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Represent you and learn to stand your ground on unreasonable requests with Broken Record

In the early days of my journey of reclaiming myself and improving my self-esteem, I frequently bemoaned my inability to maintain healthy boundaries with certain family members, deeming it “impossible” without really having tried. I’d imagine their previous reactions to conflict or me just trying to be and do my own thing, and I’d balk at the prospect. They won’t go for this, I’d think to myself. The thing is, while we’re not going to be assertive 100% of the time and there are always going to be lessons to be learned along the way, we cannot have areas of our life where we have little to no boundaries and we have to resort to being our ‘old’ compliant selves because it will encroach on the other aspects of our lives. Take it from somebody who has been there and done it!

My then acupuncturist, who incidentally is the same person who taught me to set a time limit for draining calls and interactions by pre-empting these situations by stating how much time I have and sticking to it (or saying that I had to be somewhere and making an exit), suggested that I do what’s known as the Broken Record technique.

You see normally, when we’re around people who are more assertive and aggressive than us, we feel intimidated by their response and so if we don’t hear or see what we want and expect the first time we state something, we dilute or even retract the original statement by either explaining, justifying, and rationalising, or just complying with whatever they’re wanting and expecting. We feel afraid, guilty, and start questioning the validity of our needs, expectations, feelings etc, while also now considering it of paramount importance to be pleasing so that we can feel better, i.e. less afraid, guilty, and full of doubt.

It’s the misplaced belief that if our needs, expectations, wants, feelings, and opinions are valid and ‘right’, that people will just capitulate to them or even know them without us having to put ourselves out.

It’s also the assumption that people will look to reach a compromise without us having to assert ourselves and be clear on our own position.

Remember that it’s difficult to find a healthy compromise - a solution you can both live with that respects each of you - if you don’t know and haven’t vocalised your own position. Also note that people who are more assertive and aggressive, especially if you've already been quite passive with them, don't tend to take your first no seriously.

Your People Pleasing Diet represents  an opportunity to stand up for your own rights instead of only one person having their say.

We forget that some people are assertive and so more vocal in their own needs etc, plus they're persistent but generally in a respectful way, and also forget that some people are aggressive and persistent in a sense of entitlement, persistent, forceful way and will say and do whatever they deem necessary to get what they want.

We need to be more persistent in representing ourselves instead of giving up at the first sign of discomfort.

Using the Broken Record technique not only teaches you to stand behind you and to be more persistent in a calm, respectful way that reinforces your point but it also means that you are actually in the present, that you’re listening to the other person and that you are recognising that regardless of what they say or do, your answer is still that you cannot meet their request because of your recognition of your own needs, boundaries etc. Not only can you use this for conflict situations where you would typically have ‘given up’ very quickly and had your own needs shut down, but when you’re in a situation where the person is trying to twist what you’re saying, restating what you’ve said in a calm manner also shows that you won’t be played.

Use the Broken Record technique when saying ‘no’ once is not enough and when turning down unreasonable requests – and yes is such a thing! They’re the stuff that busts your boundaries and leaves you feeling crappy!

Using this technique also means that you learn to let what may be the deluge of prodding in the form of ‘whys’ and justifications from the other party that are really there to trigger you guilt so that you comply.

And there’s a hint: You’re most likely to have to use this technique with people who habitually attempt to bulldoze you into doing what you want and who may have no shame about tugging on your guilt strings. Think situations where you give up your rights, where the person seems to think that they have ‘clever’ arguments to distract you from your own needs, expectations etc, and any situation where it’s likely to detract from your self-esteem.

The aim of what you’re doing is to state clearly whatever it is that you need to say in as calm and relaxed a manner as possible, with the end goal being that if it’s an unreasonable request that they listen, accept your answer and back away, and if it’s coming from a respectful source and it’s something that with some further discussion, could respect each of your needs, expectations etc, that you can potentially find a solution you can both live with.

If you sound exasperated or angry, it will become aggressive communication instead of assertive communication.

Stick to the point and don’t be distracted by anything that’s ‘off topic’. This is key because often the person who uses clever little arguments is the type that will bring up old stuff or slip in a sly dig, or drag in what they think are side issues. Stay on topic and stick to what you’re saying and repeat it.

Five common scenarios where Broken Record works

Requesting a refund or cancelling a service.

If you find that you’re habitually accepting vouchers, credit notes, or have amassed a load of stuff you don’t want or that’s faulty but are too afraid to deal with these, the Broken Record is vital here. You’re forgetting that you have rights as a consumer and that sales people and customer service are tasked with trying to retain your business or with trying to keep your money in-house. Some shadier types will try to circumvent your rights on the off chance that you won’t be in possession of the facts or that you’ll be too intimidated to stick to your guns.

If you’d like a refund or you’ve decided that you’re going to cancel, stick to your guns.

“I’d like a refund” or “I want to cancel my account / the service”

Now it’s possible that they’re going to attempt to hold on to your business in some way (what you’ll likely read as an objection).

“Thanks for the offer but I definitely want a refund”

“That’s great that you have an alternative service and I’ll certainly keep that in mind for the future, but right now, I want to cancel the service.”

“I don’t want to look around the store. I’d just like to get my refund.”

“Are you saying that you’re not going to give me this refund because if not, I’d really appreciate it if you would process my refund.”

“As I mentioned earlier, I’m returning it because _____________ and ultimately, regardless of this other stuff that you’ve mentioned, I would like a refund.”

“But the point is it’s not working / I’m within the returns period….. and so I’d just like you to give me my refund please.”

Turning down an unreasonable request.

You’re probably thinking, Um, what’s unreasonable? Please, look back on your previous experiences fast. Unreasonable means beyond the limits of acceptability (your boundaries and your line) and it also covers fairness.

Some examples:

You originally did something as a favour to somebody and it was supposed to be a one-off. It could be that you helped them out of a tight spot, you said that you’d babysit, you loaned them money, you helped out with something work related. Whatever it was, it was a favour and now that person has asked you for that same favour on a number of times and seems to expect that you’ll always say yes and has no qualms about putting you out. They may be too caught up in themselves and may even be at the point where they don’t even ask, they just land stuff on you. You are likely at the point where you’re too afraid to say no and you feel like a ‘bad person’. This is crossing your boundaries and also unfair.


“I won’t be able to babysit this time.”

“I understand that {showing empathy} but I still won’t be able to babysit this time.”

“I guess I’m not making myself clear. I appreciate that you need a babysitter but I’m not available and you will need to find someone else.”

“I understand that you’re stuck but you shouldn’t assume that I’m always going to babysit for you at the drop of a hat. I really will not be able to babysit this time.”


Friend: Can you lend me £100?

You: I’m sorry. I won’t be able to lend you money this time.

Friend: But I really need it! I promise I’ll pay it back / I promise I’ll pay it back with the other money.

You: I hear you but I can’t lend you the money. You will have to get it from someone else.

Friend: But you earn more than I do and I really need it!

You: I understand {showing empathy} but I have my own commitments and I’m not going to be able to loan you the money.

Friend: I thought we were friends.

You: We are friends but that doesn’t mean that I have to loan you this money. I’m not going to be able to loan you the money. OR We are friends and I’ve loaned you money before but this time, I’m not going to be able to.

Stick to your guns.

If something violates your rights and/or crosses your own boundaries, it is also unreasonable.

Examples: Expecting you to take him/her back after repeatedly taking advantage of and abusing you. Being coerced into something (even if they deny that they’re doing it). E.g trying to get you to do something sexual that you don’t want to, trying to draw you into criminal activity, expecting you to financially compromise yourself out of guilt etc.

Remember: It’s about it being unreasonable to you. You don’t need to give a rats about whether they agree with your boundaries and your sense of fairness – it’s not fair or reasonable for a person to expect that you should compromise yourself while they get to reap the benefits. Not. On.


Person you’ve just started dating: Hey… I’ve been thinking we should heat things up a little. How about you send me a nice sexy pic of yourself to help me go to sleep with a smile on my face.

You: I would be really uncomfortable doing that so I won’t be able to do that. You’ll have to look forward to seeing me this weekend.

Person you’ve just started dating: Go on… Don’t be such a spoilsport. I’ll send you one of me to get this going.

You: Please don’t. I’m not being a spoilsport. I just don’t want to do it.

Person you’ve just started dating: Is it because you’re afraid I’m going to show them to somebody? It’ll just be between us.

You: No, it’s not. I just don’t want to. Let’s move on from this conversation.

Person you’ve just started dating: I thought you liked me. I had you down as being more fun.

You: I do like you and I thought you liked me, but I’m still not going to send you those photos.

You could also add, If that means I’m not fun, that’s OK, I’ll live!

A person who respects your right to choose what you want to do sexually, will drop it plus coercing language around boundary related issues is at best a code amber alert. In a situation like this, you can hopefully move onto another subject or if it’ not moving on, make your excuses and get off the call, possibly looking to broach a face-to-face discussion at a better time. At that point, you could restate your position and add, ‘We haven’t been dating very long and it’s not something I would even consider doing at this point. I appreciate that you feel differently but that doesn’t make me wrong or uptight. If me not sending you these pics is going to be a deal breaker for you, let me know and I totally respect that.’


Mother: You’re going to have to cancel your plans this weekend as I need your help with bla bla bla.

You: I understand {empathy} that you’re ______________ but I won’t be able to.

Mother: But I really need you to do this stuff!

You: I’m sorry mum but it can’t happen this weekend.

Mother: Maxine’s (her neighbour) daughter is always dropping whatever she’s doing to help her out. Why can’t you be like that?

You: Mother, I’ve dropped things on many occasions to help you out {clarification of the facts instead of drowning in guilt}. In fact, this is the first time I can ever recall saying no to you. I can’t help you out this weekend.

Mother: I bet what you’re doing isn’t even that important! I suppose I’ll have to ask your brother.

You: I’ve made plans mother and I’m not going to argue with you about how important they are. I think it’s a great idea that you ask him! {suggesting an alternative which is a form of negotiation – you will get to have your weekend and she will still get her objective met – getting those tasks done.}


Friend / Partner: So… you want to go out tonight. (It’s now 6.30pm and as usual, they’ve left it to the wire to make and confirm plans.)

You: Sorry. I’m not going to be able to make it.

Friend / Partner: What do you mean you can’t make it? What are you doing that’s so much better?

You: It’s 6.30. I’m not going to be able to make it.

Friend / Partner: Oh come on! Stop being so uptight! I can’t believe you don’t want to come out with me!

You: I’d love to go out but not tonight.

Friend / Partner: Seriously? I can’t change your mind?

You: You wouldn’t want me to ditch you at the last moment, would you? I can’t come out tonight but how about… {and suggest an alternative time and date that shows that you need some notice}

Friend / Partner: Well you know, I’m just so busy, I’m not sure about my schedule.

You: That’s OK. Like I said, I’m busy tonight but if you’d like to do something, check your schedule and let me know a few days beforehand so that I can organise my own schedule.

Stick to your guns and the message will come across loud and clear to make plans a bit in advance and not to just assume that you have nothing better to do.

Note: If something is straight up unreasonable and is with regards to your boundaries, you don’t negotiate.

If something is unreasonable and it relates to fairness, there may be room for negotiation so that it can be made fair to both. If you feel compromised due to it ultimately being a case of you experiencing loss, you have compromised yourself, not found a solution you can both live with that respects each of you. In example dialogue #1, that would have been sending the photos. You have very good reasons for not doing so. In #2, cancelling the weekend immediately or under duress and guilt would also have been a bad move. Better to help a family member out because you want to, not to do it all the time out of obligation and their assumptions.  In #3, you suggested that they give you a new time and date which you could then both agree to instead of them assuming they can just swoop in.

Turning down something that doesn’t work for you as it stands

If you look at situations where you have to use Broken Record with people, it’s with people who take your compliance as a foregone conclusion. This is dangerous when you’re a pleaser because you are in the habit of automatic compliance. Now that you’re reclaiming you, speaking up for yourself puts you both in the present and teaches people that you’re not just going to do whatever is asked or expected of you. No one has the right to expect that people will do whatever they want and ask for.

