Being asked to do favours and to help people out is just a part of everyday life. Whilst being able to decline requests if they’re too inconvenient isn’t a problem for most, if you’re socially anxious then being able to say ‘No’ is fraught with hazards. The trick is knowing how to be fair to yourself in assessing whether to do the favour, and then being assertive in how you respond.
Being assertive is simply being able to voice your own opinions and feelings firmly so that they’re considered fairly by other people. If you suffer from social anxiety then this can be easier said then done because of the fear of displeasing people and being rejected if you don’t fulfil their demands.
Rather than risk being viewed negatively as selfish or unhelpful, you can feel forced into saying ‘Yes’ even when you think a request is an unreasonable drain on your time and energy.
Avoid the unhelpful extremes of passivity or aggression
The problem with being too passive and always fitting in with what others want is that some people will take advantage of your desire to ‘always be nice’ and will simply heap greater demands on you. This in turn will lead to you getting mad with yourself because you’ll feel that you’re constantly running around at other people’s beck and call.
The other extreme is to respond aggressively to unreasonable demands in the false notion that anger equates to strength. When you’re behaving aggressively you lose the ability to think or act rationally, making it even harder to express why you think the request is unfair.
Raising your voice and trying to be intimidating can also have the reverse effect of making other people become aggressive themselves, and the situation deteriorate into the sort of ugly confrontation you’d normally be desperate to avoid.
Relying on anger to protect yourself against unreasonable demands is not how to make friends or influence people.
Assertiveness is about being balanced
As with overcoming many of the problems associated with social anxiety, being assertive is all about being balanced in your thinking and behaviour, and staying away from the extremes of passivity or aggression.
Whether you’re asked to cover for someone at work, lend people money or run errands for them, when people make demands you need to objectively assess the fairness of the request being made. Your feelings, opinions and time are just as important as everybody else’s, so you need to consider whether the requests being made of you are fair. Would you feel comfortable asking someone else to do the same thing?
If after assessing the request and you think it’s unreasonable, because of a high personal cost in terms of time and energy, then in order to be fair to yourself you have to be able to say ‘No’. As long as you’re fair and objective, saying ‘No’ doesn’t mean your selfish or uncaring.
However, actually being able to say ‘No’ presents many challenges in itself. I’ll be offering advice on developing assertiveness skills so people accept your decision in my next article.
Being assertive isn’t about winning, but about getting your point across and ensuring your own opinions and feelings are considered fairly, because they’re just as important as everybody else’s.