by VICTOR M. PARACHIN
Sonia, feeling stressed, frustrated and angry realized the source of her negative emotions came from the fact that she was saying yes when she really wanted to say no. Because she didn’t like how she felt, Sonia made a list of things she agreed to in one week:
• Her boss asked her to attend a meeting after work hours at the regional office several miles away.
• A friend called to ask if she could come over and provide childcare one evening because her regular babysitter was unavailable.
• Her neighbor asked if Sonia could take her to the airport for a 7 a.m. flight, adding she needed to be at the airport by 5 a.m.
• A co-worker asked her to help plan an office party.
• Her friend from college days called saying she’d be in town for a conference and wondered if she could stay at Sonia’s house for the conference.
Though Sonia said, “yes,” to all of those, she was resentful at the intrusions and additional energy all of those requests required of her.
For most of us, saying no is very difficult. Like Sonia we won’t want to offend or disappoint people. With great frequency, family, friends, bosses, colleagues, civic and religious groups, call on us for our time or money or both. While most of those requests are legitimate and important, agreeing to them when we are not ready or ambivalent can result in considerable emotional hardship. “Half of the troubles in this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and no not soon enough,” noted the nineteenth century writer Josh Billings.
Furthermore, “saying yes becomes wrong when you want to say no and it is in your best interest to say no,” says therapist Herbert Fensterheim, PhD., author of “Don’t Say Yes When You Want To Say No.” Dr. Fensterheim says the inability to say no produces these harsh, negative consequences:
• It leads you into activities you don’t respect yourself for doing.
• It distracts you from what you really want to accomplish.
• Because you allow other people to exploit you continually, the resentment builds up.
• It produces a lack of communication between you and others.
The truth is sometimes we just have to say no in order to prevent too great a toll on our own time and tranquility. It’s worth remembering that saying no is an option we all have. It is possible to decline a request in ways that do not seem harsh, rude or unkind. Here are some nice ways to say no.
She was resentful at the intrusions and additional energy all of those requests required of her.
Pay a compliment as you say no. Delores is a popular east coast university professor. Along with a full teaching load, she serves as a director on the boards of several civic organizations. In spite of the fact she turns down many more invitations than she can accept, offers to serve on diverse boards continue coming her way. The reason Delores continues to be highly sought after is because she softens her refusals with a compliment. “When an individual calls asking me to serve on their board and I know that I just can’t do it, I often say, ‘I’m so glad you thought of me. I am a big fan of your organization but my schedule just won’t allow me to accept your invitation.’”
A similar approach also works well in a social setting. If someone invites you for lunch, you can respond, “There’s no one I’d rather have lunch with than you but I’m swamped at work and just can’t get away.” Or, if invited to a party, try saying, “I always have such a delightful time at your home with your family and friends so I’m really sorry that I can’t make it this time.”
Do what presidents do. They rehearse answers with aides prior to a press conference. These aides ask the president questions they expect news women and men to raise. From this dress rehearsal, the president shapes and practices his responses so he can deliver answers confidently and convincingly. The same principle applies to saying no. Practice your answers. Rehearse them in your mind and in the presence of a family member or friend. Be prepared.
Decline in a positive way. “I appreciate your offer but I have to pass on it at this time,” is a gentle way to say no. Phrasing a negative response in a positive way allows you to maintain relationships, foster friendships and avoid hurt feelings. Other positive ways to decline include sentences such as these: “That’s an excellent offer, but we’re not in a position to take advantage of it just now.” “That’s a good idea,” or, “That’s a good product but it’s not something we can use at this time.”
Offer a compromise. You may not be able to accommodate the entire request but consider responding positively to part of the proposal. In their book, “Your Perfect Right: A Guide To Assertive Living,” Robert E. Alberti, PhD., and Michael L. Emmons, PhD., offer this example: “Aunt Margaret, with whom you prefer not to spend much time, is on the telephone. She has just told you of her plans to spend three weeks visiting you, beginning next week.”
The authors say you have three possible responses: 1) You think, “Oh, no!” but say, “We’d love to have you come and stay as long as you like.” 2) You play with the truth by declaring to Aunt Margaret the children have just come down with bad colds or you will be out of town when she is planning her visit. 3) Or, you can say no but with this compromise solution: “We’ll be glad to have you come for the weekend, but we simply can’t invite you for longer. A short visit is happier for everyone, and we’ll want to see each other again sooner. We have lots of school and community activities which take up most of our evenings after work.”
Buy some time. Seldom do you have to give a yes or no answer on the spot. Even if you feel strongly your answer will be no, buy yourself some time by responding in these ways: “Let me think about it,” “Let me talk it over with my [spouse, family, etc.],” “I’m right in the middle of something just now, but let me give this some thought over the next day or two.” These maneuvers will reap you three solid benefits. First, they buy you time to come up with an acceptable excuse. Secondly, they give you emotional space to honestly consider the request. Thirdly, you flatter the person asking you to do something by showing you are taking the request seriously.
Keep your response short and to the point. Keep your answer simple. Never over explain and apologize profusely. Begin your statement with no. For instance, “No, I can’t serve on that committee.” Be short and to the point. Don’t go into a lengthy explanation of why you can’t or won’t agree because there are people who will eagerly try to counter your reasons. Consider the frustration Louise experienced because she offered a list of reasons why she could not serve on a committee of the pre-school which her 4-year-old son attended. To her amazement, the woman pressured her saying, “You won’t have to come every week, perhaps every other week.” The best possible first answer is a short, simple sentence: “No, I can’t serve on the committee.”
Just say no. There are times when the best way to decline is to just say no. Remember, you have the right to just say no when a request is made of you.
As you become comfortable with saying no, you will benefit by enjoying greater self-respect, reduction in anxiety, stronger self-esteem, less depression, more personal and professional focus as well as admiration from others.
VICTOR M. PARACHIN is a freelance writer from Oklahoma.
Deciding when to say no
Most of us are uncomfortable with saying no, so here are five guidelines for deciding when to say no:
1) You need to say no if you feel uncomfortable with the task for whatever reason—lack of time, ill health, lack of motivation, weariness, lack of interest.
2) You need to say no if the task will greatly interfere with your family life.
3) You need to say no if the task will negatively impact your personal life in any way.
4) You need to say no if you are doing it out of guilt, obligation or duty and not out of a sincere desire to be helpful.
5) You need to say no if you do not feel it is right for you to say yes. Remember, you should feel pleasure in serving, not sentenced to it.