Saying yes, Saying No (Assertiveness Part 1)

If you’re just the girl who can’t say “no” or the manager who can’t say “yes” – are you happy with your situation?  Do you feel powerless to take control?

Maybe you always say “yes” to people when they ask you to do things, regardless whether you want to, feel capable of doing them, or are willing to do them.  You might feel taken for granted, put upon, resentful or virtuously martyred.  If you’re a ‘no merchant’, perhaps you feel equally put upon by unreasonable requests, misunderstood, or frustrated by other people’s constant dependence on you.

If you think you can’t do anything about it, or you won’t do anything because the consequences are too serious, you can do something.  You have the personal power to take a different approach.  You can take small actions that will have a big impact on your performance.

So, where do you start?  That’s simple, you start with yourself.  Identify the impact saying “yes” is having on you, and the other person.  Here’s an example:

Every time I’m asked to take on additional work, I say “Yes”.  It doesn’t matter how much I’ve got on.  I stay late to get it done, and there’s a row when I get home.  Not only that, but I never seem to be able to catch up, and my boss is constantly on my case about missing deadlines.  Even worse, that slacker in the corner never gets asked to do anything, because everyone knows he doesn’t pull his weight, and nothing is ever done about it.  It’s not fair.

If you say “Yes” to the additional work, what are you saying “No” to? Getting home at a reasonable hour? Doing the work to the best possible standard rather than rushing it to finish on time?  Explaining to your boss what it’s doing to you (maybe he’s not psychic)? Feeling proud of your performance?  Letting others down?

Similarly, if you say “No” to everything, what are you saying “Yes” to?  Are you cutting yourself off from others?  Do you take the burden on yourself and not explain the reasons for your refusal?  Do you think the others aren’t capable of understanding or completing the task?  Are you afraid to challenge the rules?  Do you just like the power?

Get a sheet of paper, and list the consequences of your behaviour.  This clarifies what you want.  A great starting point, but it’s not the end.  Once you know what you want, how do you go about getting it?  You may have tried to talk it through before without success, had a huge row, or felt that bringing the topic up just made the situation worse.

The next step involves that difficult conversation.  You want to make your point without being aggressive.  You need assertiveness without anger, but it can be very hard to achieve when emotions run high.  Being assertive is about standing up for your rights, while respecting the rights of others.

This is a big topic, so for today, let’s keep the focus on ‘Saying Yes and Saying No’.  Complete your sheet identifying the impact this behaviour is having on you.  Highlight the areas where you want to take action.  For some of you, simply doing the exercise will be enough for you to make the change you want.  For others, being assertive is a challenge, and you may not feel ready to take the next step.  This approach is about making small changes to have a big impact.  Part two of this blog will help you prepare to be assertive in way that is positive for you, the other person, AND the relationship.

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