How familiar does this sound….
Your boss hands over a last minute project on an evening that you already have plans. A needy client has a request over a weekend you are spending with friends. You really “should” go to that networking event, but honestly, you’re exhausted from being out every night this week.
How many times do you end up saying “yes” to something simply because the thought of saying no seems too difficult or uncomfortable? Yet later you end up feeling depleted, frustrated, even angry at yourself and others for doing so.
Instead of saying yes to make someone happy in the moment (or to avoid confrontation), you could save yourself — and others — the time and trouble by saying no up front.
Why we say yes when we mean no
It’s common for people (especially women) to want to avoid saying no. We want to please people. We want people to like us. We like to be the “go to” person.
Saying no can make us feel like we are rejecting someone, or worse, like we might be a bad friend, employee, or parent.
Often we say yes in order to help someone out, but it’s at the sacrifice of ourselves. When we feel resentment, it’s a sign we’re doing too much to appease others and not paying enough attention to our own needs.
How saying yes hurts relationships
Saying yes when you really want to say no causes an inner conflict because you’re not doing what you truly want to be doing. But it doesn’t just hurt yourself, it can negatively affect your relationships with others.
Think about it. If you stay late at work to appease your boss, you might return home angry, taking it out on a family member. If you say yes to a consistently needy client, you end up shortchanging your time and your work. If you say yes to social commitments without saving enough time for yourself, you show up empty and depleted.
Relationships get strained when we were not able to be honest with ourselves and others by sharing our true feelings and setting limits that protect ourselves and our energy.
How to say no and protect yourself and your relationships
While you likely understand the importance of setting limits, the practice of actually doing it can be a stumbling block. This may be especially true in cases where you need to say no to a client or a close friend. The key is being assertive, while still being respectful.
How can you say no and feel good about it, while still maintaining your relationships? Here are 7 ways to get started:
Know your limits. Realize that you define your limits for yourself; no one else does. Spend some time thinking about what those limits are. Notice when you feel pushed too far. Do you feel upset, uncomfortable, and resentful after agreeing to something? Do you feel angry with the person and like they “owe” you something? Pay attention when these feelings come up for you.
Honor yourself. Know that you are a valuable and worthy person and that your wants and needs matter — just as much as anyone else’s. Next time you are about to say yes to something, press “pause” and check in with yourself to see if it truly feels like it’s a decision that supports you. If you are feeling pressured, take some time to consider it. Only answer when you feel confident in your decision.
Understand what your “yes” means. Anytime you say yes (whether you want to or not) you are saying no to something else. What is the opportunity cost? What is not getting done because you said yes? Are you sacrificing sleep, a workout, down time, another project? Is it worth it? Your time is a valuable resource; be conscious of how you spend it.
Speak up. You’ve been asked to work longer than you planned, or requested to chip in more cash than originally planned. Learn how to speak up at the time the conflict occurs, rather than waiting until later. Address the issue head-on, without getting angry. State your needs and your limits, so that you don’t have to have an awkward conversation later. (Here are examples of some scripts that can help.)
Practice. Practice asserting yourself in low-risk situations. Say “no” to small things, and eventually it will get easier to say no to the big things. Saying no is a muscle; the more you work it, the stronger it will get. Taking the time to prepare yourself for these types of conversations can build your confidence that you’ll be able to say no more easily in the future.
Consider offering a Plan B. If the request is important or meaningful to you, consider saying ‘not now’ instead of an outright no. You can always suggest another option that you feel confident you can manage (i.e., “I can’t take on the full scope of the project, but I can handle x.”) You can also suggest another time that works better for you. Negotiate if needed!
Remember you have no control over the reaction of others. While you can choose you how respond, you don’t have control over someone else’s response. If someone gets angry, upset, or sad, try not to take it personally. While a friend may be initially disappointed, we usually overestimate the damage. Remind yourself that you are protecting and honoring your needs, and you are not responsible for how someone else reacts.
Saying no allow us to protect ourselves and our energy. It also helps us preserve our relationships by being honest and authentic about where we stand, and what we can and can’t offer. By communicating clearly our true wants and feelings, we take responsibility for ourselves, and stop taking on responsibility for others. We feel more empowered to go after what we want, and decline what we don’t. Saying no can help us stay healthy, keep our relationships in tact, and overall, help us maintain our sense of self.
If you enjoyed this post, subscribe to my updates to get more inspiration and tips on creating a life you love.