Most of us struggle to ‘Say No.’ It’s not that we don’t want to turn down some invitations or extra demands on our time, it’s because deep down, we don’t feel we can. We have a cocktail of fears and limiting beliefs preventing the word ‘no’ escaping our lips. We seek to avoid conflict or damaging a relationship. We fear negative judgement because as chronic people pleasers we simply don’t want to let others down. We might set impossibly high standards for ourselves and saying no would mean admitting that we just can’t do it all.
Saying no guilt-free is not about being rude or unhelpful, nor does it mean not doing your job. Saying no is really about appropriate assertiveness, being conscious of how you manage your time and energy, and how you balance your commitment to others with your commitment to yourself.
If your habitual response to requests is an automatic ‘yes,’ there is a price to pay. Your priorities, (if you know them,) sink lower on your ‘to do’ list. You will spread yourself too thin, stoking feelings of resentment, frustration and stress. The hidden cost is self-betrayal because time and time again you put your perception of other people expectations ahead of what you value most. A packed schedule will keep you busy, but reacting to other people’s urgencies will distract you from devoting your precious time and energy to what’s important to you. And because we ‘teach people how to treat us,’ you open the door for those individuals who can attempt to take advantage of your giving nature.
In a work situation it’s important to distinguish between requests and instructions. Learning to say no is never about not doing your job, but without awareness we can fall into the trap of interpreting all requests as obligations. Whilst we can be strict when it comes to managing our time, our intention should always be to remain gracious when dealing with people. There is no one right way to ‘say no’ and it’s all context-dependent. In part two of this article I’ll be sharing a suite of techniques, tips and phrases for you to try out. We must start though by contemplating the shackles that are holding you back.
A reluctance to say no is a symptom, what’s the cause? All behaviour has positive intent, so it’s worth contemplating why you have a hard time saying no. As mentioned above, there can be a variety of reasons. Most will be fear-based. The fear of being seen as difficult or not caring. The fear that if you say no to a request you will close the door to future opportunities.
At work, you may feel that you don’t have the authority to say no. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of becoming a witness to your thought processes. The powerful question ‘what stops you?’ is the invitation to surface those unconscious fears and beliefs. When you have a handle on the issue you can bring your rational mind into play, broaden your perspective on the situation and give yourself permission to identify other ways to respond.
Those moments, those split seconds when we say yes or no are what I label, critical decision points. We can do what we’ve always done, or we can choose to step into the vision we have for ourselves. In the same way that it is easier to say no to a request when you know you are saying say yes to a higher priority, it’s also easier to say no when you have considered how you want to engage with the world. ‘Who do I want to be in those situations?’ What qualities or traits do you want to tap into?
By having a vision for yourself, a set of guiding principles or boundaries, it is far easier to justify on the inside the word ‘no’ as it tumbles out of your mouth. For example, I will say no to meeting with clients in the evening or at the weekends. The opportunity cost is turning a client away, forgoing the income and even the positive word of mouth, but I place a higher value on quality home time. My vision for how I want to live and engage with others doesn’t incorporate working outside of normal office hours.
Saying no guilt-free is a building block of confidence. It will never be a done deal, it will always be a work in progress, a dance between what we value most and what we fear the most. Many people accept how they currently engage with others as a done deal. I frequently hear the refrains ‘I just can’t so no,’ ‘I struggle to be assertive,’ or ‘I’d never want to let people done.’ We conform to how we self-identity, so the first step we can take, is to replace those restricting thoughts with something like ‘I’m open to trying something different,’ or ‘I’m learning to have clearer boundaries.’ They open the door to change.
In part two of this article, I will share 8 ways to say no, including some handy phrases to have in your toolkit. If you enjoyed this article then you may be interested in my post titled How to deal with negative thoughts.
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