It's a simple two-letter word, easy to remember and simple to say. Yet why is it often difficult to say No? Every fibre in your body might be screaming a no and yet you might find yourself nodding your head and uttering a meek ‘yes'?
For instance, your cousin may insist on having your favourite pink T-shirt as a hand-me-down and you really don't want to give it away. However, when she asks for it, you cheerily say: ‘Yes, you may have it.'
Or your boss tells you that the new contract which the company has bagged will mean you working on the weekends for the next two months. You merrily trill ‘No problem' even as you have this vision of lovely weekend barbies and fishing trips dissolving into nothing.
It's time you say Yes to No
That is because it will help you unleash your assertive power and make you more truthful and straightforward.
Have you wondered about the negative decisions we often take in our lives whilst saying Y-e-s? What compels us to say yes, when we really want to say no? Be it in the workplace, at home with friends or while handling a pesky salesman, why aren't we able to say no even when we know it would instantly resolve a lot of issues for us?
Psychologists attribute several reasons to it and the most common ones are an obvious lack of assertion; a fear of displeasing people; a hesitancy about being uncomfortable sticking your neck out for something that goes against public opinion or you may believe that saying a No is close to impossible when the expectations others have is that of a Yes.
Atlanta-based clinical psychologist Linda Tillman thinks our inability to say no is about our eagerness to always be in other people's good books. So incensed is Tillman with our lack of assertiveness that she has started a website speakupforyourself.com. Speaking exclusively to Friday on the issue, she says: "Most people are people pleasers and feel uncomfortable saying ‘no' to something they don't want to do. It is usually easier to say no to something one feels unqualified to do, but hard to say no to something not desirable to do."
Our inability to say what we really feel has an impact on our social, personal, professional persona. It not only interferes with our image of who we want to be vis-à-vis our work, family and friends and also the image we have of ourselves in our mind's eye.
Tillman lists two areas that are affected:
Work/self: We take on projects that we can't complete well and then we look bad, and
Family/self; friends/self; self/self: We may have promised something to a friend, a family member or to ourselves - a trip, a chore or personal resolution to achieve something. When can't do whatever we've agreed to, we usually feel bad about ourselves or ashamed if we can't come through for a family member or a friend or ourselves. It's tough on self-esteem to put ourselves in a position of feeling bad, but sometimes people would rather do that than stand up and say no, says Tillman.
How to say 'no'
Dubai-based life coach Yasemin Demirtas, a certified professional co-active coach, suggests ways in which you can says ‘no' when confronted with a situation or an issue:
Practise saying no. You must get used to saying the word. Set a target for yourself during the day and see how you do it and how often.
Say no to the person without going into explanations or offering excuses. The more you explain the more what you say loses its validity.
Listen to your body when you are confronted with a question where you have to decide. Feel how your gut or stomach reacts. Don't say yes when it ‘feels' wrong or when you experience an uncomfortable feeling.
Get to the bottom of things. Usually not being able to say no is connected to a fear. Ask yourself what the fear is. Helpful questions are: What will happen if I say no to this person? What will happen after that? And after that? Be honest and answer what comes to mind first.
Be firm with yourself and others. If you say no, don't go back or compromise.
When saying no, be aware that you will experience guilt. But it will get easier over time. Know why you are saying no. When you say no to something, you inevitably say yes to something else. So it is easier to overcome the guilt if you are clear to yourself what you are saying yes to.
Be patient. It takes time to change habits. You have trained people to react in a certain way, so if you start saying NO they have to get used to the new YOU.
Trust that it will be OK when you say no. We say yes to people or things usually because we are afraid the other person will be hurt or things will break down. Tell yourself consciously that others will survive you saying no. It is not going to be the end of the world.
Remember that you are still a nice and caring person even when you say no sometimes to people or things. Saying no does not make you a bad or heartless person.
Saying no means you value yourself and your time. When you say no to others you automatically saying yes to your values and your own needs. Saying no brings respect to yourself and also respect from others as they see that you value yourself.
Although ‘No' sounds like a negative word, our ability to be positive and affirmative does not come through unless we learn to say it when required. Experts say unless and until we say Yes to No, we cannot be empowered and respected as a human being.
Have you ever tried saying no to your pet or your child? There may be temporarily disappointed. But a ‘no' highlights your assertive ability and earns you respect. You can earn the same quiet respect from friends/family members if you insist on saying no when you mean it. Saying yes and not being able to deliver as promised can only demean and degrade your self worth. The other aspect of this empowerment is that your affirmatives become stronger when you learn to be assertive. Saying a ‘yes' or a ‘no' when you truly mean those words is part of the power of assertion you seek to build in yourself.
Here are five situations that demand you say a ‘no' and the consequences if you decide to say a ‘yes' instead. Tillman provides the insights.
In the workplace
The boss wants you to work on a holiday that was already planned as a family day. You fear your refusal to work will reflect on your sincerity. Plus, you've heard you could be up for a promotion soon.
