Learning To Say No

Far too often when faced with a personal request that we don’t want to do or don’t have capacity, we will acquiesce, or (according to the dictionary) “accept something reluctantly but without protest.” We don’t want to disappoint others or we want to maintain a relationship so we say yes when we really want to say no.

For some people the image of being a helpful, can-do, person is more important than their own health. They will give up sleep, family time, or other hobbies to maintain that image of the helpful person. Unfortunately saying yes too often corrodes relationships and damages our ability to actually be helpful. It leads to resentment toward the person asking of us and prevents us from being able to do the things that we want or need to do for our own self-care.

Learning to say no, when appropriate, can be difficult for someone who has spent their life trying to please people or who sees themselves as the can-do helper who is always willing to put in the extra work. For them saying no is not only foreign, but it is worse than cursing. However, by learning to say no they will begin setting boundaries that will allow them to have healthier relationships. They will also gain a better sense of themselves and what it takes for them to recharge and be most productive and helpful.

Learning to say no is a valuable life skill that translates to the business world and development. It is important to being able to take care of yourself and establishing boundaries with those around you. While you are learning to say no, remember to respect when others say no to you. It can be frustrating, but remember to put yourself in their place and think about how you want to be treated when you say no to someone. They may be following the example you set by saying no and how you respond will greatly influence their future efforts to say no. A little bit of respect for others boundaries goes a very long way toward better relationships at work or in your personal life.

Episode Breakdown

Importance of Saying No

You are NOT a terrible, horrible, evil person for saying “no”.

Many people have the misinformed belief that they are being rude or selfish if they say no to someone. They believe saying “no” is impolite and people will not like them if they don’t acquiesce to others. A lot of times this stems from childhood, because it was considered rude or impolite to say no to parents, teachers, etc. This can grow into a belief that you cannot say no, even when you want to do so. In childhood you were expected to acquiesce to higher authority because they were looking out for your best interests. As an adult, you are capable of making your own choices and saying no to things that you do not want or have capacity to do is one of those choices. In order to grow as a person you’ll need to disassociate the act of saying “no” with being disagreeable or selfish.

When you say “no” you are showing respect to yourself and the other person.

By saying “no” when you don’t want to do something you are showing the other person that you respect yourself and them enough to be honest. Acquiescence, even on minor issues, eventually leads to resentment. Over time this will destroy relationships whether they are romantic, friendships, or work related. Saying “no”, when appropriate, is also the first step in defining healthy relationship boundaries. You will start a process that will lead to healthier relationships in your life. This respect and appropriate boundaries will not only affect you, but it will set an example for others in your life to model and build healthier relationships.

If you’re unable to care for yourself, then you won’t be able to care for others.

In order to be able to provide the best for others in your life, you have to be able to recharge yourself and take time that you need for self-care. For caregivers it can be extremely difficult to say no, you are used to putting the needs of others before your own and taking care of them. To be able to care for yourself, you must set appropriate boundaries. In order to set those boundaries, you need the ability to say no when necessary.

Saying “no” is a zero sum game.

When you say no to one thing, you are saying yes to another. You have a finite amount of time, sometimes saying no to someone is saying yes to yourself, other times it is saying yes to something more important. If you always say yes, then your priorities become second place to those of others. People you barely know will take your time leaving little or none for the important people in your life. When you politely decline an invitation to an event you are saying yes to spending that time on something more important. Sometimes that’s something you enjoy more, sometimes it’s homework. You will become frustrated because you don’t have the time you need for rest and recovery. This will lead to stress and other problems that feed into a negative loop consuming your time. Eventually you won’t be able to say yes to the things that matter, the really important ones in your life.

When to Say No

You are not comfortable with the request.

This could be a bad feeling about it, or something more substantial like questionable legality or morality of the request. Do not ignore your initial gut reaction to a request. Intuition is not a rational thing, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be trusted. When you get a gut reaction, you don’t have to explain yourself to say no. When you sense something is wrong, maybe you were asked to do something outside of the normal routine or that you know may not be the most moral or even illegal, it is best to say no and get yourself away from the situation.

