Do you have a problem saying “no”?
When your boss asks you to work late, and you’d rather go home and watch TV with a glass of wine, do you say “yes” when you mean “no”?
Do you find it hard to directly refuse a request for help or for money from a family member, your mother or your children?
Do you feel the need to justify yourself if you want to refuse a request? Do you find yourself making excuses (or lying?) rather than giving a downright “no”?
If your partner wants sex and you don’t, do you go ahead anyway?
Many people find it hard to be direct in refusing a request. While everyone is different, some of the things people commonly say about saying “no” include:
- If I turn this down, I mightn’t be offered another
- ‘I don’t want to’ doesn’t seem like a good enough excuse
- I’ll offend them
- It’s rude
- I really should say “yes” because they are (fill in the blank…family, a child, old, sick, needy, the boss etc)
- They won’t like me
- If I say “no,” I won’t be able to ask them next time around
- It seems petty, it’s such a small thing
- I don’t want them to think I’m selfish, inflexible, uncaring or unhelpful
- X thinks I should do it, so I can’t really say “no”
In her classic book about assertiveness, A Woman in Your Own Right, Anne Dickson suggests the following steps to help you say “no” when you want to (they apply equally for men):
Listen to your gut feeling. Yes feels up-lifting and enthusiastic, no feels reluctant and draining of energy.
If in doubt, give yourself some time to decide. Tell them you’ll come back to them later, and sit with it for a while.
Ask for more information about what it entails. There may be advantages or disadvantages for you that might not be immediately apparent.
Practice saying “no” clearly and directly. Try it out with a friend. Consider using “no” as a complete sentence. Often the refusal can get lost, and come across as “yes.”
Take responsibility for saying “no”, rather than blaming someone else or making an excuse. This can be hard, but is more effective, and will garner more respect from others. Allow the other person the space to express their feelings. If you have been saying “yes” when you mean “no” for some time, the others in your life may take some time to get used to the refusal. It may help to start by talking to those who matter most to you about the changes you are making, so that when you do say “no” it doesn’t come as so much of a surprise to them.
Acknowledge your feelings. If it’s hard for you to refuse them, it may help you to say so. This helps you to keep your communication clear, and can help to reduce your anxiety in saying no.
Don’t hang around. If you have said “no” and heard what their response is, and it’s a little awkward, rather than trying to make it better (which you can’t), just leave them to deal with it themselves. Staying on gives the other an opportunity to get you to change your mind. You can always talk about it later, when the dust has settled.
You may wish to compromise. But remember to listen to your gut.
Remember you are refusing the request, not rejecting the person.
When we say “yes” but we really mean “no,” the “no” can come out in other ways. We may feel resentful towards the other person, or not do what we were asked as well as we might have done if we were really committed. You may turn up late, or accidentally forget about the task. You may feel sick on the day (maybe your body saying no for you!) On the other hand, you know when someone is doing something but they don’t really want to, or when they cancel at the last minute with a lame excuse, and it doesn’t feel good.
Saying NO gets easier with practice, but you may have to live with the guilt for a while!