Assertive Communication – The Art of Saying “No” in the workplace By Violet Dhu

Learning to say “No” plays an important role in maintaining a healthy workplace and is part of good communication. You need to be able to say no in a confident and assertive manner and not in an aggressive communication style.

Communication is the essence and the lifeline of every workplace. If the communication is ineffective or poor, then the workplace is likely to be poor or toxic. Understanding assertive communication skills is one of the keys to effective communication in the workplace. One of the challenges for busy workplaces is dealing with the various day to day pressures that may arise from office situations. It is always a challenge to get messages across clearly and accurately. Saying no to requests, is a challenge for both employees and supervisors.

From the employee’s perspective, it is important to remember that it is not always appropriate to say yes in the workplace. It is important to make a considered decision rather than reacting or just saying yes because it is easier to agree. Saying yes all the time can result in unrealistic expectations being placed on you and pressure for you to complete more tasks than you are able to.

If your supervisor assigned a project or a task to you on top of your current busy workload how would you handle the situation? Would you be able to say no assertively, or would you default to a yes, because it was expected of you?

One of the risks as a hard worker or a high achiever is that you get asked to do more and more and it becomes too much. You become stressed and your work life balance suffers. It is your responsibility to manage your work life balance to minimise the risk of burnout and workplace accidents. Before saying yes, first evaluate the situation as there may be practical reason why you need to turn down a request and say no.

How to make the assessment whether to say No in an assertive communication style

  1. Know what your current workload is, your list off current projects or assignments. Then you can see if the new request fits within your existing commitments and available capacity.
  2. Find out what the Supervisor’s request is by listening and asking questions to understand what the expectations are. Are they realistic? It is important to assess whether you have the time and the resources and skills to get the job done correctly, efficiently and in a timely manner.
  3. If saying yes will overload you, but your supervisor expects you to say yes, then ask your supervisor which tasks they want you to drop off or delay. This is a way of saying yes, but with conditions that help you not to get overloaded. It will also remind your boss of the current workload and outstanding tasks you are still working on.

An immediate, blunt and unqualified “NO” to a request from your supervisor, may be seen as aggressive and negative. Assess the request first, assess your situation and say no assertively if required.

If your organisation would like to learn more effective group communication skills, we have an upcoming workshop on Assertive Communication Skills on 7 August.

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