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Tough for You to Say "No"?

say no

By Linda Sapadin, Ph.D

Some people say “no” so easily. Those who have a tendency to please, however, automatically say “yes” to whatever somebody else wants. If you’re a “yes” person, there's no time like the present to learn a new skill.

Your goal is not to become a naysayer. Not at all. But if “no” is not in your vocabulary, then yesterday’s “yes” will be tomorrow’s regret.

We all need to create boundaries on our time (No, I don’t have the time today to do this), energy (No, I’m too exhausted to tackle this now) and space (No, shut the door, I need some privacy right now). If you neglect to actively create these boundaries, it won’t be long till you find yourself feeling overburdened and overcommitted.

Want an added incentive to say "no?" It increases the value of your “yes.” When you are at someone’s beck and call, it typically results in your being less respected, less appreciated. Whoever said life is fair?

If saying “no” is not natural for you, you’re a pleaser. You don’t like to disappoint people, hurt their feelings or be rude. Nothing wrong with that. Indeed we need a lot more of that in society. Civility and manners are important. So, if you wish to learn how to say “no,” it helps if you can to say it in a way that sits well with your personality.

Hence, stay away from the blunt “NO!” and the oppositional “NO, I won’t do it.” These types of retorts are not for you – except in unusual circumstances. Instead, focus on the polite “no.”

Here are examples of how you can be caring and courteous and still say “no.”

  • "No, I wouldn’t mind doing that for you but I just don’t have the time.”
  • "No, I can’t drive you now but if you still need a ride, I’ll be free after 5.
  • “No, sorry - I’m working right now and I need to be by myself for a while.”
  • “No, I can’t help you right now and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t speak to me with that tone of voice.”

As I’m sure you know it’s not easy to change our patterns. Hence, if you’d love to be able to say “no,” yet the word sticks in your throat here’s how to rehearse and practice your new skill...

  1. Stand tall in front of a mirror. Smile. Forget about all your imperfections and focus on the beautiful person you are. Breathe in deeply. Breathe out slowly. Then say in a pleasant voice, “No, sorry, but I won’t be able to _________.” There you took the first step. You’re on your way!!
  2. Practice talking back to commercials. Sit forward in your chair. Each time you hear a commercial you don’t like, talk back to it in a strong voice, “No, I won’t ask my doctor if your dopey drug is right for me. And furthermore, why are all the side effects of your drugs in such small print? You don’t want people to read them, do you?!” Soon, you’ll feel more confident saying "no," thanks to all the practice you’ll get from talking back to ads that turn you off.
  3. Write down what you’d like to say to someone in your life who is disrespectful of your time, energy or space. Say the words out loud. How do they sound? Not thrilled with them? Revise them. Say the words out loud again. Keep revising until you know you’ve got it right. Now, repeat the words using a different tone of voice. Do it again. Which tone of voice do you think is right for you? Great! You’ve got the words; the tone of voice. Now just make sure your timing is right and you’ll be ready to roll.

Remember, you don’t need to be nasty to say “no.” Indeed, you can be pleasant, polite, yet still be in charge of your priorities.

Copyright © 2017: Linda Sapadin, Ph.D
Linda Sapadin is a psychologist and personal coach in private practice who specializes in helping people enrich their lives, enhance their relationships and overcome self-defeating patterns of behavior. For more information about her work, contact her by email or visit her website at PsychWisdom.
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