Stop Saying ‘Yes’ When You Really Mean ‘No’

5 tips to help you become more assertive.

For the third consecutive year, you’ve been persuaded to chair the annual pledge drive at your son’s school, even though it’s a burden you lack the time for. At work, you’ve agreed to a supervisor’s request that you work nights and weekends for three full months, although your family already complains about your heavy schedule.

Sound familiar? Are others coercing you into thinking and acting their way?
If so, then you need to develop your assertiveness.

Assertiveness is the ability to articulate your wants and needs without infringing on or violating the rights of others. It is a direct, open and honest form of communication. A lack of assertiveness is one definitive reason why conflict so often occurs in relationships. But done right, assertiveness enhances esteem and is appropriately expressive. It lets you stop saying Yes when you really mean No.

Need to boost your assertiveness? Follow these five techniques and start asserting yourself today:

  • Be specific about what you think, feel and want. Explain precisely what you mean — and don’t mean. For example, here’s an assertively specific statement: “I don’t want to sever our relationship over this; instead, I’d like to talk it through, so we can prevent this from happening again.”
  • Be direct. Deliver your message only to the person for whom it’s intended. Never use an intermediary.
  • Develop assertive body language. Maintain direct eye contact, stand or sit with good posture, and speak in a way that is clear, audible and firm. If you need practice, try asserting yourself in front of a mirror until you feel comfortable.
  • Seek feedback. Ask the other person for their perspective, too; this will open the door for them to correct any misunderstandings or misinterpretations. Seeking feedback also demonstrates that you are simply expressing yourself, not making a demand. Questions to effectively seek feedback may include: “Am I being clear?” and “What’s your view of this situation?”
  • Aim for a workable compromise. When your interests are in direct conflict with another’s, a compromise that totally satisfies both sides may be impossible. Instead, seek a solution that is reasonably appealing to all those involved – at least for now. Then review the solution after a specified period of time, whether that’s a week, month or year.

Some people believe that assertiveness turns otherwise “nice” people into irascible and conniving manipulators. Nothing could be further from the truth. Assertiveness is about expressing your honest feelings and wishes, not manipulating or controlling others.

What’s more, asserting yourself does not guarantee fair treatment by others; nor does it mean you will always get what you want. But by asserting yourself, you can start saying Yes only when you mean it — and start adding a judicious No to your assertiveness vocabulary.


Joe Wegmann is a licensed clinical social worker and a clinical pharmacist with over 30 years of experience in counseling and medication treatment of depression and anxiety. Joe’s new book, Psychopharmacology: Straight Talk on Mental Health Medications is available at To learn more about Joe’s programs or to contribute a question for Joe to answer in a future article, visit his website at, or e-mail him at