Tillman's take on no: In assertiveness, always ask yourself the question, "Is it worth it?" In the example above, it is not likely to be worth it to tell the boss a ‘no' when so much is at stake [the possible promotion]. Here is an opportunity to "think outside the box." If you want to get promoted and don't want to work on a holiday, then negotiate with the boss. For example, instead of saying ‘No, I can't help you', consider saying something like: ‘I have plans and can't help you on that day, but I'd be willing to come into work earlier or stay later tomorrow, another day this week, work at home, work remotely, etc. In other words, suggest alternatives that might be something he/she could accept rather than a flat no. This would be a time to negotiate to meet your boss's goal and your holiday.
If you give in: You might be able to meet the deadlines and please your boss, but you'd end up earning the wrath of your family and get more stressed as a result. Besides, no one really said that doing the donkey work is a sure route to a promotion. What you need is a smart affirmation that is actually a ‘no' but sounds like a yes!"
At a party
Balancing protocol with social etiquette
At a party, a seemingly ‘struck' guest, continues to insist on having your mobile number that you do not want to give.
Tillman's Take on no: You never have to give someone your phone number. If the guest is insistent, you can always excuse yourself and go to the bathroom. When you come out, find someone else to talk to. If the guest persists, say firmly with your voice tone going down at the end of the sentence: ‘I don't give my phone number to people I've just met' or ‘I am not interested in sharing my number with you'.
An explanation is not needed. If you want to be nicer, then use an empathic assertion: "I hate to disappoint anyone and you seem eager for my number, but I am not giving it out to you."
If you give in: You are likely to have a stalker problem. The chances of the person being really decent and asking you out for coffee against him being a maniac who loves pestering young woman are 50-50. So why risk it? It is better to be curt and cordial and risk upsetting protocol than be pliant and face trouble later?
At the family table
Your family is compelling you to meet a boy they think is ideal in every way for you to marry. You don't mind meeting him but fear that even that simple act will raise expectations ridiculously high, making a change of mind later on extremely difficult. It's best then to avoid meeting him in the first place but the pressure is relentless.
Tillman's take on no: "You could approach this in several ways. You could talk to your family about the real reason why you are hesitant to meet the boy. You could say ‘I'm not interested in meeting him, but I'd like to know why you are pushing me to do so'. Or, ‘You seem so keen on my meeting this man. I wonder if you are afraid I won't find the right guy?'. This way you are allowing yourself to make an assumption about their motives and at the same time saying no with an empathic assertion. You could also tell them that it means a lot to you ‘that you care enough to have tried so hard to make this work.' They thus feel recognised for their efforts and will in all probability ease off the pressure on you.
If you give in: You will have accepted the invitation to go out with someone you don't know just to make your family happy. The chances of him being the right life partner are unpredictable.
On the other hand, if you agree to this, and don't find the guy interesting, it will lead to more exhortations to meet other candidates. Once you open the floodgates, there will be other people to please, or put off, which in turn leads to a whole new cycle of yes and no.
Disinterested in interest rates
A salesman from a local bank keeps calling you to avail of the special loan from his bank that promises amazingly easy instalments, cool interest rates and other incentives. You are tempted but cannot afford to take up the offer and you make the mistake of saying so. The result is a persistently periodic pestering cycle that is driving you nuts.
Tillman's take on no: "In assertiveness there is a technique called ‘the broken record'. In using this, you simply take a stand and say it over and over to maintain the boundary you are setting. ‘I am not interested in your offer'. ‘I am not interested in your offer'. ‘I am not interested in your offer'. The other approach is not to take the call. But the former is more effective and straightforward.
You can also use a confrontational assertion - one in which there is a consequence stated. "If you call me again, I will be speaking to your manager. I am not interested and will NOT be taking you up on your offer."
If you give in: If you have not the remotest of intentions of taking on a loan, and yet allow yourself to sit through his demo-lecture, be prepared for the full consequences. A completely unfruitful, monotonous hour of sales talk and possibly being pushed into the pitfall of taking a loan you can ill afford.
In a clothes spin
On a shopping spree with your friends, you are coaxed endlessly by them to buy that red, sequined evening dress because you will look so terrific in it. Sure you do look good in it but buying it would mean a budget wobble for the next three months at least. Confessing to that would will look like you are in a tight corner financially. Do you save yourself embarrassment and buy it anyway? How do you say no?
Tillman's take on no: "Social pressure and being afraid of losing face in front of friends is ultimately about the fear that they will see you as less than you are. I would assume that you have something to learn about being prepared before getting yourself into this situation.
A big part of being assertive is thinking ahead and being prepared. For example, anticipating where you and friends might shop could help you state at the outset, ‘I'm not prepared to purchase anything today, but if we find the right dress for me, I'll consider buying it sometime later.' This will get you out of trouble before you even get to the shop.
By the way …
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