It can be hard to say no.
This is not because we don’t want to say no. We WANT to set boundaries. We WANT to be able to protect ourselves from endless obligations and responsibility.
Mostly, we want to be able to protect our most precious resource: time. And the word that can do this most effectively is the hardest word to say.
So in this article we will examine why it is so hard to say “no”, and focus on what is gained by doing it anyway.
This includes increasing the value of our “yes.”
The consequences of saying “no”
We are all aware of the consequences of saying no.
But we know that saying no has consequences. Saying no has repercussions. In work and in our personal lives, saying no can feel like it closes us off to future opportunities.
Will my boss still trust me? Will she consider me for the next promotion?
Does saying “no” make my friends think I care for them less? Will my pastor doubt my commitment to the church?
On top of the long-term consequences we fear from saying no, we worry about the immediate social cost. We worry that saying “no” too harshly makes the situation uncomfortable for both parties. And we will do a lot of work to prevent a social situation from becoming uncomfortable.
But why? Think about the costs. A few moments of awkwardness when you are asked to organize the PTO fundraiser help offset hours and hours of phone calls, set up, planning, and problem-solving. All time that could be spent pursuing your own goals and plans.
That’s right. he unwillingness to say no ALSO has consequences.
And this is where we need to focus our attention as we learn to get better at saying no.
The consequences of saying “yes”
The problem is, in those awkward social moments, we forget the consequences of saying “yes.”
We think only of the instantaneous gratification of pleasing the other person, and leaving the situation as quickly as possible, and with the other person thinking warm thoughts about us.
But saying “yes” has consequences too.
You are being asked to do something most likely because it benefits another person or group. But if there is not a direct benefit to you, then this is a cost – in time and energy – that is not an investment in yourself.
I am not saying you should say “no” to everything. I am not saying that you should turn down every opportunity that approaches you. For instance, organizing the PTO fundraiser might have a lot of benefits. It will help the PTO, it will likely give something back to the teachers or students. It might be fun, interacting with dozens of parents and getting to know the people who are raising your children’s friends.
However, saying “yes” to everything is impossible. That is, saying “yes” always has consequences.
If you are saying “yes” to everything that is asked of you, there will be less and less time to say “yes” to the things you want to do, and the person you hope to become.
Every “yes” to one thing is “no” to something else.
Build a bridge to “yes” or “no”
In order to give someone a productive and confident “no”, you need to fully understand your situation and your goals.
How do you intend to use your time? What are your goals and values?
What are you trying to protect? What are you trying to change?
Once you describe your intentions clearly to yourself, a “yes” or a “no” becomes easier to give.
You want to be able to say “no” for a positive reason, the same way an alcoholic turns down a drink.
But in the moment, when you can’t decide, or if you have an enticing offer, there is a middle way. You can build a bridge to “yes” OR “no” by stating the situation plainly, and asking for more time.
In the PTO situation, your response could sound like this:
“Wow, organizing the PTO fundraiser. That is quite a request! Thank you for asking me. Honestly, part of me wants to do it, but I don’t fully understand the time commitment. I can’t make the decision right this second.”
From here you can ask for more information. But commit to doing this: give yourself time to think and learn more about the commitment.
Then you have built a bridge to the right answer.
For more information on this topic, check out the book The Power of a Positive No by William Ury.
Do you have a challenging commitment problem that is costing you sleep, or robbing you of your sense of independence? You likely will benefit from talking to a licensed therapist like Sakina Issa.
Luckily, these conversations can happen discreetly and by appointment using the same tools you have grown comfortable using at work, like Zoom or GoToMeeting. Just click the button in the upper right hand corner.
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