I Do Not Call Myself Subject to Much at All


Assertiveness figures heavily in our communication workshops.  We get asked about it all the time.  To follow on from my 5 Assertiveness Techniques post, here are give assertive power words that you can adopt immediately, as part of your efforts toward living (and working) the life you want.  In my favourite film (which includes some fantastically assertive lines) the hero answers a tricky question with:

I do not call myself subject to much at all.


Fear not.  I am not advocating anarchy.  Far from it.  I am however, advocating freedom to make your own choices (and take the consequences responsibly without blaming others); freedom from blame and being asked to live someone’s wasted life over again for them; and freedom from guilt bestowed by unrealistic expectations of your role, whatever that might be.

‘I’ Statements

Compare You have not spoken all morning with I notice that you have not spoken all morning.  I statements show three things:

  • It’s your observation.
  • It affects you.
  • Therefore, it’s non-negotiable.

Combining I statements, in order, under the following headings, can be very powerful:

  • Situation.
    I have noticed that you talk loudly over me, when I’m trying to respond to your comments, in project planning meetings.
  • Interpretation.
    I conclude from this that you are not interested in my priorites and concerns when planning projects.
  • Feelings.
    I feel undervalued and embarrassed infront of the team, when this happens.
  • Wants.
    I want you to give me opportunity to express my suggestions and viewpoints and listen more patiently.
  • Future (consequences).
    I am not prepared to be involved in future projects with you, if this continues to be the case.

Use I statements when you want to assert yourself in a conflict situation, or one where you feel you are not normally or likely to be listened to.  It is a great way to start a conversation, especially when you are expecting it to be awkward.  It sets a straightforward, direct and personal tone.  It is difficult for people to get around what you are saying.

Saying ‘No’

Why do we find this word so hard to say?  Probably because people are not used to being denied their wishes, we are not used to putting ourselves first in any situation and we want to be liked.

And, look at the list of negative possibilities on the left.  This is what we are afraid of.  And, this might often be what we get.

Decide what you want in the workplace, and say ‘No’ to the rest.

For those of you who are looking to develop a long-term strategy for how to survive at work, assertive behaviour is the only thing that will work.


Aggression will alienate you from many, and you’ll be feared or tolerated rather than truly listened to.  Passivity will mean people won’t know what you stand for, and will tend to take you less seriously as an effective member of the team.  Learn to expect the goals on the right; take them as your guide for the long-term effect of communicating with assertive words.

And, another thing… avoid saying No+.  What’s No+?  No+ any excuses, apologies, equivocations or meandering explanations.  In a situation where you need to put over a strong image, you will only weaken your message.  And, you may create an opening for someone to solve that problem for you, thus leaving you in a situation where you can do nothing but revert to ‘Yes’.

Finally, it’s clever to consider the pros and cons of saying ‘No’.  How much will it cost you?  How much will it benefit you.  It may be easier to say yes, all things considered.  Just make sure that it is your choice.

The Conditional ‘If’

There is great widsom on qualifying what you say.  In that way, you will avoid equivocation.  Clear and direct communciation is what assertiveness is grounded in.  Think carefully about what you will say, and preface it with an If statement, a condition that must be met, before you will do what you say.  It is implied that if what you ask does not happen, then you will not follow through with your side of the bargain either.

This power word leaves little room for misunderstanding. It is direct, and you may not win any popularity competitions.  However, remember, someone’s negative response or feeling to your assertive power words is their responsibility.  Do not attempt to pacify someone who is angry because you are using assertive language.

If you prepare the budget, I will deliver the presentation and field questions.

If you continue to yell at me, I will walk away.  We can discuss this later.

The Conditional ‘When’

In the same way, when is a mightly little word.  It pins the person down.  It doesn’t let them go until they’ve answered.  And, there really is little scope for them to be vague and general.

I’ll get the report done.


It’s simple, it gets the facts straight away.

The Assumptive ‘Thank-you’

Do you ever remember your art teacher at school asking you to put away the paints at the end of the day.

Remember to wash the brushes thoroughly.  Thank-you!

Saying thank-you in advance shows you are assuming what you ask will be done.  It’s a done deal.  There’s no discussion necessary.  And, it’s an extremely polite way of getting what you want.  Consider this:

May I have a copy of your presentation?

Your listener can refuse.

Email me a copy of your presenation.  Thank-you.

This makes it more difficult to refuse, since you sound as if you’re assuming they’re going to comply.

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