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How To Say "No" When You Want To Say "No"

Updated on December 24, 2014

Ever thought about what is the one word that causes you to cringe the most, when you have to say it?

Yes, its NO!!!!

Saying NO is probably the most difficult thing to do, even when you want to, or have to. We as a species are polite beings, ever mindful of other people's feelings. We don't want to cause hurt , we don't want to disappoint. And in the desire to be nice and agreeable, we end up agreeing too much. Take, for instance, the example of a colleague who comes to you at the near-end of a long hard day at work, and asks you, sweetly, to do a bit of data entry for them. Do you look at the person in question with a smile and say "okay" while in your mind you are cursing yourself for being such a soft touch? Or worse: cursing your colleague for being such an insensitive, lazy, manipulative slob!?!

I will tell you a secret: NO is the dirtiest word to your mind's mind. So it isn't surprising that many of us fall into the trap of compassion fairly regularly. Don't misunderstand. Helping someone when they need it, isn't what I am writing against. Because if it makes you feel good about yourself; without the negative internal dialogue and without feeling used and manipulated; Then chances are that you are on the right track and that's the way you work. What I am denouncing is saying YES because you CANNOT say NO. You feel obligated to agree. You feel guilty if you decline, and you decline with a lot of teeth gnashing and embarrassment. And after saying YES when you wanted to say NO, You feel used and angry, at your colleague and yourself. You do them the favor, all the while fuming and seething. And you keep repeating the same behavior, making it a permanent part of your life.

The ambivalence about delivering a single syllable isn't inherent in us. It's a result of nurturing. After all, as a kid 'NO" is one of the first words you learned to speak. Children aren't ambivalent about what they don't want. They are persistent in their desires and vehement in their refusals. Wouldn't we benefit with the relearning of those responses? The answer is a resounding YES. We need to respect our needs and we need to recognize and respect our limitations. We can again be transparent without being embarrassed; like a child; Albeit in an adult way.

Learning to refuse upfront is a technique learned as a part of assertiveness training. Being assertive is healthy for the mind and your environment. It curbs grudges, manipulation and passive-aggressive attitudes.

A Dignified Refusal:

  • Give yourself time. Don't say anything on impulse. Tell them to give you a few minutes, while you check your schedule.Take a moment to consider the request, see what it means. Is the person asking you for the favor a habitual dumper? Or such a thing happens only seldom and in need? Is it someone who would return the favor, or slither when asked? Consider your own schedule and intentions.

If you believe that you want to say NO after considering and weighing everything, then, approach the person in a friendly way. Say that you understand that they need the favor, but you are sorry that it cannot be done. Let that be the end of it. The important thing is that you don't lie and make excuses. And also that you aren't aggressive: No need to say "Well, I have better things to do than to cover for you the zillionth time!"

  • What if the other person, who asked for the favor, sees red over the refusal? Well, you hear them out. But, don't be intimidated. Re-assert yourself calmly and politely. Do NOT get into an argument. If you feel the situation can escalate where you will also get angry, then by all means walk off.
  • What if the person in question starts pleading/crying/begging? this is a tricky situation, especially if you are kindhearted. And it usually happens outside the workplace; At home or in an intimate relationship. The buzzword is HONESTY. Do NOT be swayed by tears unless you actually feel that your feelings towards the other person warrant that. And that you won't be doing something you absolutely loathe or disapprove of.

Ask your friend/lover/spouse/kid to calm down first. Then take a minute to calm yourself, so that you don't do the irrational in the flow of emotions. Once emotions are lowered, discuss the issue again. Reach an agreement where no one has to sacrifice, and all are suitably satisfied. If such an ideal solution isn't available, then, make yourself heard by calmly restating yourself and sleep over it. The answers are clearer after some distance from the heated debate is achieved.

  • Rehearse some statements you could use in these situations. These statements should be general so that they may be used in and out of the workplace. Some helpful examples are:
  1. I know you could use some help with the job/cash/babysitting/grocery/laundry etc, but I really can't do this at the moment.
  2. I wish I could assist you in this situation. Unfortunately I have prior plans.
  3. I can't do it today but I wouldn't mind helping you out another day. (Say it only if you mean it!)
  4. I am flattered that you asked me, but I am unavailable/busy/seeing someone tonight.
  5. I see that you would want to have sex, but I am not ready for it this early in the relationship/out of wedlock/with you at all!

The goal when saying NO is not to feel powerful, but only in control of your actions. You are not out to hurt people or be manipulated or manipulative yourself. You don't want to be directly or indirectly aggressive and you sure as hell don't want to be submissive.

Being able to assert yourself is an art and a science. You need to be careful with the balancing act. Make your point, without subtly (or not so subtly) blaming the other person. Do NOT aim for degradation. Your success in assertion depends on your honesty. Think about it!


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