setting a self-boundary is knowing how much to give to another while maintaining care for yourself.

Within families, they say our need for a fantasy family weakens our ability to create a real one, ditching your preconceptions about what parenting should be like hence having the ability to say no.

Seattle counsellor Sarri Gilman reiterates this point in her 2015 TED talk. Here she explains why boundary-setting begins with better self-care.

SARRI GILMAN

The third book we’re exploring is James and Claudia Azula Altucher’s book The Power of No.

James Altucher was an entrepreneur as well as chess master-turned writer, whilst Claudia is a yoga practitioner. He changed direction after having a bit of a breakdown from 17 failed projects.

However he realised, saying no to the things that was causing him harm allowed him to say yes to the things that were helpful. Here’s what he had to say at a 2015 Ted Talk in San Diego.

JAMES ALTUCHER

One of the points the Altuchers make is to choose life. By saying no to bad habits and relationships, you abstain from things that could potentially harm you and surround yourself with better people.

To start they ask you to make a list of your inner circle who you interact with more than five times a week and focus on who scores an eight or higher in terms of how they make you feel.

Other tips include saying no to other people’s expectations allows you to be empowered and follow your dreams, they also recommend a gratitude diet to focus on the good in order to be better equipped to say yes to yourself.

So yes, it is a bit off topic in terms of being generally assertive, but apparently it’ll give you the foundation to be able to request what you don’t want. In the end, you have a right to request, but the other party has a right to deny.

So to sum up:

The Art of Saying No is about being assertive through the use of saying no, and why it’s important not to be a people pleaser or a doormat

Boundaries is about tackling self boundaries before learning to set barriers with others such as in the workspace or with loved ones.

And The Power of No is actually about saying yes to yourself by ensuring you have the right people around you, you have gratitude for what you do have, and knowing what it is you want in your life.

As a child of the 90s, it’s only fitting I end with a Harry Potter reference. There’s a scene of assertiveness that I love in which Harry takes the Felix Felices potion better known as liquid luck in order to gain the truth from a professor named Horace Slughorn, who had vital information about Lord Voldermort. Somehow the dark Lord had been able to survive and it was up to Harry to find out how. Here it is:

HARRY POTTER

So sometimes it is about being brave, being brave to stand up for your rights, say no to the things that violate your fundamental ethics, and yes to the things that help you nurture your needs.

I write a gratitude diary everyday, surround myself with a small, tight-knit great set of people, and try and only accept the projects that I know I can handle. How about you?

If you enjoyed this, please hit subscribe!

Published by suswatibasu

Suswati Basu is a writer, journalist, producer and feminist activist residing in London. She has written for the Guardian, Huffington Post and the F-Word blogs, and has worked for various media outlets such as the BBC, Channel 4 and for ITV News/ITN. She currently works as a senior intelligence expert.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: