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How To Say No Without Saying No

Do you know how to say no without saying no? More importantly, do you know why you need to know how to say no? It’s something I’ve learned over the last few years and it’s a skill that will serve you well, especially in the business world.

There have been times in the past when I really wanted to say no but felt like I had to say yes. It’s all good as most of the time, it’s no big deal – I’m happy to help you out. Ah, yes, I’m happy to help. Some people see that phrase as a license to invade your privacy and firmly step past your boundaries.

You see, I’m the proverbial middle child – blessed be the peacemakers. I grew up wanting everyone to like me and just be happy. When everyone was happy, I didn’t get in trouble, I didn’t get grounded – or worse. So I had the people pleaser gene on steroids. 

Many times, we feel like to have to say yes when it really doesn’t fit with our schedule or it’s something that makes us queasy. It’s even worse to say yes when it really is inconvenient – as in: people, I have deadlines, too!

You wanna be a nice guy; you wanna be cooperative; you wanna be part of the team. Amirite? But you’re already on three committees, have a bunch of meetings over the next few days and presentations out the wazoo or the organization (or project) that you’ve been asked to help with just isn’t in your wheelhouse.

Why Do We Find It So Hard To Say No?

Why do so many of us find it difficult – if not downright impossible – to say no? What is it about saying no that makes us feel guilty or even powerless?

Years ago, I was asked to spend the night in the hospital with a friend who had just had hip replacement surgery. If you know me at all in the slightest little bit, you know how grateful I am to be your aromatherapist and NOT your doctor. Seriously. If I get within 50 paces of a hospital, I feel queasy, nervous, on edge and ready to run screaming out the door.

Anyway, said friend asked me to come spend the night with her in the hospital and even though the thought of doing this made my skin crawl and turned my stomach upside down, I said yes. I didn’t want to be a lousy friend, I didn’t want to hurt her feelings and I really didn’t want to reveal my shame!

So, I packed my bag and off I went to the hospital which was about 80 miles away, mind you. (Just so you know, I have cold chills running down my spine and arms while writing this.) Anyway, I get to my friend’s hospital room and there is a cot set up for me to sleep on, she’s kinda sorta out of it (ya think?) and I’m pacing the floor because, well because I’m in a hospital for gawd’s sake!

It gets to be about 10 pm, she’s really off in lala land and an older gentleman who had broken something was admitted and he’s screaming – screaming in pain. I can feel the color drain out of my face and I’m trying desperately to breathe. Just breathe.

I closed the door, I put the pillow over my head, I did everything I could to block out the madness in my midst. All the while thinking to myself:

Why did I say yes to this?

Listen, if you’re in trouble and need dire help, I can somehow manage to put it all aside, get you help and then fall apart. I have given birth you know. I can deal. For a little while. Okay, for a moment. Then you really need to get some help!

The point of this amusing little story is that I really should have said no to begin with. I’m not a nurse (I honestly don’t know how nurses do it!) and I’m squeamish as hell!

I realize there are times in life when we have to say yes to something that we really don’t want to do. I completely get that we just suck it up and say yes.

How To Say No Politely Without Really Saying No

For the sake of argument, let’s say you are in your cubicle working away with your deadline ever closer and a co-worker wants your help. They waltz into your space, maybe a bit freaked out and sweetly ask:

“I really need some help with this project – will you help me?”

Now, this could go several ways including sideways. You could say yes, drop what you’re doing, help your frazzled co-worker, possibly miss your deadline, cause all sorts of problems for yourself  and feel resentful.

You could simply say no and feel like an ass for not being part of the team. This approach may save your deadline, but now maybe you’ve made your co-worker (or sister or child or spouse) feel bad about even asking much less get their ego deflated by you saying no.

OR you could ask one simple question:

“How?”

Now, by asking this question, you haven’t said no, you’ve simply asked how the requester wants your help and what they want you to do. What this does is put the burden back on the requester. It forces them to explain – in depth – what is expected of your help. It’s essentially a polite way of saying “I’m happy to help, but what is your skin in this game?”

In writing for Lifehack.org, Anna Chui says this about asking “how”:

“This is less confrontational than “no.” It does not threaten their ego, and it places the ball in their court. “How?” holds them accountable for their role in the transaction. It forces them to spell out precisely what they want and need. If they are not able to willingly step up and engage with you, it’s easier to say “No.”

So many times, our boundaries get really loose and queasy at the thought of saying an outright no. C’mon – we all want to be liked, we all want to be accepted and we really don’t want to be the bad guy in the situation. Once you ask them how they want your help, it’s a lot easier to say no without looking and feeling like a horrible person.

There is kindness in saying yes. Believe it or not, there is kindness in saying no as well.  And the world needs all the kindness we can muster. But when saying yes depletes you, puts you in a bad situation or crosses your boundary, what are the consequences for you? Is it joy at taking on yet another project or is it simmering resentment at being the I’m-so-screwed-please-please-please-help-me person they all call on for the umpteenth time?

As a holistic life coach, I’ve had to learn how to create my fair share of boundaries as well as help you learn them as well. I’ve had to learn how to say no thank you. Allow me to inform you that “no” is a complete sentence. No, thank you is a complete sentence if you want to be polite. (I do want to be polite.)

Eventually, we all need help because we’re human and we get stuck. Ask yourself how often you reach out when you’re stuck and running on empty? Are you a people pleaser like me who feels the need to explain, justify and defend my right to say no, thank you?

Where you do you see yourself in this post? Do you feel resentful – maybe really pissed off – each time you say yes under duress when you really want to say no? Automatically saying yes is a learned behavior and it takes practice to take care of you first. Speaking a polite and thoughtful no is also a learned behavior.

How can I help you learn say no? Please fill out this short contact form and let’s talk today.

Blessings,

Melissa