I was recently at a motivational event. The speaker asked people in the audience to share something special they’d done. One woman said she began to say “no” occasionally. 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. Yet saying “no” should be normal, not an accomplishment!
Saying that one small word—“no”—turns into a very big deal for many of us!
When I was a people pleasing kind of “nice” girl, 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 right course. People pleasers think it’s nice to never say “no.” It seems like the best way to be liked. And they want to be liked. We all do on some level. But saying “yes” at the expense of your own needs and desires isn’t nice! You can turn people down in ways that are soft like a feather and feel as comfortable.
Long time habits take a while to break. You can turn off agreeable auto-pilot. If you’re consistent, you can have yourself a lot more time for you by giving less to others. Next time you get asked to help with something you don’t want to do:
1. Accept that saying “no” isn’t a crime. I finally accepted that I’d still be a nice person if I became more selective about doing favors and that I was entitled to have my needs met too. It meant not putting all my time and energy into others. At first, I proudly forced “no” out. It felt uncomfortable and wasn’t well received. What I call poison word darts—selfish, nasty names, etc.—were hurled at me when I turned down requests. I ran back to the “security” of being agreeable until I realized the manipulation in their words and how unfair it was to call me names just for saying I couldn’t help them.
2. Get into the habit of not responding immediately. People pleasers feel they must reply instantly. You don’t have to! Even if you may say yes, get into the habit of thinking first. 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. Not agreeing on the spot gives you time to find a good way to say “no.”
3.Don’t be apologetic: Why say you’re sorry you can’t if you’re not? If you express regret, they’ll keep asking and pour on the guilt. Apologies bring more requests. If they hear resolve, they’ll accept your decision.
4.Make each “no” an individual decision: For each request, think, “Is this okay for me to do?” If it’s not inconvenient, consider it. You don’t have to prove yourself by turning everyone down. Find a balance between helping you, and others. Selectively agree when it works for you. Ask yourself, “Do I want to do it?” You might want to go the distance for someone who helps 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 stressful ways, and you don’t owe the person that kind of consideration, say “no.”
5. Start slowly: Baby step, one person at a time. Slowly get people used to you not always being the go-to person for favors. It’s okay to say “no” if you have something else to do! I tried new ways to change people’s expectations of me by slowly weaning myself away from always being the go-to girl. Being nice starts with being nice to yourself. Turn down the easiest person first to see how it feels. Then try another. It takes time to break people’s habits of expecting your acquiescence. Get them used to the new you!
6. Don’t succumb to pressure: People may use guilt, etc. to change your mind. Sweetly but firmly hold your ground. If they call you selfish, ask why it’s not selfish to not be available. Isn’t it selfish to expect you to change your plans for them?
7. Don’t defend why you can’t do something. There’s no need to. Just say you can’t, with conviction. Don’t justify why you can’t. Being on the defensive weakens your stance.
8. Be firm in saying no. Don’t dance around it. Saying, “I’d love to help but…” tells them to ask again. Saying, “I can’t” tells them to look elsewhere.
9. Give yourself time to answer. Say you must check your schedule. If she says she needs to know fast, nicely explain you can’t respond fast so she may want to find a backup. Explain that you have a pretty full schedule and need to check it. Turn them down by email. It gives you some distance from personal reactions. Turning someone down electronically is easier. After you’ve waited, 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’ll see they can’t automatically count on you.
10. Say “No” Without Saying “No”. Use expressions like, “I can’t do it” or “this doesn’t work for me.” or “I don’t have time.” or “I’ve got a full plate.” Create pat answers. Flattery can temper refusals. Say you think highly of the person but you’re overextended. Tell a neighbor you enjoy talking with her but it’s not a good time for you to organize a block party. If it’s more comfortable at first, create excuses. Little white lies ease you into it. Someone calls for a lift—you just washed your hair. Can you come watch her kids? You’re writing a report. Survival excuses allow you to bow out nicely. Consistent, reasonable excuses get folks out of the habit of always expecting your help.
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. It’s nice to say “no” to what you don’t want to do. As long as you treat people with courtesy, nice people have the right to say “no,” sans guilt.
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