What Are Effective Refusal Skills?


Being able to say "no" effectively takes more than just saying the word. Effective refusal skills require self-confidence, determination and consistency, says Shanna May, a mental health therapist and substance abuse counselor who teaches effective refusal skills to adolescents and recovering addicts. You have to begin with a clear goal in mind, says May, and you have to stick to it. In an interview, May explains more about how to be effective when refusing to take part in an unwanted activity or behavior.

eHow: What is the key characteristic of effective refusal skills?

  • May: Assertiveness is a key component of effective refusal skills, which includes self-confidence when faced with the task of saying “no.” Being firm and insisting that your decision is final are other important aspects of assertiveness, which may decrease the likelihood that others will challenge your decision. Peer pressure can be difficult for anyone to resist; however, being able to assertively establish expectations can help you avoid certain temptations. When you are faced with this dilemma, it is necessary to be consistent in your decision for others to respect it. Having consistency with effective refusal skills shows others that you are confident and adamant about your decision. It also lets others know that you are self-assured in making healthy decisions that promote your overall well-being.

eHow: Are there other aspects of saying 'no' that are important?

  • May: Establishing appropriate boundaries is also an important aspect of effective refusal skills. You cannot expect other people to know your boundaries unless you make them aware. Once those boundaries are clearly explained, you must maintain those boundaries with others. Some individuals will test your limits, so it is always important to be aware of another person's intentions. When someone tests the established boundaries, it is important to maintain a positive attitude and remain consistent. You can give others the benefit of the doubt, but once you have made yourself clear on an issue, if someone intentionally tests your boundaries, you have to advocate for yourself by confronting the person and asking them why they do not respect your decision. When someone does not respect the boundaries you have established, there comes a point when you may have to remove yourself from the situation by walking away.

    Establishing boundaries is especially important for someone in recovery from a drug or alcohol addiction. Old friends may try to lure you back into your past behaviors. For refusal to be effective, boundaries have to be firm.

eHow: What if someone won't take 'no' for an answer?

  • May: Have a backup plan. Once you have determined to avoid a particular activity or behavior, decide how you will handle it if you are pressured. Having a backup plan gives you peace of mind and makes it easier to stick to your decision.

    If someone does not take “no” for an answer, then that person does not deserve to be in your company. If that person is a true friend, then he will respect and support your decision rather than trying to selfishly get you to go against a decision that you have made. When someone has negative or self-centered intentions, it may be necessary to cut ties with him. As harsh as this may seem, it is always important to respect yourself so others will respect you. Not allowing people to bring you down shows that you respect yourself, value your decisions and appreciate your own self-worth. If the person pressuring you is someone you cannot cut ties with, then it may be beneficial to seek outside assistance. Bringing in a third party may help the person pressuring you to better understand why your boundaries are important to you, and a third party can assist with mediation to problem-solve and help you establish a more mutually acceptable relationship.

eHow: Why are effective refusal skills important?

  • May: Effective refusal skills are important to avoid potentially risky situations, such as engaging in alcohol or drug abuse, sexual relations or dangerous or unlawful acts. Refusal skills are especially important in adolescence, when identifying with a group is highly desirable, but going along with the crowd can be a temptation at any age. Effective refusal skills help a person carry through with important decisions and values. Once a person evaluates a situation and determines that the situation is not beneficial for him, then utilizing refusal skills can keep him on track with his goals and beliefs. Utilizing refusal skills strengthens a person's ability to continue using them in the future by increasing self-esteem and becoming empowered to advocate for himself.

About Shanna May

  • Shanna May graduated from East Carolina University with a master's degree in social work and a graduate certificate in substance abuse studies. She has 10 years' experience as an outpatient mental health therapist and substance abuse counselor providing individual, group, family and couple’s counseling. May is also a licensed professional for Level III group homes, and she provides consultation services and clinical supervision to candidates who are obtaining licensure for counseling.

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