Are you someone who says yes to almost everything? Do you have a hard time telling people ‘no’ or ‘sorry, not this time’?
Learning how to say no is a valuable life skill. In this article, we’ll teach you how to develop it. First, we’ll take a look at why saying no can be hard sometimes. Next, we’ll explore some of the benefits of saying no, and finally, we’ll teach you how to do it healthily and effectively.
Why is it hard to say no?
We’re social beings, programmed to work together in communities for each other’s benefit. As such, saying no can lead to feelings of guilt and as though we’re not pulling our weight. People from different demographics also face a harder time saying no than others. Children, for example, are encouraged to say yes when asked to do things by adults.
Sometimes women who say no, especially at work, are seen as aggressive or ‘bossy’ by male coworkers. A woman who has earned her way to a position of authority might try to come off to others as friendly and helpful and so take on more than she really should.
Unhealthy authority figures
From a young age, we’re taught to obey authority, be that our parents, teachers, or anyone older than us. We’re taught that saying no is rude or impolite and that to be a ‘good’ boy or girl, we should say yes and obey the requests and demands of our authority figures.
It’s important that children learn to respect and follow the requests of their authority figures most of the time. Usually, these authority figures have our best interests at heart – they want us to learn how to be independent, how to look after ourselves, and generally be the best we can be.
However, our authority figures don’t always teach us to live and think in a way that serves our best interests. They might think they’re doing the right thing by disciplining us and or diverting from a certain behavior. Still, sometimes they’re living out a projection and insecurity stemming from their own childhood.
If we don’t always say yes and obey their demands, they might punish us. Again, this parenting approach may stem from love. They just want us to be safe and grow as well as we can – but sometimes, it’s maladaptive. Some parents push their children to always respect them and do what they tell them, but that’s not always best for the child.
Children are naturally rebellious, and being that way can actually help them gain more independence and life experience. They might make some mistakes and even hurt themselves a little, but first-hand experience is the most effective way to learn.
If, through punishment or harsh criticism, the child learns to always say yes to authority figures no matter what, they may struggle with assertiveness later in life. They’ll find it difficult to stand up for themselves because they’ll have learned that they shouldn’t trust their own instincts and to follow the requests and demands of others without question.
As an adult, the child of such parenting may struggle with low self-esteem and a lack of confidence. A controlling parent has hindered their trust, sense of adventure and exploration, and self-confidence, so when it comes to their job, their relationships, and their own sense of agency, they might feel lost and confused.
Saying no would involve feelings of guilt and even fear, so they avoid it at all costs, often to the detriment of their mental and emotional health and well-being.
Sometimes people have a hard time saying no because they consider themselves to be a certain way, and saying no jeopardizes that self-image. For example, you might have been praised as a child or even as an adult for helping other people.
The praise you got from others for your helpful behavior made you feel good. As a child, it may have been the only time you felt loved and appreciated.
As such, you learn that helping others, even if that means having to go out of our way for them, leads to love and acceptance. This is known as people-pleasing or ‘fawning.’ People-pleasers often see themselves as someone who serves others, so saying no when someone asks you for something almost feels like self-betrayal.
This can be problematic, especially when you don’t have the time or resources to help that other person. You end up neglecting your own needs just to preserve that self-image and image for others. Eventually, you exhaust yourself.
You’ve said yes to help someone out so that you could feel good and secure in this egoic self-identity, but you’ve used up your time and energy so that you have very little left yourself. You’ve said yes so that you wouldn’t feel guilty, but now you’re faced with self-guilt for not prioritizing your own needs.
The benefits of saying no
The ability to say no is a skill possessed by very successful people – people who understand that saying no to one thing opens more doors and opportunities to say yes to things that serve our greater good.
“It’s only by saying ‘no’ that you concentrate on things that are really important.” – Steve Jobs
Though saying no can be challenging, learning how to do so is crucial for your well-being. Developing this important life skill and knowing when to use it can help you in a myriad of ways, including:
1. More agency
Knowing how and when to say no will help you regain control of your life. Your time and energy are yours, and you have a choice in how you wish to spend it. Instead of losing your energy to the requests and demands of others, you can choose where, when, and how to use it.
You can help others if you choose to, but you’re not tied to that role. You can say yes sometimes and no at other times and can make decisions on your terms without feeling guilty.
2. Improved work productivity
It’s crucial to learn how to say no in the workplace. When you can say no and stand firm in your conviction, you give yourself more time to get things done and focus on your projects and goals.
If you always answer requests and favors at work, then you might exhaust your time and energy and suffer from burnout, which hinders not only your productivity but also your mental and emotional health and well-being.
