How to Say No & Feel Good About It

Do you struggle to say no?  It’s a common problem for many people.  They’re real “pleasers”, they want to do things for others and find that their knee jerk reaction is to say yes whenever they’re asked to do something.

Do you ever find that you say yes automatically and then regret it later?

Do you feel that you can’t go back on your word and let the other person down, but inside you resent the imposition?

Do you worry that other people will think less of you if you are not always on call and willing to sacrifice your own needs to look after theirs?

I’ve worked with many clients who experienced these exact same problems.  I remember one lady who was being run ragged by her daughter who wanted Mom and Dad to “just meet the children from school” or “just pick up some shopping for me” and  “just lend me some money to keep me going till payday”.

“What can I do?”  she used to ask me, “I feel obliged to help her out.”

I can still remember the shocked look on her face when I suggested that she could try saying no to her daughter!  Ironically this lady had quite severe health problems and you might be forgiven for thinking that maybe her daughter could be offering some help to her Mom, rather than asking for it on an almost daily basis.

My client was really running a guilt trip.  She’d always been there for her daughter and ready to pick up the pieces when things went wrong.  She felt she couldn’t change the habit of a lifetime and start saying no.  The problem was that she was beginning to resent the incessant demands.

I suggested that the next time her daughter phoned with a request, she could take a deep breath and say “I’ll need to check that out, can I come back to you” or “I don’t know yet if that will work for me, I’ll come back to you.”

The idea is to  give yourself thinking time. In that thinking time ask yourself:

  1. Do I want to do this?
  2. Can I do this?
  3. Do I feel good about doing this?
  4. If I do this will it inconvenience me?
  5. Will doing this stop me from doing something else that I want or need to do?
  6. Am I feeling put on?

The answer to the first 3 questions should be yes, and no to the second 3.

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Now I’m not saying that I want you to develop a knee jerk response of saying No. Rather, I want you to give yourself time to stop and think if you can and if you want to comply with the other person’s request.

Prioritising and looking after your own needs first is essential. It is a mark of respect for yourself and the value you place upon yourself. If you don’t think you are worth looking after, how can you expect anyone else to?

Put it another way – do you think that your partner/parent/child is worth looking after and making sure that their needs are met? If so, why would you treat yourself any differently?

When you know that your own needs are being taken care of then it creates space for you to be willing and able to support others.

One client loved the idea of giving herself thinking time. She knew that she habitually said yes first and very often, when she’d had time to think about what she’d said yes to – would realise that she couldn’t actually do what she’d been asked.

She then felt really bad if she had to go back to someone and say that she couldn’t do what they’d asked after all.  This seemed to happen most in her workplace when people would phone up and ask her to do things.

“How am I going to stop automatically saying yes?” she asked.

We came up with the idea that she would create some flash cards for herself and keep them by the phone.  On the flash cards she wrote some stock responses that she could use.  The responses went along the lines of:

  • Let me just make a note of what you want, so that I can check my diary and see if I have time to do that for you.
  • Tell me exactly what you want and when you need this by.  I don’t want to say yes and then find I have to let you down.
  • I do have another project/task that I have to prioritise, are you okay with me coming back to you later on this?
  • My schedule is too full at the moment, I could do this in x days time if you still want me to.
  • That’s not going to be possible for me right now.  Will you ask someone else please.

Do you get the idea?  Above all she was never to say “sorry” for refusing to do something.   Giving clear reasons for saying no is enough.  Remember that as soon as you apologise to someone, you are putting yourself in the wrong and there is nothing wrong with prioritising and putting your needs or work commitments first.


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