Reality Check: When You Need To Say No

Somewhere, sometime, someone is going to ask you for something. They may ask for your time, your help, your money. You want to say “No.”
There are many valid reasons to decline. Maybe you feel stretched too thin. Maybe you think someone is taking advantage of you. Maybe you just don’t feel like being agreeable right now. The bottom line is, you want to say “No.”
However, you know—possibly based on experience—that saying “No” can be difficult. Your “no” is not always heard or respected.
Maybe the person will get angry. They’ll blame you for their current difficulty, and suggest that you could fix it easily if you’d only say yes. Why won’t you do that? You must be mean and heartless. You begin to doubt your decision.
Maybe every reason you give for saying no is debated. By the time the conversation/argument is over, you’re exhausted. Your good reasons for saying no have been destroyed. You may as well give in. You know it’s the wrong thing for you, but everyone else will be happier.
Another possibility is that the relationship is threatened if you stick to your refusal. And it’s all your fault—you damaged it by being so negative. Why are you such a negative person?
Are you, in fact, a negative, heartless person? I don’t know. That is for you to assess, for yourself. However, I believe that if you want to say no, you will be more satisfied if you are able to communicate it, have it understood, and stick to it.
How can you respond with an effective “No” and not ruin the relationship?
A surprisingly effective response is to delay your answer. How? “I’ll need to think about that.” Or, “Let me get back to you.” It’s not unkind to take some time. Talk to people you trust. Mull it over. Consider the other demands on you and what you really want. In some cases, delaying may even cause the request to go away. If so, be satisfied in the knowledge that your agreement wasn’t essential after all.
When you do say “No,” I suggest not justifying it, as in, “I can’t because the cat is sick; my car isn’t working; my employer needs me…” Why avoid justifications? A person who is skilled at making requests may also be skilled at overpowering objections. Don’t provide the opportunity. Just say “no.” Or, “I’m sorry, but no.” Or “Thank you for asking but I’m not prepared to do that.” If it doesn’t work? Repeat. It’s ok to use the same words.
I’m not suggesting that doing for others is a bad thing, not at all. Choice theory recognizes how essential good relationships are. Those relationships—based on supporting, encouraging, listening, caring—bring people closer.
However, not every relationship is based on those behaviours. Sometimes, one person will coerce, manipulate or pressure the other into acting against their own interests. In those cases, it’s helpful to have a defense. An effective defense can be our words, if we know how to use them.
Does it seem puzzling—even unkind—that I have devoted an entire column to saying “no”? We can’t respond positively to everything. It’s not kinder to respond with “yes” and then not follow through, nor is it kinder to say “yes,” if it causes simmering resentment.
Whether you respond positively or negatively is your choice. How you communicate your response can make a difference in the health of the relationship.
Do you have difficulty saying no?

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