I originally wanted to post a piece on this topic at the beginning of the year because I thought that after the holidays, the effects of not saying “no” might still be ringing in people’s heads. We’re now almost a quarter of the way through the year and I’ve had plenty of conversations with people who are wrestling with saying “no” and I realized again that it’s always a good time to talk about it.
Too many people are exhausted, overwhelmed and burned out because of the fear of saying this little two-letter word. Or perhaps because of not knowing how to say it. Fact is, the word “no” can often be a positive thing, yet we tend to think of it as a negative one.
Consider some possible situations when “no” might be a great thing to hear:
“Do I have cancer?” No.
“Are you cheating on me?” No.
“Did I make a mess of dinner?” No.
“Did I break anything?” No.
See? There are times that “no” is a beautiful word.
But now, let’s consider some times that “no” is still a beautiful word, even when it’s uncomfortable.
“Will you take responsibility for my problems?” No.
“Will you take the blame for my mistakes?” No.
“Can you pretend you don’t notice how rude I continually am to you?” No.
“Can you take on this project [even though you have a pile of other things to do]?” No.
“Can I disregard your schedule, and your life, and expect you to see me or talk to me whenever I want you to?” No.
Now, those questions are most likely unspoken, yet they are still there simmering below the surface whenever another person insinuates, directly or indirectly, that behaviors, problems, or actions of theirs are somehow your responsibility. Or that you should drop everything because they expect you to. Your “no” to these unspoken questions or implications can also be unspoken. For example, by not taking the blame for someone else’s mistakes or behaviors by removing yourself (permanently or temporarily) from their presence, especially if this is an ongoing pattern. And by politely declining their requests, which are sometimes really just sugar-coated demands. Overbearing people have a knack for assuming others will comply with their requests, so you need to be able to stand strong in order to resist them.
It’s possible that if you have trouble saying “no” that there are some limiting beliefs you have about yourself that may be causing this. Even more likely is the possibility that you lack healthy boundaries both with yourself and with those around you. Sometimes knowing what you need to do does not immediately lead to doing it. This is where coaching can be very beneficial to keep you on track.
Sometimes people have trouble saying no because they are afraid of conflict. This is often at a high cost to yourself because then the conflict that goes on is within as you wrestle with self-doubt and self-deprecating talk. But beating yourself up doesn’t empower you or bring you inner peace.
Here are some suggestions on healthy ways to say “no.”
“I won’t be able to do that for you at this time. I have too much else on my plate at the moment.”
A healthy person will honor such a request without trying to make you feel guilty. If they try to manipulate you or coerce you into meeting their request anyway, you can simply say it again, prefaced by, “As I said…” Hopefully this will cause them to accept that you have declined their request. If they persist, politely excuse yourself and leave (or hang up if you’re on the phone…or stop responding to their emails if they continue to badger you online).
If someone is upset with you though you did your best to accommodate them, you can acknowledge their disappointment while saying you did your best. For example, if someone tries to blame you for something not turning out as they hoped, you can say, “I can see that you’re disappointed right now, but I did the best I could.” That way, you acknowledge how they are feeling, you take your part in the situation and you leave the other person to sort out their part. Remember, you are not responsible for managing other people’s emotions, only your own.
If someone requests something of you that you can’t do right way, you can say, “I’d like to help you with that, but right now is not a good time for me. Can we arrange a time that works for both of us?” This is a gentle way of saying “no” that leaves options open to a different time that is beneficial for both parties.
Another excellent option is that, instead of saying “no” right away, simply say, “I need to think about it and get back to you.” A lot of times we struggle with saying “no” because we said “yes” too quickly. Giving yourself time and space to consider a request is fair to you and to the other party. It’s fair to you because you can decide without feeling pressured. And it’s fair to the other person because it communicates that you are willing to consider their request.
And if you do anger someone for saying no, keep in mind that just because someone is mad at you doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. Sometimes they are simply mad because they realize that their attempts to control you with guilt, fear or obligation are not working on you. But again, that’s for them to sort out.
So the next time someone asks you to do something (or implies that your compliance is a given), take a second to ask yourself if this is something you truly feel you should do and then respond accordingly. If you need to think about it, say so.
You have so much to give to the world. Just make sure you’re giving it where you truly feel called to and not where you are being pressured to.
These are just a few examples, but there are many more. There is a lot of letting go involved in saying no. Letting go of outcomes. Letting go of other people’s behaviors and emotions. Letting go of the need to please people. Letting go of worrying. Letting go of someone possibly being disappointed with you. But as you start to bring this powerful word into your life, you will find that you have more space and freedom to say “yes” to the things that are most important to you and it will become easier for you.
Not only that, you’ll feel stronger and more confident when you don’t give your personal power away to people who use your good-natured heart to manipulate you. The more you respect yourself, the more others will see that they need to respect you too if they want to remain in relationship with you.
Change usually takes time and practice. Things that are difficult now will become easier the more you apply the things you learn.
I wish you strength on your journey and light on your path. I’d love to hear your comments, concerns and questions below.
If you need more help with saying “no” and you’d like to schedule a free 30-minute exploratory coaching call with me, please click here and book yourself an appointment. I’d be happy to talk with you!