Last night I was at an event. The speaker asked people in the audience to share something special they’d done this year. One woman said she began to say “no” to people. Everyone applauded this feat. Women are known for being overly agreeable. I’ve encountered many guys who say they also agree to requests much too often.
Saying that one small word—“no”—turns into a very big deal for many of us!
I relate. When I was a DoorMat, I couldn’t get that word out. Turning someone down meant possibly losing a friendship. Or alienating someone. You might not even like the person but if you want to be liked by EVERYONE, agreeable seems to be the course of action.
Being liked seems much more pleasant than annoying someone by not helping. When I was on Oprah, she asked the audience what they preferred—being liked or being respected? Almost everyone chose liked. And people like you much more when you’re agreeable! Now I know that real friends like you even if you don’t jump when they need something. And colleagues who respect you will respect when you’re too busy to accept more work.
We all have ouch moments when we feel we’ve done something to make someone not like us. I still do! But they pass fast in the glow of feeling more empowered.
After being the go-to girl for everyone, I finally began to be more selective about doing favors. As my self-esteem grew, I accepted—joyously—that I was entitled to have a life that includes meeting my needs too. To achieve that, I had to stop putting all my time and energy into others. But, I was accused of becoming a bitch when I turned down requests. I ran back to the “security” of being agreeable until I realized the manipulation in their words.
They were being unfair by labeling me with a nasty word, just for saying I couldn’t help them. It’s okay to say “no” if you have something else to do!
I learned how to turn people down more diplomatically. At first, I proudly forced “no” out. It felt uncomfortable and wasn’t well received. So I tried new ways to ease people into understanding that they had to find someone else as their go-to girl. I’d gotten folks in the habit of expecting me to help with everything. Now I had to break that habit! And I did, by using new tactics to slowly wean myself away from requests.
You can create new habits of responding to what others want from you. Their attitude probably won’t change overnight. Long time habits take a while to bereak. But if you’re consistent, you to can give yourself a lot more time by giving less to others. You can stop being on agreeable auto-pilot! Next time you get asked to help with something you know you don’t want to do:
• Pause before responding. DoorMats feel they must reply instantly. You don’t have to! Even if you may say yes, get into the habit of thinking before you respond. Try to stay as deadpan as possible so they can’t read guilt or dismay. They may try to manipulate you if they sense guilt or a lack of enthusiasm for their needs.
• Stall. Say you must think about it or check your schedule. If she pushes and says she needs to know fast, nicely explain you can’t respond fast so she may want to find a backup. If she acts like you’re not being a friend, ask, with a smile, why she thinks her schedule is more important than yours.
• Stall more. A few people may get the message if you stall a bit. Ask him to email you to remind you to check your schedule. It gives you some distance from personal reactions. Turning someone down electronically is easier.
• Ponder. Ask yourself, “Do I want to do it or prefer not to?” You might want to go the distance for someone who has helped you a lot. Be selective as you turn folks down. Don’t just stop agreeing to everything. But if agreeing to the request will inconvenience you in ways that stress you, and you don’t owe the person that kind of consideration, choose not to do it.
• Excuse. After you’ve waited a while, say you can’t do it. Waiting helps the person get used to your not always saying “yes.” It forces them to think of alternatives to having you do what they need. Even if you say “yes,” they may begin to see they can’t automatically count on you. As you practice, you can turn off auto-pilot and selectively agree when it works for you.
I may not be liked by as many people since I started saying “no,” but I’m a lot more respected, and a lot happier with the people in my world who like me for me, not for what I do for them. In my next post, I’ll give alternatives to saying “no.” You can turn folks down without that little word ever crossing your lips!