A nice lady who sat beside me on a plane narrated her life after learning that I’m a practicing psychiatrist.

“I can’t say ‘no.’ That’s my problem for years. I‘m now 68 years old and I still try to please everyone except myself. I feel guilty if I say ‘no.’ I should have seen a psychiatrist earlier in my life.”

Honestly, I feel bad for her. She says “yes” to everyone except to herself. She’s too busy pleasing everyone and has suffered from it. Because she can’t say “no,” people have taken advantage of her. Since she can’t decide for herself, someone has to decide for her.

What is assertiveness?

Assertiveness is saying what you want in a polite way, without hurting anyone. To get a clear understanding of what it is, I’ll also tell you what it is not. Asserting oneself is not being passive or being aggressive.

On one hand, being passive is a state of inaction and indecision, letting others run one’s life despite hurt feelings. A typical example is a person who can’t say “no” to the demands of her in-laws. On the other hand, being aggressive is an offensive action where one hurts the feelings of others. Through force, fear, confrontation, and intimidation, this individual imposes himself or herself on others.

Being passive and aggressive is counterproductive. It destroys rather than build. It saps all positive energies. Being assertive is the best approach to life’s tricky issues.

What are the five ways to assert yourself?

Know where you stand

Before you can effectively assert yourself, know where you stand.

Ask these questions before you say “yes” or “no” to people’s demands. What do you like? What makes you feel comfortable? What pleases you? What’s your priority? What would you like to happen? What will make you happy?

In other words, know who you are and what you stand for. A “yes” or “no” answer is not as simple as what we think it is. Your “yes” or “no” can be a life-changing event. So take it seriously and make sure that your response should come from the heart.

Create a pleasant atmosphere

Before saying anything, try to establish rapport. Talk about positive things as much as possible. Share common interests, hobbies, and recreational activities. Talk about children, family, movies, or even love life. Say something good about the person. No doubt, such simple gesture can melt one’s heart.

Even the weather or traffic can be a good connecting point. Use any topic the other person can relate to.

In short, create the desired atmosphere before you say the right things. Anything you say can thrive if you make others happy. Make the situation pleasant and conducive for change to occur. Make it easy for others to accept your suggestions or decisions.

Say what you want

After establishing a conducive atmosphere, say what you want in a clear, firm voice. Don’t stammer and appear unsure. Show an aura of confidence. Be true to yourself.

Begin your statement with “I” followed by active verbs such as choose, prefer, think, decide, like, or request and then followed by what you want. For example, a friend invites you to a party, you can say, “I’d prefer to stay home. Thanks anyway.” Never say “you” if you don’t want to put the person on a defensive.

Be firm with your decision

After saying what you want, be firm. Stick with your decision. Don’t be swayed by sharp arguments, subtle bribery, deceiving charisma, sweet promises, or warm friendship.

Let them hear your voice. Let them respect you. Show them that you actually count. By listening and accepting your decision, they can prove to you that you’re just being you.

You are entitled to say “No”

Say what you want without making excuses or justification. And never feel guilty. Remember, you are entitled to say “no.” You deserve to be heard. Your feelings and choices need to be valued.

Your “no” is just as important as your “yes.” Don’t let anyone take this privilege away from you. This is your birthright. Your yeses and nos simply represent your uniqueness. By saying exactly what you feel and want, you are showing who you are.

Author's Bio: 

Copyright © 2007. Dr. Michael G. Rayel – author (A 31-Day Series and First Aid to Mental Illness) psychiatrist, and inventor of emotional intelligence games -- The Oikos Game Series and The CEO. Since 2005, he has published Oikos’ Insights! (www.oikosinsights.com
) as an online resource for personal development. For more information, visit www.oikosglobal.com.