Just say no

Learning To Disappoint Others

A friend and I discussed once how we never have to have an excuse when we say yes, but for some reason we feel we need one when we say no. For example, when we’re asked to bake four dozen cupcakes for the school bake sale we need only say yes. We don’t have to say

yes because… I love baking!

But for some reason if we really want to say no, we feel like we have to say

no because… I’m too busy, or
no because… I’m not going to be in town.

And often these aren’t the real reasons. Truth be told, maybe we just hate baking.

Why is this?

Well, nobody really likes to be disappointed. When we ask for a favor, getting our hopes up and then having them dashed is a difficult thing to experience. We don’t want to make others feel this way, so we develop a gracious excuse to let them down easy. Some other reasons:

  • We don’t know how to say no with grace and love.
  • We fear conflict and we want to keep the peace.
  • We want people to like us.

The harsh reality of practicing self-care is that at some point we will have to say no. Breaking the cycle of self-sacrifice and deprivation requires it. We must set limits and put boundaries in place in order to protect our time, energy, and emotional needs. People will be disappointed, angry, or hurt. We must learn to manage our anxiety and let them down gently.

Making your needs a priority requires you to change the rules. If you have been a chronic over giver, people will be confused and hurt when you start telling them no. They may question your motives. They may start making even more demands and try to reel you in with guilt when you say no. Be firm! Don’t give in! This sends mixed messages and teaches others to doubt your word.

Instead be honest, direct, and resolved to take care of yourself. Do not over explain, defend, or invite debate about how you feel. The fewer words you use the better.

Here are a few guidelines for staying strong while taking care of yourself:

Buy some time

Let your standard answer be, “let me check my schedule and get back to you.” Be upfront. Tell the person you will check, but you may not be able to commit. This encourages them to consider other options while they are waiting for your response.

Do a gut check

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do I really want to do this?
  • If I knew this person would not be upset, would I say no?
  • Will satisfying this request bring me joy?
  • Is this something I’m not thrilled to do, but I’m willing to do it to support my relationship with this person? Sometimes we have to do things we’d rather not do. Be sure you are doing it out of love and not guilt.

Tell the truth directly with grace and love

Be honest without over explaining and don’t leave any doors open.

  • Closed door example – “I feel bad about letting you down, but I really need to this time.”
  • Open door example – “I don’t think I can, but if something changes I’ll let you know.”

If you are leaving someone in a bind, you can offer to help them find someone else or you can ask if there is another way you can support them. Rather than baking four dozen cupcakes, maybe you could donate table cloths or snacks for the volunteers staffing the sale.

Also, you do not need to explain why you are saying no. Just say no and wish them luck. Remember, if you were saying yes, they would not expect a “yes because…” and you would  not feel obligated to provide one.

Expect this to be hard. Do not measure your success by the response you receive. Measure it instead by how you feel after your anxiety disappears. You are not being selfish. If you want to live a meaningful life and make a difference in the lives of others, you must make a difference in your own life first. When you want to say no, JUST. SAY. NO.

Next month we will explore the power of rhythm and routine.

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