Saying No (Yes, you can!)

My last post with tips on setting boundaries deserves some further fleshing out. People pleasing and a fear of the word “no” are hallmarks of a need for boundaries, and they also make it super difficult to set them.

What happens when you imagine yourself saying “no”? Do you feel anxious or guilty? That’s a pretty common thing. The number of us saying “yes” to avoid a hassle or protect someone else’s schedule or someone else’s impression of us is astounding. When we say “yes” but really want to say “no” eventually some resentment builds up. We don’t like it, but its hard to stop it.

When you think about saying no, you probably immediately think, “I can’t do that! My coworkers are counting on me. I have to!” Or, “If I say no, they’ll think I’m selfish!”

While this stuff may technically be true, they don’t mean that you don’t have the option of saying no.

No is a short word and its simple as can be. A lot of times we grow up hearing that we can’t say no to our parents, and while that was once to true and to the benefit of our raising and learning to a degree, it isn’t true now. Now we can say no. Growing up with that belief that we can’t say no has us saying yes a lot more than we mean it. Does that work for you? Do you take on all the things that come your way with no resentment at all?

Saying yes constantly to things you’d rather say no to is draining. Giving feels great, and it makes us the hero for a bit, but it gets old when it comes at the expense of things you might need for yourself (like time to shower, time with family, a decent amount of sleep, or time to yourself for my fellow introverts!). Over time the resentment builds and those closest to us pay the price because we’re too tired to maintain our relationships with them.

No has its benefits. It isn’t bad or wrong. It doesn’t make you a bad person. You aren’t (no one is) Superman or Superwoman. Its good self-care to be able to say no, even if it is difficult. Its really common to hear some negative self-talk when it comes to saying no:

If I say no I’m not a good person or I don’t care about this person enough.

I’m needed and they asked for my help, saying no is selfish of me.

If I don’t do it, who will?

Really think about this, though. Are these things your problem? Are they absolutely true? Usually no in both cases.

The thing we usually do to soften the blow of saying no to someone is to provide an explanation. Some people in our lives deserve or earn explanations, but that won’t be true for everyone. Drawn out and flowery explanations give the person we’re saying more information, which we hope they’ll use to better understand our position, but which they typically use to find holes in your logic or ways to argue around – particularly if they have poor boundaries themselves and they’re used to your acquiescence.

Another quick point – don’t apologize. If you’re big on apologizing a lot, for lots of things, chances are when you say no it usually sounds like, “I can’t, I’m sorry.” That’s totally ok – but here’s some news in case you aren’t aware: you are a person and it is ok if you don’t have time for something or don’t want to do something. Its totally ok! Unless you truly feel moved to offer an apology, there isn’t a need to give one. Tacking “sorry” on to a no actually lets the person know that you’re uncomfortable with “no” and in future they may push a bit harder to capitalize on the idea that you aren’t too keen on your noes.

Some tips on saying no:

  1. Team up with friends who may also have “no” issues. Create a supportive environment for venting, processing, and accountability. If Sally tells you she’s said no to more new projects this quarter and then she takes one on, you can gently reminder, discuss what happened, and learn from it together.
  2. Determine if the person you’re saying no to deserves an explanation. Prepare what explanation will be given, if any. Keep it clear and concise!
  3. Examine why you’re feeling bad about saying “no” specifically. Is it because of some underlying thoughts about “no” or is it with this person in general? On a specific topic or line of work?
  4. Start small and build on that – find a tiny area of life to issue some noes in and work from there.

Here are some fantastically nice ways to say “no” sans extra explanation or “sorry”:

  1. Not this time.
  2. No thanks, I can’t.
  3. I have another commitment.
  4. Sadly, I’ve got something else going on.
  5. I can’t make it.
  6. Maybe some other time.
  7. My calendar is really full right now.
  8. That won’t work for me.
  9. I wish I could, but I can’t.
  10. I’m not able to fit that in.
  11. I’m not taking on new projects/clients/commitments at present.
  12. Aww, if only I could.
  13. That’s not possible for me.
  14. Sounds neat, but I can’t commit now.
  15. Nope, I’ve got too much on my plate.

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