How to assert ourselves without burning relationship bridges: Reasons why people find it difficult to say no to others
I have to admit having had a problem saying “no” to others, whether it was a work or with members of the family I feared offending because of social distance. I would often take on more projects that I could chew and work through the night with my amused husband asking when I would ever get any sleep. As the only music teacher in the school where I worked, I would be inundated with projects and concerts and have to mix audio recordings throughout the night because I could not bring myself to reject colleagues who asked. Nor could I reject relatives who asked me to play the piano for them at weddings, even when I was very busy. I found myself doing much more than I could manage. All of us, I am sure, can relate to these experiences. We are sometimes the only personnel equipped with a certain skill at work and end up having to cover many bases or are afraid to offend family members by our “no.”
Tips for saying no
Why we must master the art of the “no”
Mastering the art of the “no” is important because there are occasions when we will have our kindness taken for granted. It is natural for people to “push off” their stress onto others so it is not healthy to be in that position. It can breed unnecessary hatred and frustration on all accounts.
It is also important to realize that it is not necessarily selfish to say no. We may have very valid reasons for not being able to take on a certain request, such as having too many work obligations that cannot be fulfilled properly if another is added on the platter.
Saying no also allows a person the freedom to engage in something new. Say that you’re always in charge of organizing the annual company get together. If you free yourself from the task, it allows others to have a hand at it as well as yourself to break new ground by organizing something else for a change.
Why do people find it difficult to say no?
It may be in the culture of the society one has grown up with to say ‘yes’ to others as it is good manners. In certain societies and cultures, saying no is deemed aggressive as an unwritten rule. Children in these cultures may be brought up to oblige others as a form of politeness.
On a relative point, people may be brought up in families where one or more parents have brought them up to say “yes” to others and oblige them whenever possible. This actually applies to many of us because we are told that helping others is good manners. However it is when one says “yes,” at the wrong time that things become slightly disjointed.
Unwillingness to shed a pleasing persona that makes you popular
In certain social networks people become extraordinarily popular, and rightly so, for helping others when in need. However, social and other situations for that person may become difficult to manage when everyone has a favor to ask.
Fear of hurting others
Being the caring people that we naturally are, we are all afraid of hurting people when we reject them and consequently lose them as friends. That pressure to oblige makes us naturally want to say “yes.”
Fear of conflict
It is true that there are quarrelsome people in this world, so if we say no, we do end up offending them at some point. It is this fear that causes us to say yes all the time.
Fear of retribution
There is an innate fear that retribution will befall us if we do not provide help in some way. I can personally attest to the overpowering fear of having “pay back”. I was afraid that no one would help me out if I said that I had no time to help them with one project or another. I would also be afraid of being seen as “proud’ or “selfish”. That made me take on school projects that eliminated much needed sleep.
Being labeled a trouble maker at work
It is not surprising that bosses do not like people to say no or reject them when they put in requests for tasks to be done. After all, they do pay the salary of their workers. Hence, workers end up being labeled as recalcitrants if they say no to any task request.
Fear of lost opportunities
It is difficult to say no to a boss when we are afraid of opportunities not coming our way. After all, we might not be handed further assignments if we say that we cannot do the ones at hand.
Fear of being abandoned
It is a natural consequence that others would leave us alone when we reject them. After all, after having said “no” it is a definite possibility that they will not approach us any further. Hence we are afraid of cutting off links with that person or that it may cause others to leave us alone as well.
With all these fears in mind, how should we say no in the most gracious way possible? Saying “no” is indeed an art not for the faint hearted.
When to say no
There are times when we have to say “no” to people whether or not they or ourselves like it. Believe it or not, there is a place for a ‘no’.
Weigh the stress ratio
As stated in the examples above, there are times when we simply cannot afford the time to say “yes”. If a matter gives us too much stress, it is good to decline, at least for a little while.
A good tip is to prioritize. Many do this efficiently already; if the task can be completed at a later time, leave it till then and complete the more important things at hand.
How should we say no?
Saying “no” without burning bridges is indeed an art. Here are some hopefully useful things that one can bear in mind.
We may find ourselves having to stand firm with our “nos” because others may pressure on us when they are rejected. We may have to reject them several times as they use the force of persuasion. When we know we cannot manage their insistent requests, it is the time to remain firm with our “no.”
Offer logical, honest and reasonable reasons for the rejection
It is important to offer honest reasons for why we cannot accede to the requests of others.
People are by and large, lovely and reasonable, so if we offer sincere and reasonable reasons for rejection they do understand us. We should, of course, help whenever we can!
Saying No without Saying No
Saying “no” gently - some nice phrases!
I hope to offer some nice phrases for turning people down gently when we are in a tight moment or it is simply a bad time. Do try them as a way of saying no without burning any bridges!!
“I can’t commit to this as I have other things on hand at the moment.”
If you are too busy, this is a good phrase to have in mind. It indicates that the person should hold off on this as well as other requests until the platter has been cleared. It is good to share with the other party what we are working on so that they can understand our concerns better.
“Now’s not a good time to do this. Could we reconnect?”
Again, this is a good way of rejecting without rejecting. It tells the person that we are not pushing them off. It simply shows that we are a little busy at the moment and do want the opportunity to help them out at a an available time.
“I’d love to do this but...”
This is a good way of letting the other party know that his ideas are not bad ones, and tells him that you are not rejecting him out of dislike. It is also a good way of disagreeing agreeably if your ideas are not in sync.
“Let me think about it.”
This phrase is a “maybe” rather than a straight “no”. Again, it tells the other party that you are not rejecting them out of dislike. There are times when ideas or opportunities come our way but we have simply no time to address them. This phrase leaves the door open to future possibilities.
“This does not meet my needs now but I will bear it in mind for later.”
For those in managerial positions, this is a lovely phrase that tells another person that the door is not closed on them and their ideas. It says that rejection does not mean that their ideas are being devalued.
“I’m not the best person for the job. Why don’t you try “Y”?
If you feel that another person can make a better contribution than yourself in a certain area, this is a good way to say no and offer help at the same time. It ensures that the person does not end up in dead end.
“No, I can’t.”
Why not be honest? Have no fear of the barriers to saying no honestly. In my experience, people do appreciate that and come back to you because they respect and value your honesty.
There are many ways to say “no” gracefully. It is all a matter of practice!
Copyright (C) by Michelle Liew Tsui-Lin
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