Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Speak Up! 18 All-Purpose Assertive Phrases

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

Image by Maxpixel, CC0.
"Let me spell it out for you..."
Source: Image by Maxpixel, CC0.

When you sense that someone is about to manipulate you, violate your boundaries, or confront you with a "Big Ask," there’s nothing like having a mental collection of all-purpose assertive phrases from which to pick and choose.

In my last blog post, 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 post, first think of a common situation in which your goal is to speak up. 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 post.) Although basic assertions could come across as overly businesslike or brusque, they don’t violate the other person’s rights or disrespect him or her. Just use a firm, respectful tone of voice and appropriate body language.

Many of the statements below are conversation-enders—a fast way to save you time, money, or self-respect.

The simplest, and maybe the best, basic assertion is:

  • "No." Or, for a little more emphasis...
  • "No. Just no."

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 blog posts will provide guidelines for these situations.

Have you found the right phrase for your target situation? If not, I hope you've gained some ideas for creating a statement that will work for you.

(c) Meg Selig, 2012.

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

More from Meg Selig
More from Psychology Today
More from Meg Selig
More from Psychology Today