Many people find it difficult to say ‘no' to any request. Being assertive is an art and, as with other arts, we need to learn the skill of how to refuse a request without affecting the relationship.

The ‘yes/no' response may appear to be an uncontroversial subject but in fact, our decision to agree, or to refuse, a specific request may impact not only the outcome of a particular issue, but also our profile and reputation — and possibly upon our own self-image. So it is important to learn how to be confident and direct in dealing with others and be able to say ‘no' without giving offence.

Sometimes we put ourselves in invidious situations by accepting additional work when we have neither sufficient time, nor possibly the ability, to complete. The consequences are often disappointment by both parties that often leads to psychological stress and reduced self-esteem.

Being non-assertive effectively surrenders control to others. By comparison, being assertive means standing up for your personal rights and expressing your thoughts in ways that are not detrimental to the rights of others.

Assertive people take responsibility for their own actions and choices, and even in cases of failure, their self confidence and self respect will remain intact.

However, in the workplace, saying ‘no' could have a negative impact on our careers, particularly if the request or order is entirely reasonable and within our ability. Therefore, we need to be careful not to be seen to be unhelpful or unsupportive

It's really OK to say ‘No'

To be able to say ‘no' to unrealistic or inconvenient demands from work colleagues is not the easiest decision to make when our job is of the utmost importance to us and to the financial security of our family. It is even more difficult when we know that there is often someone else who will invariably say ‘yes' in order to improve their own position on the promotion list.

Understanding why we invariably find it so difficult, is important because very often we have grown up in circumstances where we are expected to be compliant, particularly to demands from those in authority.

Many of us believe that to refuse a request may be seen as:

-  Damaging the chance of promotion.

- An inability to cope.

-  Being an uncommitted team player.

- One who is always concerned with self, and not others.

- Rude or un-cooperative.

However, a continuous disregard for our own welfare can result in stress-related problems that can impair our personal performance either temporarily or, sometimes, permanently.

How and when to say ‘No'

How do we, therefore, reasonably, reject inappropriate demands at work?

The answer is in creating a culture of respect in which to decline an unreasonable request will be seen not as a mark of weakness but rather as a position of strength. Furthermore, to suggest another way to achieve the required result, without compromising our personal wellbeing, is an acceptable alternative.

Those of us with high self-esteem find it easier to say ‘no' than those with a low-self image.

The latter often attempt to seek praise and affirmation from colleagues and will invariably always agree to any request, notwithstanding the harm it can do by compromising their health and wellbeing. Saying ‘no', to inappropriate requests can actually boost our self-esteem. It deflects stress by giving us the feeling that we are in control of our own welfare.

Saying ‘no' is an essential tool, but in a highly competitive world, think very carefully before declining a demand that may be entirely reasonable.

What to do: Key points

- Be clear about the request: how you feel and what you want.

- Keep calm, stick to the facts and suggest an alternative.

-  Respect the rights, and wants, of the other person.

- The author is a BBC guest-broadcaster and motivational speaker. She is CEO of an international stress management and employee wellbeing consultancy based in London. Contact the consultancy for proven stress strategies: