Your manager asks you to take on a new project but you're not sure if you have the right skills and experience to do the work on your own and are worried about the consequences of saying no. A friend asks you to go to the cinema but you're too tired. Your brother asks you to have his children for a long weekend but you dread the thought and yet don't want to let him down.

Are there similar situations when you want to say no - to refuse assertively - but find yourself holding back because you aren't sure how to handle it?

Being assertive is an honest and appropriate expression of your feelings, opinions and needs. When you are assertive, you are able to let other people know, clearly and honestly, what you do and do not want, what you will and will not accept. You are open to other people's views even though they may be different from your own.

Assertiveness starts with being mindful. In any one situation or interaction with other people, you need to be aware of and acknowledge how you currently feel and what you do and don't want.

You need to be open and receptive to what other people think and feel so that when it's appropriate you can meet them halfway.

In practice

Tune into your mind. Start by noticing how you feel about the situations. Irritated? Ignored? Worried? Anxious? Rather than let you feelings take over the situation, let your feelings inform the situation. Acknowledging how you feel about a particular situation can help you clarify what you do or don't want.

Take your time. If you're not sure how you feel, simply tell the other person you're not sure and need time to think about it. Tell the other person when you will get back to them. And make sure you do get back to them.

Be clear and direct. Say what exactly it is you will or will not do. No waffling - that will only confuse the other person. Simply say, 'I'm sorry but I don't want to/can't do...' Don't give lots of excuses. You only need one valid reason why you can't or won't do something.

Acknowledge what the other person says and feels. Once you have said what you do or do not want, you must stop and listen to the other person's response.

Accept the response but stand your ground. Calmly respond to the other person in a way that will both acknowledge what they've said and confirm that you are standing firm.

Or, negotiate and cooperate. Settle by saying what you are prepared to do instead. For example, you'll take on the new project if you can have some help. You'll go to the cinema, but at the weekend, not this evening.

This is an extract from Gill Hasson's Mindfulness Pocketbook