How to be verbally assertive (WISNIFG summary)

If you want to win in life, you need to be able to put your thoughts and your wishes out in a manner for people to understand, and most importantly, to be more likely to get you what you want. This is called being assertive. There are a ton of seminars, coaches, and whatever on how to make you more assertive, but you don’t need that. What you need is this blog post which is also a summary of the most famous book “When I say No, I feel guilty” by Manuel J. Smith, Ph.D.

Important Note: This post is a summary of the concepts. It will give you a (very) broad overview of the book and the principles, I still highly recommend reading the book, if it’s just for the dialogue examples in there which hammer the message home. Especially since I only cover half the book to keep the post short(-ish).

Manipulative control

The majority of people go about the things they want from other people the wrong way. Which Smith calls in the book as being “non-assertive.” We do this as parents, and thus we learn it at a young age. We are being emotionally manipulated by arbitrary rules. For example, when you do something right as a kid, mom will say, “You’re a good boy,” and in contrary, “What kind of kid would do such a thing?” when you do something wrong. This implies that there are arbitrary rules you need to follow. But they don’t really exist. What’s truly happening is that you are not behaving in a manner your Mom WANTS, but she is not expressing what she WANTS directly. She uses arbitrary rules from God, government, or society to get you to do what SHE wants without being the baddy.

This is an efficient way, but a bad methodology. Because it leaves you feeling anxious about that God, government or whoever to constantly judge your actions. This anxiety will carry right into your adulthood subconsciously.

A better way would be to say, “I know it bugs you when I make you clean your room, but it is exactly what I want you to do.”

This leaves no room for interpretation. Mom wants it. Since a parent-child relationship starts out authoritarian, this totally works. The kid knows (subconsciously or not) that you are his authority. What you want is to be done. It might not like doing it, and that is fine, but it will do it anyway. Without arbitrary rules manipulating it.

Mom assertively said what she WANTS to happen. The kid then is totally entitled to feel annoyed by this, that is okay, but Mom still wants him to do it. This teaches the harsh truth of living with other humans. And this is an important part you need to internalize. It is totally fine to clearly state what you WANT. A lot of Nice Guys have that problem. For example, if your wife tells you it is normal for sex to go down in marriage, she is manipulating you with arbitrary rules. I do not care if that is what is “normal,” I, personally, want more sex.

Smith clearly states that the anxious feelings we have in adulthood are learned experiences, forged by arbitrary rules from our parents’ emotional manipulation.

Assertive rights

These are the ten basic assertive rights that should set your mind right to understand the concept.

  • 1: You have the right to judge your own behavior, thoughts, and emotions, and to take responsibility for their initiation and consequences upon yourself.
  • 2: You have the right to offer no reasons or excuses to justify your behavior.
  • 3: You have the right to judge whether you are responsible for finding solutions to other people’s problems.
  • 4: You have the right to change your mind.
  • 5: You have the right to make mistakes – and be responsible for them.
  • 6: You have the right to say, “I don’t know.”
  • 7: You have the right to be independent of the goodwill of others before coping with them.
  • 8: You have the right to be illogical in making decisions.
  • 9: You have the right to say, “I don’t understand.”
  • 10: You have the right to say, “I don’t care.”

Note from me:

The first 60-ish pages are deeper explanations of these assertive rights, which I am not going to post completely in here. Just buy the book. I am going to explain the first one below, the others are in a similar fashion, so you understand the concept. That said, most of them are pretty self-explanatory. He explains a lot of them in contrast to the arbitrary rules you have been exposed to from childhood by parents, society, etc.

a male fashion model

Right 1: Be the judge of your own behavior

The title for the book. When a friend calls you at 5 am to drive him to the airport. “When I say No, I feel guilty” is the childhood training fighting your own desires. You obviously don’t want to, but a friend is a friend. Will he think you’re self-centered or not nice? You want to do what you want, but you’re afraid your friend might think what you do is wrong.

The best way to fix this is to realize that no one can manipulate your emotions or behavior if you do not allow that. This part is basically “Outcome Independence” I talk about in my book. Smith says, “No matter what happens to me, I can cope with it.” is the mental model you need in your head. If your friend will be mad or not, it doesn’t matter. It is YOUR decision. YOU are the judge of YOUR behavior and decisions, only you can judge what you do. Or to be precise, others CAN judge you, but ultimately it doesn’t matter, as long as your needs are met.

This way you also take responsibility for your own actions and words. Which is important. You’re not controlled by some external standard, you do your thing to your judgment and your own rules.

Note from me: Important distinction

You might be thinking, “Well, that just gives whores a ton of justification, right?” and you would be wrong. These rights are not designed to do whatever the hell you want and it is fine. It just means, IF you decide to fuck 100 men or women, that is YOUR decision to choose from. This doesn’t change the possible consequences. Hence why he added, you take the consequences upon yourself. You are aware of what your actions will do, but you’re not manipulated by some society’s rules NOT to do them if you feel like it.

Being the judge of your own actions instead of having arbitrary rules forcing your behavior brings a ton of power. But as always, great power brings great responsibility.

