How many times have you been in situations where the word going through your mind is no and yes is the word that you articulate? You then wonder how that happened. What is it about saying no that is so difficult? Is it the fear of offending other people? Scared of upsetting or disappointing others or perhaps you feel it just makes life easier to say yes - when really you want to say no. As toddlers we have no problem saying no, in fact toddlers say no to almost everything. Yet as adults, that all appears to change. Why? Surely adults know their own minds better than toddlers? It’s true we do. We also have the knowledge that saying no can have negative consequences – displeasure, rejection or annoyance.
However, saying no can also have positive consequences – trust building, self-care, and empowerment. The inability to say no is linked to the need to seek approval of others together with the inability to adhere to our personal boundaries. For some saying yes is a conditioned response. A conditioned response is where you learn to do something in response to a particular situation; saying yes when asked to do something can lead to praise and positive reinforcement. For example a child being told that they won’t get a treat until all their vegetables have been eaten. The conditioned response is to eat the vegetables and then have a treat which is the positive reinforcement. Personal boundaries are the limits we establish to protect ourselves from being influenced, exploited, or used by others.
Healthy boundaries enable us to express ourselves as individuals while respecting and acknowledging the same in others. Very often a key element for not keeping boundaries is fear of upsetting the person we are saying no to. We put others needs above our own which can result in resentment that can bubble under the surface like a pressure cooker.
There are many benefits in learning to say no. Saying no creates freedom to listen to what you want as a person. It enables you to care for yourself by treating yourself with compassion and honesty. It also builds a real sense of trust with others in your life. Saying no is hugely empowering - it sends a powerful message to others that you are worthwhile and you know your own mind. The following are a number of techniques which you can use to help when you are stuck and want to say no:
- Saying no clearly, simply and politely – without excuses. i.e. I’m afraid not, sorry I am not available , some other time perhaps.
- The Broken Record – repeating your answer again without giving detailed explanation (as a detailed explanation can lead to the person having room to argue you into a yes).
- Reaffirming the relationship – giving a response that enables the other person to see that the relationship is still doing ok.
- Say no, then end or change the conversation. This permits the conversation to continue, without getting stuck feeling guilty for saying no.
“Unless someone has the power to truly say no, they never truly have the power to say yes” Dan Millman, American Author