“No is a complete sentence. It does not require justification or explanation”.Unknown
One of the words that toddlers love to say as soon as they start talking is NO. While toddlers and young children have no qualms about saying no to everything and everyone, the older we get, the more we seem to struggle with repeating this simple yet powerful two letter word. In my last article, I wrote about the Hidden Costs of Yes, and how our yeses place our relationships, resources, and reputation on the line. For the purposes of this article, I want to explore the other end of the spectrum- that is saying no.
It is easy to say no to something or someone when a request goes against rules, policies, laws, and established codes of conduct for behavior. Saying no might even get easier, when it goes against your expressed values, deeply held beliefs, purpose and priorities. But what about those situations when the lines are blurry, and the parameters less clear? That is, when the person making the request is in a place of power, when your no might impact your future, when the consequence of saying no is uncertain, when you are overwhelmed by the fear of missing out? How do you decide when to say no?
In some instances, your decision to say no is going to be heavily influenced by the person asking. Whether it’s at work or at home, the power dynamics between you and the person doing the asking, or the nature of the relationship might significantly impact your answer. Afterall, it’s not hard to say no to someone with who you don’t have a personal or professional relationship or are seeking to build one with. However, saying no becomes much trickier when the person doing the asking, is someone with whom you have a valuable relationship, or one with whom you aspire to have one or preserve for personal or professional reasons.
Additionally, saying no, has the potential to take a toll on the person saying it, as well as to the person receiving it. For some people, the desire to help and do more while not being able, can drive negative thoughts and frustrations about their abilities and deep-seated emotions such as guilt and shame. While it’s important to acknowledge these emotions when they surface, dwelling on them after you have said no, is neither healthy nor helpful.
Why People Fear Saying No?
Many people fear saying no, because they don’t want to appear unambitious, unsupportive, lazy, uncaring, or selfish. They also avoid saying no to prevent themselves from disappointing others or hurting people’s feelings. In the process of doing so, they say yes, to the ever-increasing demands and priorities of their colleagues, friends, loved ones. Overtime, their inability to say no and set appropriate boundaries add up, and results in increased levels of stress and burnout. And they sacrifice themselves, their goals, their happiness and what is truly important to them. But what if you learned to say no as boldly as young children do? Would saying no make you any less caring, supportive, or hardworking? Truth is, saying no does not make you any less of those things.
When you say no to a request, relationship, or opportunity, you might simply be stating any one or a combination of the following things:
- I have the right to change my mind.
- I don’t have the time, or this is not the right time for me.
- This opportunity or relationship is not for me, or this is not what I want to do.
- I have the right to decide how I spend my time, talents, and resources.
- I have established clear and healthy boundaries for my relationships
- I am choosing to put me first, and not the other person or the opportunity.
- I will no longer choose to engage or invest my time, talents and energy in people, relationships and activities that do not uplift me or move me forward.
Just be careful to ensure that your no is not driven by bias, malice, resentment, or the desire to get back at someone.
How to Say No!
According to Susan Newman, PhD, “Saying ‘no’ is not something that comes naturally to the majority of people. Learning to say no is a skill that all of us can learn or get better at.” So, if you are struggling with saying no, here are seven tips from psychotherapist and author Johnathan Alpert (writing at INC Magazine) that can that help you deliver your no more effectively:
- Say it: Rather than stalling or not providing a clear answer, it is recommended that you give a straight answer to the person making the request. While you are not required to give an explanation, you can provide a brief one if you feel inclined to do so. But the general rule to note is less is more.
- Be assertive and courteous: Though your answer might be disappointing to the requestor, the key is to be respectful. Whether you are saying “I’m sorry I can’t right now but will let you know when and if I can.” Or “I appreciate your asking me for help, but I’m stretched too thin right now to devote the time to be of quality help to you.”, be clear about what you do or don’t have the capacity for.
- Understand peoples’ tactics: People will use different tactics and emotional appeals to get you to do what they want. Be aware of these manipulation techniques and be ready to hold firmly to your no.
- Set boundaries: One reason people sometimes have a hard time saying no is because they haven’t taken the time to evaluate their relationships and understand their role within the relationship. When you truly understand the dynamic and your role, you might not feel as anxious about the consequences of saying no. If your relationships are strong, they will withstand, they can withstand your saying no.
- Put the question back on the person asking: This is highly effective in a work situation. Let’s say a supervisor is asking you to take on several tasks–more than you can handle. Alpert suggest that you might say, “I’m happy to do X, Y, and Z; however, I would need three weeks, rather than two, to do a good job. How would you like me to prioritize them?”
- Be firm: If someone can’t accept your no, that is probably a good indicator might not be a genuine friend or respect you. In such case, stand firm, and don’t feel compelled to give in just because that person is uncomfortable.
- Be selfish: Here Alpert suggests that you “Put your needs first. Not those of the person asking you for something. If you prioritize that person’s needs over yours, you’ll find your productivity will suffer and resentment will mount. Perhaps we can learn from Warren Buffett, who said, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.”
Though you might still struggle with saying no, remember it is not possible to say yes to everything and everyone. Don’t allow yourself to be overtaken and stretched too thinly by the ever-increasing demands of those around. You will only make yourself miserable and become resentful in the process. Every time you fail to exercise the courage to say no, you sacrifice your peace of mind, your right to choose and your overall wellbeing for others. Saying no could simply mean you are choosing to follow your gut instincts, acknowledge your thoughts and feelings and you are listening to your body at this time.
Until next time, Remember, ItsALearningLife!