How To

Learning to say no

Learning to say no
Grace Sweeney

Grace Sweeney

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People pleasing isn’t a trait worth celebrating.

Many of us have trouble saying no — and that tendency doesn’t represent niceness, so much as a reputation as a pushover or someone who can be taken advantage of.

If you haven’t learned to say no, chances are, your emotional health might suffer in the long run. When you’re always going out of your way to make others happy, you’re not giving yourself a chance to be at your best.

And, you’ll be up to your gills in extra work and extra social activities you’d just as soon skip out on.

How to say no to people

how to say no

Why is saying no so hard?

Saying no seems like such a small thing. But, boy, can it be tough to employ those two tiny letters in certain moments.

We live in a culture that values a great big yes. The reason is, we’re social creatures. Humans thrive when we give and we get — and as we’ve evolved from being hunter-gatherers and traders, asking people for favors and doing them in return is what reciprocity means in a modern world.

One theory is, saying yes (even when we really don’t want to) is a means of putting off discomfort. Psychology Today says the difficulty stems from our desire to be accepted by our peer group.

We worry that if we don’t lend a hand or do a favor, we’ll be punished by the people we care about. At work, this translates to a fear of missing out on opportunities or not being seen as a team player.

Yeses lead to burn out

Jonathan Becher wrote an article for Forbes about the power of saying no. It’s essentially a roundup of quotes, but it’s a good source of inspiration for those who feel trapped in a cycle of saying yes. A favorite quip comes from Steve Jobs — focusing is about saying no.

If you feel overcommitted, it’s important to know yourself well enough to figure out what’s going to push you over the edge. Remember that no doesn’t need to be nasty — it’s about self-preservation.

Learn to figure out if someone is taking advantage of you

Sometimes people need help, others are trying to take advantage of you. It’s important to know the difference. Master manipulators might use flattery to get you to do something they don’t want to do; “you’re so good at X thing, can you help me with X project?”

These people will attempt to pressure you into taking on a project without any regard to your schedule or whether or not this is something you want to do.

If you encounter this kind of behavior, it’s important to remember you have a choice. Be firm and get out of the conversation as fast as possible.

saying no to extra work

Preparing for a “no”

While it sounds a little silly, it might be worth doing a little assertive role play at home. Here are a couple of ideas that might help you get more comfortable with the word, “no.”

Keep some stock phrases on hand
  • I appreciate your asking me, but no thanks.
  • Thanks for thinking of me, but I have too much on my plate right now.
  • No, thanks!
  • I’m booked solid, wish I could help
  • Sorry, I can’t.
  • I’d rather not, thanks.
  • I think I’ll pass.

Practice at home

Psych Central has a few good tips for saying no, some of which include practicing at home. The article mentions practicing in front of a mirror and reciting your predetermined phrases.

They also recommend talking back to commercials — saying no “I won’t ask my doctor about trying a new drug.” etc. It sounds silly, but the idea is, you’ll start feeling more confident as you hear yourself talking back more often.

Don’t add too many details to your response

If you want to say no, do it. But, there’s no need to tell this long-winded story about why you can’t. Otherwise, it feels like a lie. Keep it simple and use phrases like “I appreciate you asking me for help, but I just don’t have the capacity right now.” Or, “sorry, that day doesn’t work for me.” Be firm and strong in your response.

You’re not asking the other person for permission to get out of the situation at hand — the choice is yours.

Sleep on it before coming up with an answer

Few requests demand an on-the-spot answer. Keep that in mind before an enthusiastic “Yes, I’d love to” crosses your lips. Often something seems okay in the moment, only to turn into dread just as you’ve got a chance to think about what this new commitment actually entails.

Give yourself a chance to think about the request by saying something like “let me think about it” or “I’ll get back to you tomorrow.” This allows you to weigh the request against your existing schedule. You’ll need to check your calendar anyway to ensure you’re not overbooked.

With these tips, we hope you’ll learn how to assert yourself, protect your boundaries, and have healthier relationships. Good luck!

Grace Sweeney

Grace Sweeney

Grace is a painter turned freelance writer who specializes in blogging, content strategy, and sales copy. She primarily lends her skills to SaaS, tech, and digital marketing companies.

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