‘Frank, I can’t babysit for you. What about asking your sister?’ Wrong. As soon as you feel obliged to help Frank solve his problem you remain one of the possible solutions. You might even be the best solution. Or the only solution. In which case, you have painted yourself into a corner. By trying to solve Frank’s problem you look bad when the solution becomes you, and you refuse to comply.
Simply: you have the right to say no without having to solve the other person’s problem. You are not obliged to find a solution.
If you happen to know someone who might babysit, then you might like to give Frank the person’s telephone number, but you are not obliged to do so. You don’t have to solve Frank’s problem just because you can’t help him yourself.
Sue: ‘Can you help me with my homework, please?’
You: ‘Can’t you ask your brother?’ Incorrect. If you attempt to solve the problem there will be more pressure on you to be the solution.
You: ‘I have other plans.’ (That’s okay, but remember, you are not obliged to give a reason. If you like, simply say, ‘No.’)
Sue: ‘What other plans?’
You: ‘Instead of asking me about my plans, how about finding a solution to your problem?’ (Good answer, because you have avoided justifying yourself, you have told her the problem is hers to solve, and you have held your ground.)
Mick: ‘Sorry for the short notice, but we need you to babysit for us.’
You: ‘I can’t tonight. I’m going to a party.’ Good. You did not try to solve Mick’s problem. (In this instance you are happy to give a reason, and that’s fine. You are explaining out of courtesy, not because you feel the need to justify your refusal.)
Mick: ‘But my wife and I are needed at the business, badly.’
You: ‘Why not ask your mother?’ Incorrect. Don’t try to solve his problem – it gives him an opportunity to strengthen his case and make you the solution. Try instead:
You: ‘I understand that you need me to baby sit, and I’m going to a party.’ (That’s good. You have shown you understand his point of view, and remain focused on your intent.)
Mick: ‘It’s just a party. There will be others. Tonight is extremely important for us.’
(Now you wish you hadn’t mentioned the party and had instead said only, ’I have other plans.’)
You: ’Yes, it is just a party, and yes there will be others. I’m going to this one.’ (Good, you have acknowledged his points but held your ground. You have clung to the mast. You have focused on what needs to happen.)
Man: ‘You have always been so reliable.’ (That’s manipulative!)
You: ‘Yes, I have been reliable, and now I’m going to a party.’ (Good. You have acknowledged what he is saying and continued to cling to the mast.)
Man: ‘I’m asking for a special favour. We need you.’
You could increase your babysitting rates to the point where you are pleased to miss the party. That’s assertively negotiating a fair solution. But in this instance you choose to not do that.
You: ‘I understand you need me, but I’m going to the party.’
You might feel guilty, but a big part of you will be pleased and impressed with yourself. Perhaps next time Mick will give you more notice, or ensure he has a back up plan. He certainly won’t take you for granted in future. He might resent you, but that’s his choice. He might even respect you more.
Q. ‘Mark, isn’t it right that I put myself out occasionally? To avoid becoming selfish?’
Yes, it is good for us to put ourselves out sometimes, but it must be a fair decision. If we feel compelled to help out then we are on a path to powerlessness, resentment and despair. But if we have the capacity to say ‘no’ then we won’t feel weak, or bitter. We retain our inner authority.
Q. ‘You say we shouldn’t try to solve their problems. But what if I think of a good idea that might solve their problem?’
You can make a suggestion if you think the person hasn’t already thought of it. But until your assertiveness skills are sharp, resist the urge to solve their problems. Assertively negotiating a fair compromise (such as increasing your rates) is fine.
‘I’ll help you train, provided you fit in with my schedule.’
‘I’ll help you with your project, if you drive me home afterwards.’
‘I’ll babysit until 10pm. Then you can pay for my taxi to the party. If you are not home by 10pm my rates jump to $X per hour, and part thereof. And you pay for the taxi.’
That’s not to suggest you need compensation or a favour in return, but sometimes a compromise is necessary for both parties to feel good about themselves afterwards.
Which is the correct answer?
Kerry: ‘Can you give me a lift to the airport, please?’
You: ‘No, I can’t.’ OR, ‘No, ask someone else.’
Kerry: ‘I can’t get a taxi.’
You: ‘Have you tried?’ OR ‘Even so, I won’t be taking you.’
Kerry: ‘I’ll miss the plane if you don’t give me a lift.’
You: ‘Why not ask your mother?’ OR ‘I’m not taking you.’
Kerry: ‘How am I going to get there if you don’t drive me?’
You: ‘I don’t know, but I won’t be taking you.’ OR ‘You’ll find a way.’
Kerry: ‘Look, I’m desperate.’
You: ‘Why didn’t you plan this properly?’ OR ‘I won’t be taking you.’
Instead of deviating from your message, and risking being caught in a debate, you stuck to your message and held on. You clung to the mast.
Q. ‘Mark, you seem to be suggesting that we be harsh and unhelpful.’
Put yourself out sometimes, but ensure you haven’t been pressured into helping out. The idea of becoming assertive is not to make us selfish, it’s to help us make the right decision.