The Delicate Art of Saying 'No'
No one is more adept at saying ‘no’ than the average two year old! Even when it works against them, every inquiring is answered with a resounding ‘no!’ Kids this ages take pleasure in asserting themselves, saying ‘no’ to an offer of a favorite treat when they actually mean ‘yes.’ In little kids, this behavior is cute and endearing. But as adults, this tenacity is replaced with the opposite problem: saying ‘yes’ when we actually mean ‘no.’
Do you have difficulty to saying ‘no’? Are you perpetually nice, saying ‘yes’ to things at the expense of yourself? Sometimes we feel pressured to do all sorts of things we don’t want to do. Yet, the reality is, we often put this pressure on ourselves, thinking about all the things we should do, the things we should want to do, or the things other people might expect us to do. It’s exhausting!
If you struggle to say ‘no’, you’re not alone. In the past, my ability to say ‘no’ seemed to be broken. Yet, when I learned to express myself with authenticity and without fear of the other person’s opinion, I was filled a delicious sense of empowerment. Saying ‘no’ is often a frightening prospect, but when you confidently say what you mean, you get your needs met and the world doesn't fall apart!
Why saying ‘no’ is so difficult
Before you learn to say no, you must understand why doing so is so hard to do! These are some of the most common reasons:
Fear of conflict: You fear that if you say ‘no,’ the other person might get angry at you and lead to a confrontation. Even if no argument is had, it might lead to hard feelings and future negative consequences.
Wanting to be liked: By saying ‘no,’ you make yourself out of step with the rest of the group because you’re not in agreement. To avoid such an eventuality, it is best to conform to others’ requests.
You like to help: Being kind and helpful is a noble attribute, so you don’t turn down other people’s requests for help whenever possible, even if it takes up all your time or money, and leaves little for yourself.
Burning bridges: You fear that if you say ‘no,’ it will be interpreted as a sign of rejection, which could lead to bridges being burnt and friendships forever lost.
Afraid of appearing selfish: Many people grow up believing that you should always put other people first, especially when it came to feelings. You negate your own feelings in preference for someone else's.
These reasons for avoiding saying ‘no’ are false beliefs that we have bought into, that convince us that saying ‘yes’ make us more agreeable. Yet, in truth, they leave us overwhelmed!
Strategies for saying ‘no’
Saying ‘no’ is all about how you say it, rather than the fact that you’re actually saying no. It is about respecting and valuing your own time and space, but also maintaining the dignity of the other person. Diplomacy is required, a delicate balance of protecting your own needs and feelings, while maintaining good vibes all around.
If you aren’t sure how to proceed, here are some strategies that can start you on your way:
“I just can’t right now… my plate is overloaded as it is.”
Keep your commitments in mind, and how valuable and precious your own time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot spare it.
“I’d love to but I have other commitments at the moment.”
Knowing your priorities is essential. Consider whether this new request is really the way you want to spend your time. More commitments means less time with your spouse or kids, or less time that you would use for pursuing personal interests or just simply relaxing!
“Now is not good for me… try back another time.”
You might be in the middle of a project and are unable to drop it to start something new. This is a good way to fend of sudden requests that put you on the spot, and by suggesting another time, you have space to think it over and come up with the appropriate response that fits your needs.
“Let me get back to you on that.”
This strategy spares you some time to give consideration to the request, allowing you to fully weigh up your options, and decide if you really want to take on their request. When the time comes, tell them then that you are unable to assist them with their request at this time.
“What did you have in mind?”
There are always times when you get caught off guard. In those instances, it is often the best policy is to answer their question with a question. By requesting more information, you have the freedom to assess whether you want to accept their request or not. Without giving too much information, tell them “I’d love to but I already have plans,” even if your plans are to stay at home and watch television.
“I’m not the best person to help you on this.”
Simply let them know you’re not the right person for the job and offer referrals where possible so the other person isn't left adrift.
“Thank you for your kind offer… I’ll keep that in mind.”
This allows you to be respectful to a person’s requests, keeping the door open instead of slamming it on them. If they check back in with you at a later time, you may have some free time to spare to help them.
Remember, saying ‘no’ is your prerogative. You don’t have explain yourself or make excuses for not taking on their request. With practice, you’ll be able to say ‘no’ with all the confidence and determination of a boisterous two year old, but using tact and subtle strategies that allow you to get what you need, while keeping everyone else content. As in the words of the mighty Winston Churchill:
“Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.”