Hands up if you hate saying ‘no’?. What is it about this tiny little word ‘no’ that has us in a spin? We hate saying it. It’s a loaded word. It bring with it such trepidations. When I run a personal effectiveness training I can bet my last piece of toffee that someone on the course has a problem with saying ‘no’. There is an exercise which I use were I make a request of each delegate in turn. The requests are usually outrageous…like can you give me a lift to the airport or can you go and get me something to eat? The whole idea is for them to say ‘no’ to me. It is amazing to see people squirm and come up with every lame excuse under the sun rather than say ‘no’.
The ability to say ‘no’ ranks very high on the emotional intelligence list… it shows that you can deal with situations as they arise…there is no awkwardness only appropriate interaction. It also shows that you are your own person and can make the decisions that determine your life.
So what went wrong…?
Every child from the age of 2 knows how to say ‘no’. They are experts at it. Saying ‘no’ is necessary for child development. At the age of 2 a child starts to separate from the parents… find their feet and exercise their independence. It is a time when the child starts to individuate. You cannot individuate if you don’t know who you are…what you like and don’t like. So the child sets off on a magical mystery tour to explore their environment. This is an adventure for the child and a nightmare for the parents who suddenly have to develop eyes in the back of their heads. Saying ‘no’ is part of the process. The ability to say that tiny word and say it loud is part of child growth into being who they are. The average 2 year old knows about 5 random words. The word no is one of them. They say ‘no’ very often. (I have first-hand experience of this) The word ‘no’ trips of the tongue of a 2 year old…and it never fails to get a reaction.
Somehow along the way and for reasons too many to mention here… the word ‘no’ got associated with being bad, rude, selfish, inconsiderate, mean and more. Saying ‘no’ is insolent. It had to be knocked out of you. So every time you said ‘no’ you were made to feel guilty, embarrassed and ashamed. You knew that if you said ‘no’ it would only lead to problems so you stopped saying it. You complied…you acquiesced and the ability to say the word was expelled from your consciousness. The associated negative feelings are so powerful that you’d rather go against yourself than experience them.
Have you ever found yourself at an event that you got talked into and had a dreadful time? Have you ever found yourself doing the lion share of the project while others coast? Have you ever gone against your better judgement and loaned money to a friend and you’re still waiting to see it back.
What the inability to say ‘no’ says about you…
o That other people can decide how you spend your time and ultimately how you live your life.
o That you do not care about yourself.
o That you have the disease to please others and you would do anything to avoid conflict or upset anyone.
o That you have a lack of self-worth.
o That you have a weak and passive personality and can therefore be treated as a doormat.
Whenever you say ‘yes’ when you should be saying ‘no’…is giving people signals how to treat you. You give them permission to take you for granted. By saying ‘yes’ you damage the most important relationship of all. It is the relationship you have with yourself. Every time you say ‘yes’ to something that you need to say ‘no’ to is saying to yourself and all those around you…that you do not matter.
You will begin to say no when you realise that…
o There comes a time when you need to redefine yourself as a person who takes themselves and your time on this planet very seriously.
o Life is too short to find yourself doing things you do not want to do or fitting in with other people’s plans.
o Although you love your friends and family and you get on well with colleagues you need to set some boundaries and respect yourself more.
o It is not selfish to put yourself first. When you listen to the safety instructions on an aeroplane they always tell those with children that in case of an emergency that the parent should put on their safety equipment first.
o Saying ‘no’ is good for your health and for your stress levels because it is you taking care of yourself and acknowledging what you can do and what you can’t do.
Breaking bad habits…
o The notion that saying ‘no’ means that you are bad, rude selfish and the like are limiting beliefs. They are limiting because they hold you back from being who you are. It is the most frustrating thing on the planet to be somewhere you don’t want to be or doing something you don’t want to do. You have to ask yourself the question: “whose life is it?”
o The belief system which supports that saying ‘no’ is negative is out of date and needs deleting. Many years’ ago as a child you no doubt believed in Santa Claus. As you grew you realised that Santa was a fictitious character. Santa doesn’t have much use in daily adult life. What you need to do is put the belief that saying ‘no’ is bad or selfish in the sack labelled ‘figment of my imagination’ and send it to the North Pole along with Santa.
o You need to break the association and neutralise the negative feelings. A good place to start is to tell yourself that it is your basic human right to say ‘no’. It is your human right to determine how you send your time and with whom. It is your human right not to have to defend or justify your ‘no’.
Strategies for saying ‘no’
1. Keep your reply short. Saying ‘no’ is a sentence. You do not need to justify or defend yourself. You are the one that gets to decide what you do with your time.
2. Only give a reason for refusing the request if you want to. Don’t invent excuses unless you have a photographic memory and can remember what you’ve said to everyone at all times.
3. Take responsibility for yourself. If you don’t want to do something you need to own the fact. Say: “I thought about your offer/request and the answer is no”. The key word here is ‘I’. By using the word ‘I’ it shows that you are taking ownership of your decisions. Avoid words like “I can’t…” It makes you sound like a child.
4. When asked to do something or go somewhere tell the person that you need time to think it over. Take time out to ask yourself if it is something that you really want to do. Listen to your gut!
5. When your manager puts more work your way ask them to priories the work.
“I’m not able to complete all the work you’re asking for by tomorrow but if we can agree some priorities I’ll ensure that they are completed in time”.
6. If you have many bosses then get them to prioritise the work that needs to be done. Call a meeting with them all and go through your workload together.
7. Take little steps. Say ‘no’ to people that try to sell you things in the street. All you have to do is say “no thank you”. When you get comfortable with that move on to something a little more challenging.
8. Say ‘no’ to the request and acknowledge the person at the same time.
“Thank you for asking me Dan that’s very kind of you, but I don’t feel like going out tonight”
As I said earlier saying ‘no’ is one of the components of emotional intelligence. Contrary to popular opinion emotional intelligence is not about being vanilla all the time. Emotional intelligence requires you to be autunitic and true to yourself…that takes stamina and guts. Moreover it requires you to pay attention to what’s going around you and within you. It means that you need to take your wants seriously and treat yourself with respect. It is having an awareness of self and others and the ability to deal with what’s happening. Head on! When you can do this people will know to respect you and not take liberties.
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