Saying ‘No’

Saying 'No'It’s a funny thing, saying ‘no’. Most of us need to do it from time to time and yet most of us shy away.

You too?

Trouble is, when we avoid saying ‘no’, whilst we may be temporarily keeping others happy, we’re often ignoring our own wellbeing. And that can have a devastating affect on not just ourselves, but those around us too.

When you shy away from saying ‘no’ to something, you’re actually saying ‘yes’ to it. And when you say ‘yes’ to something, you’re saying ‘no’ to other things in your life. However much you try, you cannot squeeze more than 24 hours into each day and 7 days into each week.

I wonder if you’re choosing the right things to say ‘no’ to?

Let me use an example:

One of my clients found it very difficult to stand up to people at work and say ‘no’ when he really didn’t have the time or energy. So instead, he kept saying ‘yes’. He felt this was the easy option, because he didn’t have to deal with their displeasure, he wouldn’t be putting on them, work could get done and everyone would be happy.

Except, of course, everyone was not happy. His wife wasn’t happy because she rarely saw him – he was either at work, or catching up on work at home, or fretting about work. His kids weren’t happy because they rarely saw him either. They got used to it, of course, and his wife did a brilliant job at looking after them, but they didn’t really have a dad and she was exhausted and resentful.

Strangely enough, even people at work weren’t really happy. They didn’t respect this man. He was always available to them, and he was a bit of a ‘push-over’. Actually, his work colleagues were working long hours too, because this chap never said ‘no’, so the work just kept coming. And they were overwhelmed. Somehow, the joy had gone out of the work for them all.

By saying ‘yes’, he was, in effect, saying ‘no’ to his wife, his children, the respect of his colleagues, his energy levels, and any sense of balance or fulfilment in his life.

You won’t be surprised to hear that he realised this was not a trade-off he felt worth continuing.

What you might be surprised to hear is that, as he began to say ‘no’ to things at work, he gained the respect of his colleagues. They started to value his time and only come to him when issues really needed his involvement. They stepped up to the plate more, took on more responsibility, even enjoyed their work more. And their boss (my client) was more relaxed at work, so things improved, they actually took on more, not less, work because everyone was more efficient, and the workplace became a happier place.

More than that, his relationships at home were much improved. He no longer felt exhausted and overwhelmed all the time. So he had time and energy to devote to his family. His wife and kids no longer felt resentful and ignored. They started spending quality time together, having fun. Weekends and even some evenings were reclaimed and ring-fenced for family, home and friends. They were all more relaxed, calmer and happier.

All because he started saying ‘no’.

How to say ‘no’

If you find it hard saying ‘no’ have a go at some of these ideas.

  • Like any new skill, saying ‘no’ becomes easier the more you do it
  • Saying ‘no’ isn’t about having a personality transplant, becoming rude or aggressive, or disrespecting the other person. It’s about respecting yourself and your time, and respecting the other person and his/her needs
  • If you are asked to do something that you realistically don’t have time or energy for, explain the situation briefly and then negotiate about how and when it could get done e.g. at a later date, by delegating it to someone else, by re-prioritising tasks already committed to, or by agreeing not to do it all
  • If the other person doesn’t appear to take on board what you’re saying, use the ‘broken record’ approach and keep restating your original message
  • Notice the benefits of saying ‘no’ to you and to others, and use this to encourage you to say ‘no’ again whenever it is right to do so
  • Keep going – even if you fall back into old habits of saying ‘yes’, you can achieve this is you keep going and notice the impact

What do you need to say ‘no’ to?

What difference would it make to you and to those around you?

And when will you start?

2 Responses to Saying ‘No’

  1. Clogs November 29, 2017 at 10:17 pm #

    I worked for the same employer for over thirty years and it was impossible to say ‘no’ – the result was censure for negativity and resisting change, possibly with a Personal Improvement Plan and loss of bonuses, but never termination of contract (they preferred staff resignations). One senior manager actually stated repeatedly that anyone saying ‘no’ to anything demanded of them should get another job.
    Unfortunately, I developed a need to please and, even though I no longer work at that place, am afraid to cause other people upset, inconvenience or annoyance, no matter how much – or how painfully – it affects me. I have tried all of the methods that you detail here. but with little success. Do you have any other ideas to help those of us in this situation?

    • Elizabeth Juffs November 30, 2017 at 12:51 pm #

      Thank you for your comment and question! You sound to have gone through some challenging times.
      What is interesting is your comment “I developed a need to please”. Given your experiences, it is understandable how you might develop that need. You developed that in response to your situation – a self-protection from the worst of the possible come-back.
      What’s now clear is that you are no longer in that same situation. Some of your experiences date back more than 30 years. You no longer work in the same place. So using this same response to your current situation is no longer relevant or helpful. Quite the opposite – you say how “painfully” your need to please affects you.
      Now you are aware of what you’re doing, and where it has come from, you can begin to choose differently. Choosing how you respond gives you power.
      What would be a much more realistic and helpful response to your current situation?
      How could you respond differently to other people and to their demands/requests of you?
      And if you did choose differently, what difference would that make to you?
      Considering these questions may help you recognise your own power and that there are things you could start to do differently.
      Perhaps have a go, and notice when the world doesn’t stop, when people aren’t offended, and the impact of you being kinder to yourself.
      Let me know if you’d like some coaching to help you with this.
      Good luck!

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