How to be Assertive and say 'No'!

Learning how to be assertive is one of the most important life skills we can ever develop. It impacts hugely on our time management, particularly the quality of our work life balance.

Assertive people are skilled at knowing and saying what they want. They communicate clearly and, as a result, spend more time doing it. Less stress, better balance and improved quality of life are the rewards.

Do you want to be more assertive? You can. As I said, it’s a skill, and it’s one that anyone can improve.

How to be assertive for a better work life balance

  1. Have a reason to be
  2. Assertiveness is driven by clarity of desire. Get crystal clear about what you want, then act on it.

    Do you want more time for a hobby? To spend more time with family and friends? More quiet time for yourself? Is it simply about wanting to leave work earlier?

    To be assertive you need to know in your own mind what you want more (or less) of in your life.

  3. Decide what is reasonable
  4. Every commitment in your life would like more of your time. Unless you set limits on them, you’ll be at the mercy of whatever- or whoever - shouts the loudest.

    Rather than reacting, adopt a proactive approach. Decide what are reasonable expectations of your time at work, and then stick to them.

    Now, this is easy to say, but harder to do, particularly if your work is performance related. The temptation to work longer hours is always there, as Parkinson’s Law explains.

    There will always be more work to do. Unless you put boundaries in place and learn how to prioritize work, it will continually eat into your personal life.

    Are you unable to do your job within the reasonable time boundaries you set?

    Take a look at the way you work. Are there things you could do more efficiently? This is probably true for everyone. If so, your boundaries will be easier to establish.

  5. Learn how to say 'No'
  6. Once you establish what you want and what you’re prepared to put in, you need to make it clear to others.

    For a healthy work life balance, it’s vital to know how to be assertive by saying no to offers, requests and demands.

    This means with people and in places that we have previously been either passive (said yes, but didn’t want to) or aggressive (said no without thought for the other person’s feelings).

What happens if you do say 'Yes'?

Think of time as you would money. If you gave your money out to everyone who wanted it, what would happen? It’s the same with your time which, as a finite resource, is far more precious.

Saying ‘yes!’ is easy for all sorts of reasons, but its overuse is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to achieving a better work life balance because it comes with consequences and commitments.

Before you say yes, ask four questions to make sure you know exactly what you’re agreeing to:

  1. What would be your role and responsibility?
  2. How many minutes or hours is it likely to take? (Double this!)
  3. What will you have to not do as a result?
  4. Does it move you towards you goals or pull you further from them?

A while back I was asked to take on a ‘small but important’ project at work. Part of me wanted to say yes to it, and I very nearly did. But talking about it with my wife and asking myself the four questions led me to decide to say no to it.

Did I miss out on an opportunity? Possibly.

Did I save much time by not taking it on? Yes, probably several hours.

Am I glad I said no? Definitely.

Tip: Before you say yes, request some buffer time. This is a block of time to allow you to consider the request. It works because it prevents hasty decisions from being made in the heat of the moment.

How to say 'No'

Knowing how to be assertive means knowing how to say no.

  • Be polite but firm. People prefer this response to one that is unclear or gets their hopes and expectations up. Reduce the amounts of ‘maybes’ you mention.
  • Don’t make a habit of saying you ‘can’t’ do it. We’ve always got a choice about what we do. Instead, say that you’ve decided not to do it. If you want to offer an explanation why then do so.
  • Practice saying no. Ask a friend to help you respond to various types of requests. Obviously this could turn into a bit of fun, but it will help you develop your ability to say no, politely but firmly.

When you have to say 'Yes'

Sometimes a situation has reached a critical point to which ‘No’ would clearly be inappropriate.

If this happens, politely remind the other person of the consequences of taking this on. What gets pushed aside?

Learn how to be assertive and you will cut out many hours doing things you don’t really want to do. Your work life balance improves because you spend more time doing what you want.

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How to be Assertive