It’s amazing the lengths we sometimes go to, to avoid saying no. I’m guilty. There were definitely times in the past, when I lost sleep practicing the perfect story or set of excuses that I hoped would be understood. In my effort to please, avoid disappointing, and most of all – avoid conflict – I agreed to do things I shouldn’t have, stayed with other commitments too long, and invested my time and energy in things I didn’t want to do. The truth is, as hard as it sometimes is to say no, it takes a lot of energy when we don’t.
It also leads to more stress, frustration, and unhelpful ways of coping – including overeating.
Saying no doesn’t have to be as hard or as complicated as we make it. You can use a few simple strategies to strengthen your no muscle and when you do this you’ll add more ease to your life and eliminate pounds of stress.
3 Mistakes that make saying no harder than it needs to be.
1. Creating a story about what saying no will mean.
We all want to be liked, be kind, and be accepted. It doesn’t feel good to disappoint, and many of us are uncomfortable with conflict, and go to great lengths to avoid it. We make saying no one hundred times harder when we tell ourselves that a no will create the very situations and feelings that we want to avoid. Extremely smart women say yes to things they really want to decline because they’ve told themselves that saying no will create an uncomfortable or unhappy situation. This isn’t necessarily true. In fact, an authentic no can actually create integrity and trust in a relationship. The strength of your yesses and the power behind them are enhanced when people know you only say yes when you really mean it.
2. Comng from a place of reactivity.
Here’s another place where you may be making saying no more complicated than it needs to be. If you are uncomfortable saying no it’s quite likely that your no is coming from a place of reactivity. What does this mean? It means that if you are uncomfortable saying no, you are more likely to respond with a reaction, a response that feels like you are either pushing something away, feeling intruded upon, or having a request placed upon The kind of yesses that are uttered in these kinds of situations tend to leave you feeling less powerful, and less in control. These yesses feel like submission. If this sounds familiar, you may want to practice pausing when faced with a request. Give yourself enough breathing room to move from a place of reaction to one where you feel purposeful or proactive.
Taking a deep breath, or simply saying, “I’m not sure, let me think about that,” can allow you space to consider what you really want to do.
3. Devaluing your own needs.
When you’re thinking about how you really do want to respond to a request, there’s something else that’s important. You count. One reason many women feel guilty about saying no is that they don’t view their needs, including needs for self-care, quality relaxation, and even sleep, as valid and they prioritize the outside request. This one mistake leads to vicious cycles with stress, overwhelm, overeating, and even the chronic sleep deprivation that so many busy women experience.
A simple formula for how to say no.
If you find yourself at a loss for words, here’s a simple formula you can use to say no.
- Respect your desire to be kind, and start by making a positive statement. Examples might be, “I’m so honored that you asked me.” “Thank you so much for thinking of me.” Or “It sounds like a very important project.”
- Next, make your no a simple statement. The easiest way to say no, even though it’s difficult at first, is to keep it short and sweet, with little elaboration or comment. Some examples are phrases like “I’m sorry I can’t” “It just won’t work for me” “Unfortunately I’m unable to” or simply, “I can’t.”
- Deliver the message in a pleasant tone of voice and then stop talking. If you have difficulty saying no, you’ve probably experienced a situation when you started by saying no and ended up explaining or discussing your reasons until they turned into a yes. Staying silent after you’ve said no is the most challenging part of this formula.
Here’s what the no formula looks like in action.
“I really wish I could participate, but unfortunately I can’t.”
“It sounds like a fantastic project – unfortunately, it won’t work for me to participate.”
“Thanks for thinking of me. I’m so impressed with what you’re doing, but unfortunately, I’m just not the right candidate. I have to say no.”
“I’m so honored that you thought of me. It means so much. Unfortunately, I have to be fair to the other commitments I have during that time. Although I hate to, I have to say no.”
“I wish I could say yes, but that position just doesn’t work for me.”
“I’m sure you can appreciate that I just can’t say yes to every great opportunity – even though sometimes I’m tempted. This is one of those tough situations where I just am not able to commit.”
Five tips to make saying no easier
Here are a few tips that you can use to start strengthening your no muscle so that declining requests and creating space on your plate becomes easier.
- Practice pausing when faced with a request. This gives you time to think about how you really want to respond and increases your ability to purposefully choose your response instead of reacting.
- Notice when you tell yourself that what you want or need is less important than the request. Honestly evaluate whether the time or energy you will be devoting to this request is at the cost of something you value more or something else you need (including rest) to be your best.
- Getting comfortable with no happens with practice. Set up challenges for yourself. Set a goal to say no three times a day. Start with simple, easy things at first. Have fun with it. And be playful. See how often you can be clear and straightforward about declining things or saying no.
- Create a safe place to strengthen your no muscle. During a time when you’re not saying no, enlist the help of your support system. Tell a few people who care about you, “I’ve decided I need to get better at saying no. I’m going to be working at this over the next few months, so be forewarned, you’re going to be hearing more nos from me. It’s nothing personal, I’m realizing this is a skill I need to work on, and it’s a good thing. I realize I take on too much, and so when I get better at saying no, I’m going to have less stress and more energy to devote to the things I say yes wholeheartedly to.”
- If you can’t say no, don’t say yes. Sometimes no just feels too difficult to say. In those situations, you can focus on not saying yes. Let the person know that you need some time to think. Respond that you’ll need to check your schedule, or that this is a crazy week – could they get back to you next Monday? You might even simply say, “This is a bad time, I’m really not sure.”
You’ll be ahead of the game if you develop a few of these short sweet techniques and practice saying them out loud.
If you see that saying no more would have value for you, the most empowering thing that you can do today, is to start practicing. Say no to the little things, and graduate to the more challenging situations. Practice wording your no formulas when you’re not under pressure, so that the words will flow when you are.