Post By: Steve Graef, PhD | Monday, March 9, 2020


There's the old adage that if you're not controlling your day, someone else is. As high performers your time can already be fairly limited and it is likely that people are in higher demand for it. As such, one obstacle high performers have to learn is how to manage their time more effectively. One way to manage one's time more effectively is learning to do less by saying “no” more. Doing so can be easier said than done, though. Many of us are people pleasers or just want to fill the day as much as possible to remain productive. For us, saying no can be particularly challenging and often we feel bad for letting down, disappointing, or coming across as harsh to others. Fret no longer. Below are five tips for taking the “ass” out of assertiveness.

Be Concise. Less is more when it comes to saying no. There is no law stating that you have to give a rationale for why you are making a decision to do or not do something. Though it may be the expectation of the other, it is not a requirement. As such, succinctly saying no can get the job done without talking yourself into a white lie or a weak argument. Be concise.

Show Conviction. Often times we can beat around the bush when saying no. This leaves open the opportunity for the other person to argue your point and convince you to go along with what they want. Not good. Instead, show a little strength. You don't have to scream your decision from the mountain top or be a prick about it. But, stating your decision in a straightforward manner shows strength. A decision communicated with strength gets argued against less. Show conviction.

Practice Courtesy. Again, just because you're saying no doesn't mean you are, or need to be, a bad person. You're simply not agreeing to do something that's being asked of you. Usually there is no crime in that. Though layering your concise, convicted response with a bit of courtesy can go a long way. For instance, starting your response with “I really appreciate the invite…”, “I know I may be perfect for this project…”, “I understand I am needed for this meet and greet…”. Demonstrating an understanding and appreciation for where the offer is coming from can help make your “no” response a little easier to digest. Practice courtesy.

Use the Clock. Despite the helpful tips above, you might still be someone that tends to commit in the moment. It's too habitual and it's too tough to say no when asked directly. That's ok, just buy yourself some time. By saying something like “let me get back to you tomorrow or later this afternoon” it gives you time to craft your deliberate response instead of just reacting in the moment. Time isn't always on our side, but in this case it is. Use the clock.

Consider Compromise. Lastly, not every request has to end with a no. Assertiveness can also mean adjusting the initial request to something that fits YOUR needs a bit more. We don't have to accept the first request. Maybe you do want to agree to do something, but only if the details are altered a bit. For instance, maybe you will help that person move if it is a little later in the day, instead of first thing in the morning. Assertiveness doesn't have to push people away, it can actually bring them closer. Consider compromise.

Conclusion. In closing, pat yourself on the back. You are someone that people want involved with. You are reliable. You are equipped. You re sought after. As such, people ask you to do things. However, if you are not careful you can be taken advantage of or start to lose the mastery and control over your own day. And it's your day that is important and is going to help lead you to your goals. Find a bit more moderation and balance in your life by learning to say no. This doesn't mean you're an ass, it just means you're assertive.