By Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD
Setting boundaries is a difficult task, but one word can make it way easier.
Being assertive and saying “no” at times are important components of self-care. Assertiveness is associated with psychological well-being and self-esteem. When people are assertive, it reflects that they value and care about themselves.
Research has shown that while assertiveness can be perceived as a trait of those who are “competent” or “skillful,” it also has the potential to be viewed as “unfavorable interpersonal behavior.”
One study found that when workers were asked about colleagues’ weaknesses, problems of assertiveness were mentioned the most frequently, sometimes more than charisma, intelligence, and self–discipline combined. Many workers thought that their colleagues were either “too assertive” or “not assertive enough.”
Whether with work, family, parenting, or friends, the ability to say no is a crucial skill, but it’s not easy to do well. Research findings consistently reiterate that it’s not that you assert yourself, it’s how you assert yourself that determines how others perceive you.
One word that lets you be assertive and kind at the same time is “but.” “But” is a counteroffer. It shows that although you are taking care of yourself, you still care deeply about the other person, including their requests and their feelings. You value the relationship.
Friends: I can’t meet you for dinner Saturday, but how about next Friday?
Work: I can’t work late tonight, but I can come in early this week for meetings.
Kids: You can’t wear shorts today, but you could wear your Superman pants or your train pants.
Family: We can’t stay for dinner, but we’d love to come for lunch and hang out all afternoon.
Kids: I can’t play catch with you right now, but I’d love to play after lunch.
Text: I can’t call you back tonight, but I will call you tomorrow morning!
Partner: I can’t repaint the bathroom because it’s the end of my work quarter, but I will paint it the week after that.
Kids: You can’t play in the basement, but you can do Play-Doh at the kitchen table.
Friends: I can’t come to your birthday happy hour, but I’d love to take you out another night to celebrate.
Kids: We can’t go to the zoo today, but we can go to the library or the park.
Work: I can’t get that report done by Thursday, but I can definitely get it in on Friday.
Family: We can’t visit for a week this year, but we would love to come for a long weekend.
Kids: You can’t go to that sleepover, but you can stay at the party until 11 p.m.
The next time you say “no,” remember (for the sake of kindness) to always includes a “but.”
Copyright Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD
Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD, author of the forthcoming book The Joy Fix for Weary Parents: 5 Core Steps to Overcome Fatigue, Guilt, and Stress and Build a Life You Love, is an individual and couples counselor in Chicago’s western suburbs www.erinleyba.com
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