We have all felt compelled, one time or another, to say yes to something or someone when we really wanted to say no. We may have agreed to a commitment that we later regretted because we wanted to be nice or polite, feared conflict or confrontation, or worried what others would think of us. Saying no makes many of us feel uncomfortable. We would rather accept the personal sacrifices that come from agreeing than risk the consequences of saying no.
There are a variety of reasons people may find it hard to say no. Some people seek approval, some have the need to always be liked or needed, some fear burning bridges, and some simply do not place enough value on their selves or their time.
When others ask for our commitment many of us assume out of fear or the slant of our own perceptions that we know what those individuals want or are thinking. As a result we may falsely presume how they will react to being turned down, maybe create a scenario in our heads where the repercussions of saying no are very uncomfortable—perhaps catastrophic. In actuality that is rarely the result, but when it is, the other person’s overreaction often signals a bigger problem that cannot be remedied by our compliance. When someone cannot accept “no” as the answer we are not the problem—they are.
A person asking for help or a favor usually has a backup plan. If we say no they will often move on to “Plan B.” They may be disappointed by our response but their world will not be shattered. They will understand and get over it. Those of us who find it difficult to say no may not. We may ruminate over our decision or suffer guilt feelings for having turned them down.
Many people say yes because they place more value on others’ time than they do their own. But whenever we place more emphasis on pleasing others than we do ourselves we demonstrate a lack of boundaries and self-respect. Others begin to see us as “pushovers.” They will ask us to do things not because we are the best person to fulfill the job or favor, but because we never say no. By demonstrating that we value our time we teach others to respect and value it as well.
As humans we are interdependent. The propagation of our race and the functions of our society depend on the exchanges we have with others. Our species thrives on the reciprocation of love and kindness. But we must show kindness to ourselves before we can show it to others.
Time is a limited commodity; we have the right to choose how we want to spend it. Wasted time is lost time. The fifteen minutes here and there that we agree to give to others adds up to lost hours that we cannot get back. It is certainly the duty of each of us to help others in need, but it is up to us to define the balance between taking care of ourselves and assisting others. We cannot be everything to everyone.
Saying no has its implications but so does saying yes. Every time we say yes to something we say no to something else. When we over commit we deprive ourselves of the rest, relaxation, and sleep we need. Our performance and productivity in the things we say yes to suffer. The more selective we are with our consents the more often and effectively we can be there for those we truly want to help out.
There are times when we have no other option but to say yes. Whenever our compliance or agreement involves living up to our personal responsibilities we never have the option of declining. Likewise, those who are part of a team have the responsibility of participating and pulling their weight, though they do not have to take on more than their fair share. There are also times when we should never say yes. We should never allow others to unload their problems on us, take advantage of us, or manipulate us.
Sometimes it seems like the easiest thing to do would be to avoid saying no altogether and saying yes more. But you will no longer feel uncomfortable turning requests down once you learn the right way to do it. Remind yourself that you will not be the first person to decline a request—other people say no on a regular basis with very positive outcomes. With practice you will discover how easily you can do it too.
Here are five tips that will help you say no respectfully and courteously.
1. Be assertive. Say no politely but with conviction. Articulate it directly, openly, and honestly.
2. Never start out by apologizing. Saying, “I’m sorry but…” or I’m sorry I wish I could” waters down your stance. It makes you sound weaker and sends the wrong message.
3. The simplest and most direct way to say no is just to say, “No I Can’t,” “No thank you,” or “I already have plans.” Explain but do not over-explain. Keep it simple.
4. To restrain your tendency of first saying yes then regretting it, never promise anything on the spot. Just say, “I’ll think about it and get back to you” or I’ll check my schedule and get back to you.” If someone needs an immediate answer it should always be “no.”
5. If you would like to keep your options open but are genuinely too busy to make a decision, you can say, “That sounds like an interesting opportunity but I don’t have the time to consider it at the moment. Perhaps you could get back with me.” This makes the other person feel valuable, whether you ultimately respond yes or no.
Others have the right to ask us for whatever they want—money, a favor, our time. People can and will extend social invitations. Just as it is others’ rights to ask, it is our right and prerogative whether to say yes or no. That is a choice each of us is entitled to make.
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