Being able to say ‘no’ can be one of the most important skills we can learn, but it also seems to be one we are often woefully lacking in. We seem to need to justify ourselves in our negative position, as though we show our right and entitlement to do so.
There is nothing that says that’s true, apart from years of conditioning from teachers or parents who have perhaps made us feel guilty when we ask to meet our own needs.
For example, being a teenager at the family home, and being asked to empty the dishwasher when we’ve got loads of homework, or we’re tired, or we want to catch up with our best friend to find out the latest gossip. Our ‘no’ then won’t be met well (sometimes understandably!!) and we have to explain to the parent/carer/guardian why we can’t do what we’ve been asked.
For some people a ‘no’ is met with abuse, emotionally and physically, so naturally they develop an aversion to using it.
But as adults, we have to stop and recognise that we are allowed to meet our own needs, and there is no need to justify ourselves to others as to why we want to do so, and that the guilt we feel is programmed by someone else, and perhaps disproportionate.
So how do we say no?
1. Keep it really simple.
2. Try not to apologise, although it can be helpful to clarify it’s refusal not rejection.
3. If you feel like you want to say no but it’s tricky, I find a useful phrase is: ‘There’s something tugging me about that, but I’m not sure what, can I get back to you?’ to buy yourself some time to work out your difficulty and whether you want to say yes or no.
4. Practice! It’s a new habit, it will feel foreign and uncomfortable at first, so you have to give it time.
Remember this too. If you say yes all the time, you’re likely to spread yourself too thinly, and therefore do what you’ve been trying to avoid all along, and let someone down. It’s much better to meet and manage expectations than disillusion them.