The other person is pressuring you or guilt tripping you into saying yes.

A lot of times people say yes to something is because they feel obligated or a sense of duty. They will feel guilty if they say no. This may come from others manipulating them or from an internal sense of obligation or fear of disappointing others. In order to stop caving to the guilt trip, you first need to know that your emotions are being manipulated. That starts with being mindful and aware of your emotions and how you feel. It also helps to know what motivates you to do things.

When you start noticing that you are feeling guilty or obligated to do something stop and take note. Determine if you are being manipulated by someone else or even your own sense of obligation. Look for a legitimate reason for saying yes. Is this something important? Do you care for the person asking you to do something? What are the consequences of saying no? You may still say yes, but for the right reasons not a sense of obligation or guilt.

You have too much on your plate already.

It should be simple, but so many of us fall into the trap of overloading our schedules and trying to fit something else into an already too full time-fame than simply saying no. One of the pitfalls of remote work is that while it is “from home” many people who aren’t working remotely forget the key word in the phrase is “work”. They will ask you for favors or help right in the middle of your work day. Saying yes may cause your work to suffer or you to miss important calls.

On the other hand, working remote may empower managers to think that since your work is at home then you are always available for them. It’s not just remote workers who have issues with management thinking they own your time off the clock. Cramming more into your schedule means that you suffer or lose something. It may be sleep and downtime, or time with family or friends.

The idea of saying yes does not excite you.

There may not be an obvious reason to say no to something, other than you just don’t want to do it or are not excited about it. Even if there aren’t any red flags about a request, you can’t say yes to everything or you’d never have any time to yourself. Accomplishing your goals and dreams requires you to stay focused on them. That means that you will have to say no to things that don’t move them forward or do not excite you. Even things like going out with friends or new relationships, don’t settle for anything less than what excites you or moves you toward your goals.

Tips for Saying No

Once you’ve made your decision, stick with it.

Don’t over-think your decision to say no. This may lead to guilt or creating your own false sense of obligation. Once you’ve decided to say no, do so immediately. Waiting will allow your mind to over analyze and imagine worst case scenarios. Once the decision is made, move on. The vast majority of the time the other person will respect your decision whether they understand your reasons or not. In cases where they do not, it’s better to get away from them before you made a commitment.

Keep a clear understanding of what you value and what is important in your life.

You may have the time and capacity to say yes, but do so will prevent you from something else that is more important to you. Having clearly defined SMART goals will help you to know your own goals and guide you in making decisions about what will move you toward them. If you want to see someone’s priorities look at where they say yes as opposed to where they say no. That will give you a clue as to what they value and what is less important to them.

When saying no, be polite but firm.

Don’t whine or complain about the request, or about reasons you can’t do it. Whining will drive a wedge between you and the other person making it less likely they will want to help you if you ask. Avoid being too apologetic or getting defensive when asked to do something. These are both emotional reactions to the request and not reasoned responses.

If you oscillate between apologies and anger you will send a message that you aren’t as together and you may change your mind about saying no. This may lead to others pressuring you to say yes even after you have said no. Be firm, yet polite, in your response and stick with your initial statement of no. While it may seem stressful at first, over the long run this will lead to less stress as others will learn to respect your decisions.

You don’t have to justify yourself or your answer to anyone.

It is rare, but if someone is using you then they will demand an explanation of why you are declining their request. You don’t have to give them one and shouldn’t in these circumstances. You can politely decline a request for any number of reasons, but you don’t have to tell the other person or explain your reasoning to them. If they press, you may tell them that it doesn’t fit into your schedule or that you aren’t able to do it. You don’t have to tell them you’d rather spend the time with your family or throwing axes with friends. If that isn’t sufficient then walk away.

Tricks of the Trade

Convince other people to say no on your behalf when appropriate. If the people in charge of you can’t say “no” on your behalf, you’ll have problems because they will say yes to everything. Further, they will damage what they are trying to accomplish. Constraints create freedom in many cases.

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