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Overcoming difficulties in communication and saying “No”

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A lot of problems in communication happen because people aren’t really listening to what another person is trying to say, or they don’t try very hard to understand them. Part of being assertive is listening to what people have to say and doing your best to understand them before jumping to conclusions about what they feel, think or want.

Some common communication roadblocks include:

  • Moralistic judgments
    Moralist judgments are the types of statements that increase defensiveness and resistance. (e.g.: “You’re lazy and self-centred.”) Or, they might indirectly push the individual to act in harmony with our values/views out of fear, shame or guilt. Moralistic judgments can also block someone’s effort to fully express their values and needs, which would inevitably lead to more frustration and disconnection.
  • Making comparisons
    Another form of judgment is the use of comparisons. (e.g.: “My friend’s partner is a better listener than you.”) Instead of getting in touch with and voicing what we want or need, we use comparisons to communicate what is wrong with others or ourselves. 
  • Denial of responsibility
    This type of communication is disempowering to the self and others as it denies personal responsibility for our thoughts, feelings and actions. (e.g.: “You make me feel guilty.”)

Setting boundaries and saying no
People with difficulty asserting themselves usually have a hard time saying “no.” Saying no is a very important aspect of setting boundaries, so learning to say it is an important skill.

In order to say no more often, people need to challenge their beliefs about what it means to say it and then practise doing it. Many people who have trouble saying no, believe that saying no is:

  • Unhelpful
  • Rude
  • Mean
  • Selfish
  • Not how friends behave
  • Being difficult
  • Being “unreasonable”
  • Causing a problem for the other person
  • Not an option

None of those are true. Saying no can just mean that you’re standing tall and taking responsibility for how you feel and what you want/need.

Part of being assertive is listening to what people have to say and doing your best to understand them before jumping to conclusions about what they feel, think or want.

Stronger Minds content is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to establish a standard of care with a reader, you should always seek the advice of your mental health professional, physician or other qualified health provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical or mental health condition. If you think you may have a medical or mental health emergency, call your doctor, go to the nearest hospital emergency department, or call emergency services immediately. You should never disregard or delay seeking medical advice relating to treatment or standard of care because of information contained herein. Medical information changes constantly. Therefore the information herein should not be considered current, complete or exhaustive, nor should you rely on such information to recommend a course of treatment for you or any other individual. Reliance on any information provided herein is solely at your own risk.