To put it bluntly, if your friend calls you at 5 am, you are totally fine to say No, if you really don’t want to do that right now. It is your decision, and that is fine. However, there will obviously be consequences. Some more severe, some less. Just don’t make it dependent on some arbitrary rules like you “have” to help a friend at all times.

Assertive tools

military tactical equipment
With the right tools, you will be able to conquer social dynamics no problem.

After you’ve learned about the assertive rights, you might now ask yourself how to actually implement these? There are a bunch of tools in the book which will help. Although Mr. Smith clearly states you need to internalize the ten rights first. Make that your mental setup, before you try to enforce them in exchange with others.

Persistence – The broken record

Smith states that most people lose their discussions, debates, and fights because they usually give up after the first “No” they hear. You lose because you give up too easily. A lot of people (especially women) try to sidetrack the discussion to make the point about something else other than your initial objective. This is where the BROKEN RECORD comes in very handy. You just repeat with a calm, repetitive voice what you want until the other person agrees or agrees to a compromise. Here’s is a direct example from the book.

Carlo bought meat at the supermarket but it was missing when he got home, implying someone fucked it up at the supermarket. It could go like this:

CLERK: Yes?
CARLO: I bought XYZ earlier. When I got home my meat was missing. I want my meat.
CLERK: Did you look in your car?
CARLO: Yes, I want my meat (BROKEN RECORD)
CLERK: I don’t think I can do anything about that. (Evasion of responsibility)
CARLO: I understand how you might think that, but I want my meat (BROKEN RECORD)
CLERK: Well, I don’t have anything to do with the meat department. (Evasion)
CARLO: I understand how you feel, but you’re the one I paid my money and I still want my meat (BROKEN RECORD)
CLERK: You will have to go to the back and see the meat manager. (Evasion)
CARLO: Will he give me my meat? (BROKEN RECORD)
CLERK: He will take care of it.
CARLO: Call him up here, please.
CLERK: Just go in the back, you’ll find him. (Evasion)
CARLO: I don’t see anyone there, please call him up here (BROKEN RECORD)
CLERK: Go in the back, he’ll be there soon.
CARLO: I don’t want to go in the back and wait around forever. I want to be out here quick, please call him up here (BROKEN RECORD).
CLERK: You’re holding up the line, these people want to be served (Guilt-tripping)
CARLO: I know they want to be served, just like I want to be served. Please call the meat manager up here (BROKEN RECORD).

Etc etc. The example goes on for quite a while with multiple back and forth scenarios, but I think you get the methodology. You don’t need to repeat the same line like a robot. But you will repeatedly state what you want.

The same would work with a salesman trying to sell you stuff at the door. You more or less repeat different versions of “I understand, but I am not interested.” Or “I understand how you feel, but I don’t want to buy XYZ.” You don’t need to come up with excuses or nervously look at your watch. You simply just don’t want to buy what he offers and that’s that.

Note from me: Women

Women tend to sidetrack you in fights a lot. And while a fight with your girl isn’t about winning, but about fixing her feelings, with the BROKEN RECORD you still end up getting at least a compromise without being manipulated into something else. I have used this quite effectively with my wife. You just calmly repeat what you want over and over.

Coping with criticism

a judge and a scale
Coping with criticism needs some verbal tools.

When we get criticized, we are often suspect to manipulation. Most people have been trained to have a reason for wanting the things they want. For example, if your wife wants to meet friends, but you want to stay home and work on your motorcycle, your wife will come up with arbitrary rules why you should come to see the friends. Like you haven’t seen them for long, which directly or indirectly implies you don’t care much about your friends (emotional manipulation). This is solely aimed to flip the power pressure onto you because you now have to come up with reasoning why you would put working on your motorcycle over meeting friends. What she really saying is that it is somehow “wrong” to work on your motorcycle. And what she really means is, that she wants to hang out with you and her friends, but she has no way of assertively expressing that.

What you need to internalize is, that there is no right or wrong in such things. Just different people with different wants and needs. As long as you accept and go out with her, even though you don’t want to, you accept her arbitrary structure of right and wrong. And you fully operate in her frame, as opposed to yours. (Quick sidenote by me: Especially in the case of women, this is actually a drawback. Because they don’t want you to be their subordinate. You do you. But don’t just do it for the sake of it. If you like to meet your friends, then go do it. Just be true to your wants).

FOGGING

To truly understand this term, you need to visualize yourself as a fog bank. A fog bank is remarkable for as it is very persistent. It offers no resistance to our penetration. It does not fight back. You can throw rocks in there, it does nothing. Inevitable, we will give up throwing rocks. This is exactly how it works verbally.

In practical words, you agree with any truths that are thrown your way as criticism. Because, well, it’s true. But you do nothing else. You don’t get angry or defensive, you don’t fight back. You just agree, and that’s it. That obviously needs (again) the mental model that you are fine with your decisions and flaws. That’s why your assertive rights are so important.