Before you started working on reclaiming you, you would accept things as they stand even though some further discussion could have resulted in something that was mutually beneficial. Instead, you have gone along with things and some of those people will have wrongly assumed that it was in both of your interests.

In situations where something doesn’t work for you as it stands, you need to speak up and let them know so that once they have listened to you, you can both find a solution that you can both live with. If you don’t want to do something at all, that’s in the unreasonable request section or it may simply come down to you not wanting to. That’s your prerogative. If however, you actually wouldn’t mind doing something if a few adaptions could be made that would meet your own needs, then Broken Record followed by some negotiation is needed.

Remember: Assertiveness is not about looking to rule the other person or make them ‘give in’ first.

Coworker: Ugh, I need some help on this project (and proceeds to go into explanation where you realise that it’s too much for you to take on)

You: I understand that you’re stuck but based on everything that you’re looking to get done, I won’t be able to help out this time.

Coworker: I know it sounds like a lot but you’re so bright and super fast at stuff that I’m sure it wouldn’t be too much for you. We’ll have fun together and I’m sure it will look good to [the boss]. Oh go on, please!

You: Thanks but really, I can’t. I’ve got a lot on myself and there’s no way that I’d be able to do all of that stuff too. I wouldn’t want to overstretch myself and end up letting you or one of my other projects down.

Coworker: I can’t imagine that you would ever be in that situation. I’m sure it will be fine.

You: I guess I’m not being clear enough but really, I can’t take it on.

At this point, you can suggest an alternative person or, you could say, ‘As I said, there’s no way I’ll be able to take that on and I appreciate you having such faith in my capabilities, but if you’re still stuck once I’ve completed my own deadline, I could help you out with ______ and _______ [specific elements of the project as opposed to all of it].

Affirming your point and position in a conflict

Broken Record is ideal in conflict situations with passive aggressive and aggressive people who tend to latch onto something as a distraction from the main point or who twist what you say out of context. Rather than getting caught up in side issues or defending yourself when they’re not grasping the fundamental point, emphasise the main point.

Example: Carrie and John are having a discussion when it takes a sudden twist and John makes an assertion that’s wholly inappropriate.

In this situation, you need to do the ‘Why did you say/do….?’ and repeat what they said as closely as possible and be factual about anything that’s been done and then go into Broken Record.

Carrie: John! Why did you say __________________________?

John: Well, you know what I mean.

John gets defensive.

Carrie: No I don’t really know what you mean when you say ____________________. Use the techniques from Be Factual to explain your position.

John now wants to dodge facing what he’s said.

John: See this is why I don’t bother talking to you about this stuff because you’re too sensitive.

Carrie: But the point is John, the issue is not me being sensitive, it’s that you said _______________.

John brings up something else irrelevant.

Carrie: That’s not the main issue here John. The issue is ______________. You said _____________.

John brings up another side issue.

Carrie: Like I said before, I asked you about that and yes, I was a bit taken aback because you said _______________________.

John: Well that’s not what I meant when I said that.

Carrie: OK John but you still haven’t said what you did mean when you said ______________.

John: Well, what’s the point? You’re not going to listen to me anyway.

Carrie: I am listening to you John and I hope that you’re listening to me. As I said before, the reason why I was taken aback was because you said _______________.

Now this may go on for some time if they’re used to doing this until the person caves but stick to your guns and if after several attempts, to stick to the main point, they refuse to, suggest that you pick up this conversation when you’ve both had a bit of time. See the Be Factual Class for more ideas.

Remember: This is why it’s important to know your boundaries and to decide in advance on things that you’re definitely going to say no to or that you’re certainly not going to say yes to without ensuring that it’s a ‘joint venture’. By knowing your boundaries and also deciding what you’re saying no to whether it’s in advance or on recognition that the request is not as you would like, you can chill out because you’ve decided what your response is regardless of how they respond. This has been a revelation to me because it’s helped me to stop taking ownership of other people’s behaviour and feelings and to start taking ownership of my own. If people are going to make assumptions, which is the human disposition, it’s up to us to either meet or challenge those assumptions.

Remember that you can do this.

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