Being able to say ‘No’ is something that many many people struggle with, it should be the easiest word in the world, after all, it is only two letters, one syllable. Here are my tips on saying no.
So why do we struggle to say “No”?
The problem that we seem to have about it is the power of that tiny little word on the people around us. And this isn’t just with your children or your partner, it also happens at work.
A lot of my work involves helping clients to be able to find their strength and be able to say the word without fear or guilt. The problem can be traced right back to childhood with many clients, and yet it has maintained it’s grip on us right into adulthood and beyond.
Why is it so hard to use the word ‘No’?
I have found that many of my clients struggle with the word because of fear, self esteem issues, and a lack of boundaries. And this is no wonder, because we never really get taught these skills as children, and then the habit gets formed and we feel obliged to say yes. Often they have a deeper fear that saying no will create an unpleasant consequence or repercussion, and in some situations that may still be true, but for many, it is no longer a useful interpretation. We also worry about what others think about us, and what impact it will have on them.
Many times, there is a fear that anything less than perfect is not good enough, they see themselves as having to be perfect, keep everyone around them happy, and to not cause a scene by being ‘difficult’
What kind of impact can this have?
It affects people in many different ways. When they are at work they feel a sense of obligation and responsibility, and when they are asked to do something that takes them out of their comfort zone, even though they are afraid that this may be really difficult for them, they don’t want to be seen as ‘incompetent’ or ‘difficult’ and they feel that they can’t speak out and ask for support or help in completing a task that is very new or different for them.
There is often a deep seated fear that they may lose their job or be demoted at work if they cannot do everything asked of them perfectly, without realising that taking risks and learning from failure is perfectly natural, and in fact how many inventions have come to pass, after all it took Edison over 1000 attempts to create the light bulb, and Sir Alexander Fleming created penicillin by accident on a contaminated sample dish.
The same can be applied to their private lives, that if they say no it will have a negative impact on their relationship, it might cause ructions, or make things awkward. I mean, what if their partner stops loving them, or walks away from the relationship? There is normally a lot of catastrophising about this, even when the relationship is abusive or coercive.
The result of suffering in silence because you have been unable to say no can be wide ranging, affecting your mood, affecting your anxiety levels, your stress levels, even affecting your sleep. And when you have all that going on, it bleeds into how productive you can be in your personal life as well as your work life.
Have things been made worse by the Pandemic?
Absolutely, things have intensified during the pandemic, with people focusing more on their mental health.
Work boundaries have become blurred because so many people are now working from home. They feel guilty that they are not in the office, even though it is not by personal choice in many cases. They feel that as they don’t have the commute to and from work, then they have more time to do more work. Often, they feel they cannot say no because they don’t have their boundaries in place because this working situation is very new.
As the world is slowly starting to adjust and open up in places, there is also the guilt factor that plays into responding to requests, people feel that they have missed out on so many events, and that people will think badly of them if they turn down invites, and they don’t want to be seen as the grinch.
What is the solution? How do we get better at saying no?
The key to mastering the art of saying no is in the repetition. It isn’t an overnight magic button process, although if someone is able to invent one, they would make millions! To be able to get good at something, practice is all that is required.
One of the first tips that I would give you is to stop and think about your fears of saying no, why can’t you say it? What exactly is your fear or concern? Try to dig deep and think of what is the worst thing that would happen if you said no?
Journaling is a great way to start identifying what is going on in your head. If you wrote down all the times you wanted to say no today but ended up saying yes, and then look at what you think would happen if you had said no instead, why was it difficult to say no? what was it about that situation what made me want to say no? If you did this every day, you would start to see a pattern emerging.
Start to see the changes
Once you start to see the pattern emerging, then you can start figuring out things and challenging those thoughts that are standing in your way. If you said no you couldn’t meet for coffee, would you really lose that friendship that you have had for 20 years? If you didn’t agree to take on extra work from Sheila, would you really get the sack or be the pariah in the office by your workmates? Once you start to realise just how much you are catastrophising, you can start replacing those thoughts with more realistic ones and start looking at alternative solutions. The fears that you have are frequently overblown and once you see that you can start to be a little more grounded and realistic about those fears.
Regardless of how good you are or aren’t at saying no, taking the time to reflect on our actions and decisions can make a real difference in how we see the world. If you can take a few minutes at the end of each day to journal and reflect on your choices & actions each day can highlight patterns and allow you the opportunity to start to change your responses once you are aware of the patterns. What could you maybe do differently next time you are faced with that question?
Setting up a new habit, practicing your responses daily, and being brave and saying no when you need to can make your life a vastly different experience, and it is certainly a risk worth taking! It can help you slow down, reflect, and think about why they do things before they go into automatic pilot and keep saying yes…