Say No!

... and feel good about it

Say No!

Do you find yourself saying "yes" when you'd really rather say "no"? Our strategies will help you say no honestly - and feel good about it.

We’re bombarded with requests from family, friends, co-workers, and bosses, all wanting or expecting us to say yes. It’s tempting to be nice, to be agreeable, to be the person who always gets things done—whether we want to or not. However, constantly saying yes has a price.

Flexing our “no” muscle can be liberating and effective. Used appropriately, “no” can be one of the most powerful words in your vocabulary.

Not a four letter word

For some people, the stigma of saying no is so strong they’ll agree to almost anything rather than say no and risk being thought of as a bad person. Fear of conflict pushes them to say yes because they think saying no is rude, aggressive, or obnoxious—and others won’t like them.

According to Sue Valentine, an Ontario psychotherapist, “Women, in particular, are taught to please—to be pleasant, to not be any trouble, and to anticipate others’ needs.” For some women, saying yes makes them feel needed. For others, saying no makes them feel selfish, guilty, or lazy.

The positive side of no

Constantly giving in to others’ demands at the expense of our own feelings can build anger, resentment, anxiety, depression, stress, and feelings of powerlessness. And, says Valentine, it can lead to “loss of joy and hope.”

Negative emotions directed inward can cause headaches, stomach problems, back pain, trouble sleeping, or a weakened immune system. Directed outward, they can result in inappropriate lashing out at others. We can’t yell at our boss, so we yell at a co-worker, friend, or family. Or we become passive-aggressive, agreeing to do something, but doing a bad job, being late, or “forgetting” to do it.

Saying no is empowering, gifting us the time, energy, and health to say yes to what really matters to us. People who feel in control of their lives are generally happier, and studies have shown that happiness leads to success in relationships and work.

The art of saying no

Saying no well is an art—one we can all learn with practice. Over time, mastering this art adds to our confidence, making it easier to refuse things we don’t want or need to do.

You might feel silly practising, but it works. Stand in front of a mirror and simply say “no” calmly, coolly, but firmly. Stand up straight, make eye contact, and speak clearly and fluently to signal you mean what you’re saying.

Ask a friend or family member to help you role play specific situations in which you have problems saying no. Videotape the role play to examine your tone of voice and body language. Then, when you’re asked to do something you don’t want to do, you’re less likely to blurt out yes, because you’ll have another answer ready.

If you’re ambushed with a request and can’t think of a good way to say no, fall back on the tried and true: “Let me get back to you.” That gives you time to respond later when you’re better prepared.

Strategies for saying no

If you’re saying yes out of fear, examine the realities of those worries. Will your boss really fire you if you refuse to do personal errands? Will your friend truly drop you if you don’t help her move? Often, we’re so afraid of appearing aggressive or rude that we inflate the consequences of saying no. Does that mean there are never negative results? No. But they may be less damaging than you think or worth standing up for.

According to Goldie Newman, a Toronto consultant and assertive communication specialist, we need to remember the three Rs and be “responsible, respectful, and realistic.” Further, the way we choose to say no allows us to “model this behaviour to others (children, people who report to us, colleagues, et cetera), while achieving a sense of personal satisfaction.”

There are many routes to no, some of which involve coming up with an alternative, asking for help, or simply refusing. No matter which way you choose:

  • Be brief, clear, and firm.
  • Don’t give long explanations or say “I’m sorry”—which dilutes the strength of your refusal.
  • Tailor your response to the situation and people involved.

Dealing with persistent requests

Some people aren’t willing to take no for an answer. Unless you’re prepared to keep dealing with their requests, don’t give in. Repeat your refusal, but don’t give reasons or excuses, as it’s harder to argue with a simple “no.”

Being honest with ourselves and those we relate to creates respect. “When people respect us,” says Valentine, “they are less likely to take advantage of us.” Demanding people will eventually get the message, or you may have to restrict the relationship.

Situation Response
Your boss asks you to stay late again to finish a last-minute assignment. “I can’t tonight, but I can start on it first thing tomorrow morning.”
Your boss gives you extra work on top of an already demanding workload. “I have three other projects. Which ones would you like me to shift so I can complete this one?”
A co-worker is behind in her work and asks for help. “I’m working on something and can’t help right now.”
A friend asks you to be on a school committee. “I have too many other commitments. Have you considered asking Ellen?”
A friend asks you to lend him money. “I don’t feel comfortable lending money.”
A friend invites you to a party. “Thanks for asking, but I have to say no.”
Your in-laws want to visit and stay at your house for three weeks. “We’re really busy this month and wouldn’t be able to spend time with you. Maybe next month.”
Your child is demanding candy at the store. “You can have one piece after dinner.”

Setting limits on saying yes

There are times when saying no is not an option. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to give an unqualified yes.

  • Be clear about exactly what you’re willing or not willing to do.
  • Put a limit on how much time you can give.
  • Prioritize the tasks.
  • Ask for help or delegate.
  • Simplify or eliminate unnecessary tasks.

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