Many women have a hard time saying, “No.” This is true regardless of whether we’re talking about saying no to their boss, co-worker, lover or friend. The struggle happens for countless reasons. Women worry about being seen as mean, getting into an argument, losing a relationship, upsetting someone or even losing a job. In response to these fears women often end up saying yes when they want to say no, over-accommodating or placating the people in their lives.
It is a short walk from over-accommodating to the eventual loss of self.
Saying no is vital to relationships. If we can’t say no, then our yes is not a yes—instead it becomes a begrudging “have to.” As you can imagine, the constant yeses eventually lead to a lot of resentment, possible depression and likely unhappiness. Almost always agreeing to things — in relationships and in life — comes at a high cost to the self. Healthy relationships require a healthy, “No.”
Below are five tips to help you strengthen your self-care muscles and your ability to say, “No,” when you need to:
1. Take space before you answer. When someone asks you to do something, get into the habit of buying yourself some time. Women often say yes out of habit, so you have to slow down that knee-jerk reaction of agreement. Simply say, “Oh, let me look at my schedule and I’ll get back to you.” Or, “Hmmm, I’m not sure I can do that. Let me think about it and I’ll call you tomorrow.” If possible, give yourself 24 hours before responding.
2. Share your dilemma. If you’re being asked to do too many things or if one thing is going to make another thing difficult, hand the dilemma to the other person. If it’s another project at work, for example, say to your boss, “No problem, but which would you like done first? I could do one today and the other one could be done by tomorrow afternoon.” If your friend wants you to help her write her resume, but you have the kids, for example, you could say, “I’d be happy to help write your resume, however I would need your help watching my kids while I’m working on it.”
3. Lead with a gift and end with a gentle, “No.” Learn to say no without guilt, resentment or upset by leading with a positive statement. For example, “I’m so sorry. I really want to help you, but now’s just not a good time.” Or, “As much as I want to be able to say yes, I really can’t today.”
4. Be honest about your struggle. For those people close to you, it’s usually helpful to simply be honest with them. Tell them that you’re working on saying more no’s because you’ve really been burned out and unhappy. You could give them a warning ahead of time that you will be saying more no’s and would appreciate their support. When they ask you for something that you know you shouldn’t do, remind them that you’re working on saying no’s and that you wish you could help them, but can’t.
5. Breathe and pat yourself on the back. When you’re able to say no, pat yourself on the back and be proud. Take in that feeling of strength. If you feel bad, take a deep breath and remind yourself that your no is a great thing for your relationships and for you. Take another one and remind yourself that you will be ok.
Over-accommodating at work and in life does not serve us. The cost is way too high, not only to ourselves, but to our families as well. When we can’t say no, we are teaching our children to do the same. We also teach our friends and family to take advantage of us, which leads to a lack of respect. Stand up with a grounded powerful strength and learn to say no. You will be thankful you did and eventually your family and friends will, as well.
Challenge: Commit to begin taking better care of yourself by being more deliberate about what you say yes to. Refuse to say yes out of guilt, fear or trying to avoid upset. Look at the list above and start slowly. You can do it!