Some people find it easy to say no. You know those people? Maybe you are one of those people. But if you are one of the millions of others – those who struggle mightily with that simple word – you may be both envious and awestruck by those who can just say no. For so many, saying no is painful, challenging, HARD! Why is that?
There are numerous possible answers to that question. Does one of these fit your profile?
- Are you a people pleaser? Many people are socialized this way. It is quite common for women to be “trained to please,” though plenty of men fit this profile as well. If your first impulse is to please, satisfy, take care of… you are a people pleaser. It is not inherently a bad way to be, as long as you learn to set clear boundaries. You are a lovely human being, but you may be letting yourself be taken advantage of.
- Are you afraid to disappoint others? If you fear disappointing other people, you have a good heart. You don’t want to reject someone with “no” or hurt their feelings. But if failing to disappoint them is backlashing on you, rethink your approach. When you twist yourself into an emotional pretzel, or take on more than you should, or say “yes” when you are dying to say “no,” you are doing no favors to anyone, ultimately.
- Do you have blurry boundaries? Someone you care about flies into a hysterical panic because she can’t find her cell phone. Do you feel empathy for her and calmly begin to help her search? Or do you feel her anxiety in your own body, sharing her hysteria, and taking it all too personally? Perhaps you feel that somehow it is your fault – though how can that be true? The latter scenario is not about empathy – it’s about blurry boundaries. Saying “no” is probably hard for you.
- Do you simply not have the words? Many of us grew up in homes where clearly stating personal needs or expressing firm opinions was not only discouraged, it was never modeled. Maybe you have too little experience with clearly stating, “No, I do not want to do that.” Practice makes perfect. Use the mirror first, and see how it goes.
- Are you avoiding? Some people think that a simple “No thank you” is a confrontational act. They will avoid awkward encounters like the plague, as if any necessary but unpleasant truth that needs to be spoken is an act of aggression. Rest assured, it is not. You have the right to speak your truth, and it can be done with humanity and gentleness.
- Do you lack personal empowerment? Your own sense of empowerment relates to all of the above bullet points on some level. Stepping into your power is a huge topic for a future blog, but please realize that it involves seeing yourself clearly; understanding what you need, want, and deserve; recognizing that you are not responsible for the feelings and reactions of others; and knowing that you have the right to set boundaries that keep you secure and comfortable.
Now let’s look at some specific ways you can say “Thanks, but no thanks” respectfully and kindly.
You are out with friends and someone you meet asks you for your number. You don’t want to give it.
- Be honest. There is nothing to gain by doing something you do not want to do that requires breaching your boundaries in such a big way. You may cause some immediate disappointment, yes, but not as much as you would cause by saying no to a date when you get the inevitable call, or saying no to a good night kiss after a date you never wanted to go on…. Where does the cycle end? Stop it before it begins. Remember, you do not owe this person anything. Managing another person’s reaction is not your responsibility.
- You could say, “Thank you for asking. I’m flattered, but I’m in a committed relationship.” Or, “You are a lovely person, but I’m not interested in you that way.”
You have plans for a romantic evening when your date calls at the last minute to ask if it’s okay if friends join you for dinner and drinks.
- Don’t feel guilty. You have two options, say yes, okay, they can come, or clearly express your desire to stick with the original plan. Unless your date has called to say, “Let’s spend the evening with my mom who is on her deathbed,” you have no substantial (ethical, humane etc.) reason to acquiesce to a new arrangement. If you agree to the request to change your evening plans, when you really want to decline, you will end up feeling resentment. Your date will be perplexed about how you ended up there, and only you will know the answer: you failed to speak your truth.
- You could start off with a compliment, “Your friends are great and I really enjoy spending time with them,” and end in your truth, “I planned a romantic dinner for two” with a willingness to compromise: “Let’s invite them another time.”
A co-worker wants to set you up on a blind date with his “really funny, nice cousin” from out of town.
- Don’t agree to something that makes you uncomfortable. It is never okay to step outside your personal comfort zone to accommodate someone else’s wishes. Stepping outside your comfort zone can be a wonderful, liberating, and empowering experience – but NOT when it is done out of a sense of responsibility for someone else’s feelings or to avoid conflict.
- You could say, “It is so nice of you to think of me, but I make it a practice not to go on blind dates,” or “I’m sure your cousin is a great person, but before I agree to a date I need to meet someone face to face first.”
Your date badgers you to give the relationship a second, third, or fourth chance.
- Be firm. In this scenario, you have already set your boundary— choosing not to continue a relationship. Do not allow yourself to be badgered into continuing a relationship that is not working for you. Your sense of well-being trumps any fear of disappointing others, or desire to make nice.
- You can use techniques like “the broken record,” “fogging,” or “negative assertion,” to stick to your guns.
Learning how to say no to what you don’t want is a life-changer. Not only will you feel more comfortable and secure, you will be truly empowered. Think of the time that will be freed up! Instead of doing things you don’t really want to, you will have time to focus on what matters to you.