3. Improved interpersonal relationships
Did you know saying no can improve your relationships? If you’re inclined to say yes to things that you’re not really interested or invested in, or things which you are actively disinterested in, then you might come to resent the person to whom you said yes, such as your friend or your partner.
They may have only been asking you to see if you want to get involved in something and may have happily done it without you, but your tendency to always say yes prevented you from refusing. Now you find yourself doing something you don’t want to do, which might cause you to resent the other person.
Saying no lets others know that you’re confident and assured in what you want and that you’ll be honest if something does not interest you. Neither of you has to worry about resentment because you can both trust that you’ll follow your heart and not say yes just to please the other person.
4. Increased self-confidence
Often, people who tend to say yes to everything lack confidence. They struggle to say no because they’re not self-assured and worry that others might view them in a negative light if they don’t help out or make time and space for others.
When you learn how to say no, your confidence grows. You learn that it’s okay to make time for yourself and hold control over how you spend your time and energy. You get the chance to do more things that you genuinely enjoy and that you’re passionate about, which boosts your confidence even further.
How to say no in the best way possible
1. Understand that it’s okay to say no
Understand that ‘no’ is a complete sentence. Your life is your own, and the way you choose to spend it, what you do with it, and who you do or do not help are all choices that are completely your own and which you don’t need to justify to anybody. ‘No’ is a perfectly acceptable response to a request for your time and energy.
“Saying no isn’t easy, but it’s a required skill if you wish to have any degree of focus in your life. If you say yes too often, you’ll likely fall into the common trap of saying yes to the good while simultaneously saying no to the best.” – Steve Pavlina, Author, motivational speaker, and entrepreneur
As mentioned earlier, many of us have a hard time saying no because we don’t want to appear rude or selfish. It’s important to understand that there is nothing rude or selfish about prioritizing your needs above those of others.
2. Be polite and assertive
It helps to learn how to say no politely. You don’t have to be overly polite or apologetic, but it does help your work and interpersonal relationships if you can politely decline requests and invitations, even demands, with courteousness and a brief explanation, instead of entering into an argumentative conflict-type situation.
You don’t have to apologize when you say no, but adding a ‘sorry, but..’ can help you sound more polite. For example, if a coworker asks you to take on some of their work but you don’t have the time, instead of simply saying ‘no’ and leaving it at that, say something like ‘No, sorry but I have too much of my own work to do to help with yours.’ This lets the person know that you’re prioritizing your work and not saying ‘no’ out of disregard for their needs.
3. Stand firm
If you want to say no, stand firm. Remember why you need to say no and be assertive when you say it. Some people are skilled manipulators and may attempt to persuade you to say yes even after you’ve said no through manipulation tactics such as guilt-tripping, emotional manipulation, or social pressure. They might shower you with compliments to butter you up. Stand firm and try not to fall for tactical manipulation.
Coworker: Hey, you’re really good at this type of project, probably the best in the office! Would you mind taking over for me?
You: ‘Sorry, I would like to help, but I’m busy with my own work, and helping with your project would stress me out too much.’
4. Change the conditions to suit you
You might be willing to help someone or join them when they ask for your company, but the time and place don’t suit you. You can do some parts of their request but ask for a change in others.
For example, if your friend wants to hang out on Wednesday but you’re busy with an important project all week, ask them if they wouldn’t mind hanging out another time, such as the weekend when you’re free.
This lets them know that you care about hanging out with them and that you want to but also lets them know that you have important things to do and will need to prioritize those things before you can enjoy your free time and their company.
Friend: ‘Let’s hang out on Wednesday! Do you want to go to the movies then grab a beer?’
You: ‘Sounds lovely, but I’m swamped with work this week. How about Saturday instead?’
5. Practice saying no
It can feel rude at first, but the more you practice saying no, the easier it becomes. Remember that you can say no, and need not feel bad for saying it. The more you practice it, the more you use this powerful word, the more you’ll realize that you’re perfectly entitled to say it. You might even marvel at how much of your life and energy you spent beating around the bush and making up excuses just to avoid it.
How does it feel when you say ‘no’ to someone? Do you feel nervous, apologetic, or guilty? Or do you feel confident and empowered? Hopefully, it’s the latter. If not, then consider the tips and advice we’ve outlined above.
Despite what you, and many of us, have been conditioned to believe, saying no is wonderful. Sure, some people might feel let down or will be forced to find other means of helping themselves, but that is not your responsibility. Help when you can, but never push yourself further than you feel capable just to help someone else.
The harsh truth is that if you’re a ‘yes’ person, people are likely to take advantage of your helpful nature. What’s worse is that if you don’t help, they’ll probably just find someone else, which means that you didn’t necessarily have to go out of your way in the first place.