“The first step to learning how to say No to another,
is learning how to say Yes to yourself”
One of the things I hear most when working with women is the guilt they feel when they want to say “no” and can’t, don’t or won’t because of that guilt. I always ask, “What if instead of focusing on how to say ‘no’ to another, you focus on how to say ‘yes’ to yourself?”
For example, you may find yourself wanting to say “no” to the responsibility of driving the kids to school every day. If you explore this further, you may discover that what you truly want is not absence of responsibility, but to know that you’re not in it alone. When you become aware of what you want to say “yes” to and what need you are trying to meet (in this case partnership and sharing) you can begin to strategize ways to express and meet that need. You may not have to say “no” at all.
The book, Essentialism, by Greg McKowen, outlines some passive ways to say no which are noted below. It is difficult to start, but the passive methods will get you moving past the guilt to feel empowerment and self-respect. It will get easier and you may be able to progress to a more confident “no” in time.
1. The awkward pause. Instead of allowing an awkward silence to control your response, own it. Use it as a tool. When someone (in person) asks you to do something you don’t want to do, pause for a moment. Count to 3 before delivering your answer. Or, as your confidence grows, wait for the other person to fill the void.
2. The soft “no” (or the no, but). I recently received an email inviting me to coffee. I replied “I’m consumed with writing my book right now, but I’d love to get together once the book is finished. Let me know if we can get together in the late summer.” Email is a good way to practise saying “no, but” because it gives you a chance to draft and redraft your no.
3. Let me check my calendar and get back to you. If you find your time being hijacked by other people all day and you are unable to say no, you will feel burdened with other peoples’ agendas. Alternatively, if you say, “Let me check my calendar and get back to you”, this gives time to pause, reflect and ultimately reply that you are, regrettably, unavailable, or to make adjustments to your calendar to include what you want and decline what you don’t want.
4. You are welcome to X, I am willing to Y. This works because you are outlining what you will and won’t do in a positive way. “You are welcome to borrow my car, I am willing to make sure the keys are here for you”. In other words you are saying that you are not willing to drive the person making the request, but you are couching it by saying what are willing to do.
5. I can’t do it, but X might be interested. It is tempting to think that what we can do is uniquely invaluable, but often people requesting something don’t care who helps them – as long as they get help. If you know someone who may be willing to lend a hand, make the suggestion.
Saying no is its own leadership skill, and it takes practise. You will make mistakes, but with practise you will develop a mastery of an important social art form.
Identify a situation where you’ve been struggling to say “no”. Ask yourself what you want to get out of this “no”. What will you be saying “yes” to for yourself? When the “yes” is uncovered, let go of the “no”, focus on the “yes” and begin to express your needs from this place of clarity.