Trouble saying ‘NO’? 10 Rules of Assertiveness

Before we go down this path (I can just hear the mothers-in-law wailing in the background, “When has my son become so assertive?” 🙂 ), let’s first try to define the concept we’re talking about.

So, what is assertiveness? No, I don’t think being brash and selfish qualifies.  No, assertiveness is not veiled verbal aggression or aloofness, even though there are some people out there who use them interchangeably. And even the purely nominal definition found in the dictionary describes assertive as “confidently aggressive or self-assured; dogmatic”; in other words, what is implied here is a degree of comparison: a “too much” of something.

Sure, some people are naturally cocky. They don’t need the extra assertiveness. However: the assertiveness I want to talk about is that decent and polite firmness shy people can exercise in order to avoid being constantly stomped on. Being pushed around indefinitely can lead to depression, frustration, anger and even revenge. Thus, assertiveness is actually an antidote and a deterrent for violence.

Assertiveness is the  honest and open expression of both positive and negative feelings, with the purpose of affirming and upholding one’s opinions, needs, attitudes and rights in situations where this is necessary, and without violating the rights of others.  The assertiveness I want to talk about is gracious and well-behaved but it helps us avoid drowning in emotional blackmail and guilt, or being trapped inside the hamster wheel of always pleasing others. Nobody wants to be rejected, to hurt their loved ones, so quite a few people completely give up on themselves with sometimes disastrous effects.

Smarter people than I have come up with the following 10 rules of assertiveness. What do you think?

1. I have the right to take stock of my own behavior, my thoughts and emotions and to take responsibility for them and their consequences.

2. I have the right to not (always) offer excuses or justifications for my behavior. (I don’t have the right to be selfish and egocentric, but I also don’t have to feel constantly compelled to explain and justify the reasons behind every action.)

3. I have the right to consider whether I am really responsible for other people’s problems and whether it is my responsibility to come up with solutions to those problems. (Again, this is not to say we don’t help each other out when help is requested but beware when people use guilt to export problems we have neither caused nor can fix.)

4. I have the right to change my mind about something (with good reason, obviously).

5. I have the right to make mistakes and take responsibility for them. (Again, not a license to wreak havoc; it refers to honest mistakes as long as we learn from them and face the consequences.)

6. I have the right to say “I DON’T KNOW”. (Ever feel pressured to look and act omniscient?)

7. I have the right to act independently of the goodwill somebody bestowed upon me without me having asked for it. (To avoid being manipulated by self-serving displays of generosity.)

8. I have the right to be illogical in my emotional decisions. (I had decided earlier I want to do the laundry but now a very good friend has invited me out – so I go out and put off the laundry for later. We are, after all, spontaneous human beings, not inflexible pre-programmed robots.)

9. I have the right to say “I DON’T UNDERSTAND”.

10. I have the right to say “THIS IS NONE OF MY BUSINESS”. (Only for people who can’t set any boundaries in their relationships with others, who can’t bring themselves to turn anybody down and end up crushed under a heap of responsibilities. You don’t have to say this out loud. It also helps if you say it to yourself every once in a while 😉 )

Sure, your counterpart might not take your newly found assertiveness well. You have to be ready to deal with that. Assertive people respect other people’s dignity and assertiveness too. They speak in the first person, give specific feedback, use non-violent language, confront uncomfortable situations right away and make sure their verbal message is in sync with their body language and with their non-verbal cues, because they are honest.

Remember: honesty leads to credibility! The brain processes non-verbal cues (tone and pitch of voice, body language, eye contact, etc.) faster than verbal ones. If your words are at odds with your actions, people will always believe the latter over the former.

So be true! Be a good-hearted soul and a smart communicator!

Until next time,


(source: S. Grosu, Psychotherapist)




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