MOTHER: You stayed out late again, Sally. I tried to call you twelve times!
SALLY: That’s true, Mom, I was out late. (FOGGING BY AGREEING)
MOTHER: If you stay out late so much you might get sick again!
SALLY: You could be right, Mom. (FOGGING)
MOTHER: You know how important looking good is to a young woman? If you don’t get enough sleep, it will ruin your beauty!
SALLY: You’re right, Mom. What you say makes sense, so when I feel the need, I’ll get in early. (FOGGING)

Basically, you repeat “You could be right” or different versions of it constantly. Because, well, the other person could be right, but it is still your choice. Even if people virtually insult you, by saying your face is stupid, you just say, “Yeah, sometimes it looks a bit funny.” Calm and collected. Other people’s perception of you is irrelevant. And, let’s be honest, they are probably right to some degree, but it doesn’t matter. If you calmly agree, you take the wind out of their attack. Most people don’t even know how to react to that, because they expect you to defend yourself.

Note by me: Parenting

You might be thinking, “Damn, if my daughter ever pulls that, I am fucked.” But are you? See, you cannot change other people. You can only lead people to the trough, but you can’t make them drink. We all know, if you force your kids to do things, or forbid certain things, they are more inclined to do just that. As parents, we have the best thing in mind for our kids, because we know what’s wrong. But ultimately, you cannot force decisions onto other people. Especially if you want to make them stick.

This is true for any person (wife, husband, family, colleagues). You cannot change them. And I know you want to help them, but it is not your decision. Even if they run themselves into destruction, there is not much you can do about it. However, voicing your experiences, especially with your past mistakes, tend to have a great effect on others. Be aware of your stage with your kids. I said earlier you’re relationship to your kids shifts at a certain point. You need to see when this happens to go from authoritarian to “I am just giving tips, honey.”

NEGATIVE ASSERTION

This is most useful when you are validly being criticized. For example, if you made a mistake. Humans are faulty, we fuck up sometimes. But there is still no reason to being guilt-tripped about it because other people make mistakes as well. With NEGATIVE ASSERTION you can cope with it. It is basically a more verbal form of FOGGING, where you just agree with the criticism.

“You really fucked up with XYZ!”
“Yeah, that was dumb of me, wasn’t it?”

“Honey, you really shouldn’t have cut your hair, it looks dumb!”
“I was worried about that, it doesn’t look too good, does it?”

You basically assertively accept those things negative about yourself. Let’s be honest, you know, you fucked up. You probably even agree with it internally. But due to childhood training and the Lobsters, we don’t like criticism from someone else. If you just agree with them, you radiate that you are fine with yourself (which you should be) and thus you defuse the situation. The other person will stop arguing about it really quickly if you just agree with everything.

However, if you ran over someone’s foot with your car, the right response isn’t, “Oh, yeah, that was really dumb of me?” You just hand them the insurance number. Negative assertion is for dealing with social conflicts, not legal ones!

NEGATIVE INQUIRY

This is simply explained with an example. Compare the two:

“I don’t understand. What is it about going fishing that is bad?”
vs.
“What makes you think going fishing is bad?”

The first statement is an assertive NEGATIVE INQUIRY that does not critique the person asking. It asks them to make further statements as to why they think that way, and it immediately triggers them to question their own structure of right or wrong. You don’t just accept them stating that your action is wrong. You ask them to state why they think that it is.

With the first statement, you also make clear that being criticized isn’t something you get upset over. You’re just curious about how other people feel about it. With the second one, you are literally saying, “Who are you to judge me?” and thus making it personal.

Be aware that behind such manipulative statements (especially women again) there is something deeper you can unlock with NEGATIVE INQUIRY. There is a reason why your wife is trying to guilt-trip you about your fishing trip. You can negatively inquiry her until she says it.

“You always have a headache after fishing.”
“I don’t understand. What’s it about going fishing and a headache that is wrong?”
“It makes you tired.”
“I am sorry, what is wrong about being tired?”
“When you are so tired, we don’t go out in the evening.”

With your NEGATIVE INQUIRY, you pulled the actual reasoning out of her. Now the actual reason is out in the open, and you can talk about the REAL issue, and potentially find a compromise, instead of fighting around it or engaging in her emotional manipulation.

a bride in hot white lingerie

With NEGATIVE INQUIRY you basically keep asking questions as to what is actually wrong about your behavior until you get to the core of it. It is important to stay calm, and not be phased by the criticism. But this is generally an important skill.

Conclusion

At this point, we are only about 100 pages into the book (which has 300), and there is way more to learn about being assertive. But that would make this post way too long. I highly recommend reading the book, because it has more examples to make the tools and methods clear, and even more stuff I didn’t talk about in this post at all.

However, this should be a first glimpse at being assertive and how to do it. When I say No, I feel guilty is truly a book every human should read, because it tremendously helps you interacting with other people, and not being a doormat, and having your needs met. Or at least manage a compromise.

It would also probably save a lot of marriages. It definitely helped mine. Get the book on Amazon here. Find other book summaries here and my general book recommendations here.

a picture of the book when I say no, I feel guilty with passages marked
Another book where you need a ton of markers!

Alexander Reich

Alexander Reich is an author, gym-nut, and entrepreneur. Now he is passionately seeking mastery of the mind and his marriage. He shares his secrets with other men, so they can learn from his mistakes.