Changepower

Secrets to habit change

Speak Up! 18 All-Purpose Assertive Phrases

Need a quick way to be assertive? Try these magic words.

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When you sense that someone is about to impose on you, and you have that “deer-in-headlights” feeling, there’s nothing like having a mental collection of all-purpose assertive phrases from which to pick and choose.  In my last blog, I offered a few, including my personal favorite, “No, I’m just not comfortable with that.”  I’ve relied on that helpful sentence so much that I just might carve it onto my tombstone. 

But wait! There’s more. Inspired by my readers, friends, and experts, here are more statements to memorize and resort to when the occasion arises.  To get the most from this blog, first think of a common situation in which your goal is to speak up.  Then, as you read the phrases below, try each one on for size.  Is there one that fits?

All of the statements below are basic assertions--short statements that communicate a quick “no” or “yes” to the other person. (For an instant course in Assertiveness 101, see this blog.) Although basic assertions could come across as overly business-like or brusque, they don’t violate the other person’s rights or disrespect him or her.  Assuming you use a firm, respectful tone of voice and appropriate body language, no one will mistake you for Doc Martin.

Each statement below briefly acknowledges the other person, then proceeds to a statement of your own wants, feelings, or ideas.  These are conversation-enders--a fast way to save you time, money, and/or self-respect. 

The following basic assertions could be described as "thanks, but..." statements:

  • “Thanks, but I’m not interested.” 
  • “Thanks, but I can’t make that a priority right now.”
  • “Thanks, but I need some time to myself right now."
  • "Thanks, but no thanks."  (A classic!)
  • “No thanks.” As reader Kristie pointed out in "Comments" on the previous blog, it’s not necessary to give a reason—only a smile.

Slightly more empathic are these more elaborate "thanks, but..." statements:

  • "Thanks for thinking of me, but I think I'll pass on this one."
  • "Thanks for keeping me in the loop, but I can't make it this time."
  • "Thank you for sharing, but I'd like to hear from other people in the group."
  • “I appreciate that you enjoy doing _____, but it’s really not my scene.”  (Thanks to reader TT for this cool phrase!)

Notice that the phrase, "Thanks, but..." could be used to provide a dash of empathy before almost any assertive statement. 

Statements that can buy you a little time include these:

  • "I'll think about it and get back to you."
  • "I just don't know.  Mind if I think about it for a while?"
  • "This is so important, and I can't give it the time it deserves right now.  Can we make an appointment to talk?"

Then there are brief “I” statements—a sharing of your thoughts, feelings, wants, or opinions:

  • “I didn’t appreciate ____ (what you did, your tone of voice).”
  • “I appreciated ____.”  (Yes, assertiveness can be used to express your positive feelings in a situation.) 
  • “I disagree with you. I see the situation this way.”
  • “I would like you to respect my point of view.”
  • "I feel offended by your remark."

Certain situations call for a policy statement. In a policy statement, you simply express your core beliefs about an issue:

  • “My policy is ____ (not to have sex without a condom, not to lend out my car, to pay back money I owe, etc.).”  It's hard to argue with a policy statement. It's your policy!

The statements above supply a quick response when you need one.  But with a romantic partner, a best friend, an important colleague, or a child, for example, your goal is often deeper communication and closeness, not saving time.  In these cases, you will need time, space, good listening skills, and skillful assertiveness.  On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes you need a little "black belt assertiveness" when a person is overly pushy or downright disrespectful.  Future blogs will provide guidelines for these situations.

Have you found the right phrase for your target situation?  If not, I hope you at least have some ideas for creating your own.  Or tell us about your situation in “Comments” and see if other readers can help you out! 

(c) Meg Selig, 2012

If you enjoyed this blog, you might also like 9 Essential Habits of Sexual Assertiveness or "13 Ways to Make Saying No Easier," by Susan Newman.

Meg Selig is the author of Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success (Routledge, 2009). For more on habit change, healthy living, and willpower, follow her on Facebook and/or Twitter.

Meg Selig is the author of Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success.

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