Playing the broken record – one of the ways of being assertive

This contribution comes from retired psychology lecturer, Dr. Neil Broekmann – Trudie Broekmann is his proud daughter.



Have you ever encountered a pushy salesperson who kept on trying to persuade you to buy something you did not want? Or, perhaps you have met someone at a party who pestered you for a date over and over – leaving you unsure about how to deal with the situation?

These are some situations in which “playing the broken record” could be your answer.  Before I offer an explanation for what I mean, let’s take two steps back in time.

In the era before CDs and MP3s, music was recorded on gramophone records. When records became damaged, the same snatch of music would play over and over again.

Secondly, the first mention I encountered of playing the broken record as an assertiveness technique, was in a 1975 book by M.J. Smith entitled, “When I say no, I feel guilty.”

Playing the broken record can be very useful in situations where the other person is pressurising you to do something against your will. Quite simply, it entails repeating in a calm and confident manner over and over what you want or do not want. The key to this assertiveness technique is never allow yourself to become embroiled in an argument – nor should you present excuses – the other person may be even better at arguing than you.  Continue “playing the broken record” until the other person backs off. After all, you can persist for longer than the pesterer.

Every time the other person tries to persuade you, just repeat briefly what you want. For example: Your spouse has to go off on business for a week and you have made suitable arrangements for the care of your toddler. Your overbearing mother-in-law offers – or rather, insists on coming to “help”  care for the household and your little one, and won’t take “No” for an answer.

Let’s see how this assertiveness tactic might work in role-play:

Mother-in-law:  I really want to come and help you.  It will be lovely to come and stay for the week.

You:  That is kind of you, Mom, but no thanks – everything is sorted.

Mother-in-law:  Come on, you know you cannot cope on your own!

You:  Thanks, Mom, but everything is in place. (Be careful not to argue or explain!)

Mother-in-law:  Really, you’re being ungrateful.  Here I am offering to help!

You:  That is very thoughtful of you Mom, but everything has been arranged.

Mother-in-law:  I really insist!  It will just be so much better for all of you.

You:  Thank you for your kindness, Mom, but no thank you.

And so, you continue playing the broken record until the other person gets the message and accepts your wishes. You will have asserted yourself in a friendly, non-aggressive manner.

Try it with the plumber who wants to charge you for work he messed up or with the car salesman low-balling you on your trade-in.  The key lies in trying it out and then practicing it – the more confident you become, the easier it gets.  If someone else has the right to pester you, you have the right to stick to your guns one shot longer!

Every success.

Neil Broekmann

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