Mental Podcast Show

Assertive Communication Skills

Last month’s blog, Assertive Beliefs, encouraged increasing your belief that you have the right to be assertive. Keep working on this as you begin learning about assertive communication skills.

Anyone experiencing partner abuse should always assess the risk of being assertive with them. If you can’t, you will have them for use with others. Lack of safety confirms that their behavior is abnormal.

This assertive communication skills series begins with two self-defining skills: assertive request (asking for what you want) and assertive refusal (saying no). Their use expresses our individuality. This article describes each, identifies steps in using them, and observes barriers that hinder their use. It ends with a handout containing practice exercises and specific assertive beliefs that support making requests and refusals.

It is normal to feel vulnerable when first learning to use these or later skills. Courage is feeling afraid but practicing anyway with safe people.

Assertive Requests

We are responsible for identifying our needs and wants. Requests involve asking for them, while recognizing others have the right to refuse. None of us always obtains everything we want, but we are likely to receive more when we ask. Repressing what we want in favor of what others want depletes us and can contribute to physical ailments.


Assertive requests consist of one step: asking a question. Asking shows you’re expecting a reply. While statements can be okay with some people, requests are better if you’re unsure. Those who do not answer requests demonstrate a lack of respect, and you’ll learn how to handle that in future articles.       

Assertive Requests

There are two types of requests:

Those asking for a behavioral response (for someone to do or stop doing something.) Examples: “Could you pick up milk on your way home, please?” “Would you reply to my request, so I know you heard me?” 

Those asking for a verbal response (to clarify information). Examples: “Could you repeat what you said?” or “Why are you asking me to go to the movie again when I already gave you an answer?”


You may think others should know your needs, especially those closest to you. This assumes they can read your mind, and it often results in disappointment.

You may believe that asking for what you want devalues the response. When people honor your request, it means they respect you and care enough to grant it.  

Reluctance to make requests may come from experiencing frequent refusal or disregard from significant others. The pain of suffering more disappointment or abuse may inhibit trying again.

Coercive controllers often accuse their partners of selfishness or lash out with physical abuse. You may believe what they say. This results in feeling vulnerable about asking, even with people who are not abusive.  

If you grew up in a family that discouraged requests, discomfort arises when you ask. This often results in giving in to what others want.

If you experience any of these barriers, awareness is the first step in change. It takes time to overcome their power over you. You are courageous for working on assertive communication skills.

Assertive Refusal

We have the right to refuse a request without justifying ourselves. Replying “no” establishes our needs as priorities. We feel coerced when saying no is punished emotionally or physically. If we can’t say no, then we can’t truly say yes either.

Steps of Assertive Refusal

 The steps for Assertive Refusal are:

Start with “no” as the first word. This gives a clear message right from the start. Example: “No, I’m not able to give you a ride.”   

Optional: You may give a problem-solving suggestion if that’s reasonable. For instance, “No, I can’t help you out. Perhaps you could take the bus.” However, be careful you refrain from the trap of taking responsibility for solving their problem.

Optional: You may give a reason for your refusal, but make sure it’s not an excuse. Reasons leave no room for argument though unreasonable people try. Example: “No, I must go home as soon as possible today.”  If it’s hard for you to decide between reason and excuse, give a simple “no.”

Barriers to Assertive Refusal Assertive Refusal

You may feel uncomfortable not saying “I’m sorry” with a refusal. Those are polite code words that indicate good will toward the person requesting. The words are not included in my examples because many times people’s “sorry” is attached to feeling responsible and guilty, instead of being a polite form of conversation. Consider what is true for you when you use the phrase.

You may experience trouble saying no because you fear it will hurt someone’s feelings. But when you say yes against your better judgment, you are not being loyal to yourself. This may result in resentment or unhappiness.

You weren’t allowed to say “no” in childhood or a relationship, so you leave out the word “no” because you feel uncomfortable with it. This may result in your “no” being watered down and less effective.     

If you learned you had to justify yourself, you give excuses for saying no. Excuses leave room for others to solve the issue. (E.g., “I can’t drive because I don’t have enough gas.”) You owe nothing beyond a “yes” or “no.”

Fear of verbal or physical abuse from a coercive partner limits the use of refusal as well as other self-defining skills. This can lead to difficulty refusing anyone.  

Saying no is necessary assertive communication skill. It’s another aspect of making yourself known to others. Look for people who have overcome these barriers and who model being able to say no.

Stepping Into Yourself

Find practice exercises in this Self-defining Skills: Assertive & Refusal handout. It will repeat the steps so that they are handy. Give yourself credit for your successes in using them, even partial ones. They indicate you’re learning.

If someone close to you dislikes your assertiveness, I call that a “change back” response. This means your changes result in them changing their response and they are resisting that. View this as a sign of your success. Those who have your best interests at heart will adjust.

As always, when interacting with someone who has been abusive, consider the risk when choosing what you say. Refrain from blaming yourself when it isn’t safe to be assertive. This roadblock to adopting new behavior will highlight your predicament, causing grief. However, grieving opens the door to exploring what you want, considering this unpleasant reality.

Practice the assertive beliefs that support using these two skills.

The post ASSERTIVE COMMUNICATION SKILLS: REQUEST AND REFUSAL first appeared on Madison Mental Health Counselor.

The post ASSERTIVE COMMUNICATION SKILLS: REQUEST AND REFUSAL appeared first on Madison Mental Health Counselor.

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