Surely you know the following situation: A colleague, friend or family member surprises you with a request, and you spontaneously agree. However, as soon as you accept the offer, you regret having charged yourself with the respective favour. You’re desperately trying to figure out how to do it all. You are not alone in this! Saying no is easy for most people.
Why is it so hard to Say NO?
There are various reasons you find it difficult to say no, and the most significant is the fear of rejection and disharmony. Humans are herd animals, and this primal instinct is ingrained in us. The following scientific elaboration proves this.
Those who did not belong to the group had little chance of survival in prehistoric times. That’s why we still strive today to be accepted by other people. By refusing a request, you probably fear that others will think you’re selfish and marginalize you. Everyone wants to be taken, and it’s natural. Despite your willingness to help, you must not forget your own needs.
Another reason you can’t say no could be because of your upbringing. Girls, in particular, are still increasingly being raised to be friendly and well-adjusted, and kindness is worth striving for. However, the (mostly unconscious) belief that you are only lovable if you always say yes to everything is dangerous.
Willingness to help, YES – Self-abandonment, NO
The line between helpfulness and self-abandonment is fluid. Only you can feel when it exceeds. Favors you reluctantly do leave you feeling empty inside. On the other hand, if you help out of your own free will, the result fills you with joy, which is an important indicator.
Of course, there are situations where one feels obliged to help. In one case or another, it is appropriate to support someone else, even though you don’t feel like it. However, such exceptions mustn’t become the rule.
Some people sense when their counterpart cannot say no. which imposes a risk of being taken granted for. Unfortunately, this happens quite often in everyday life, and most of us even know we are being taken granted for. Nevertheless, it takes immense strength to rebel against it. The good news is: that you can easily learn to say no!
5 tips on how to say NO
If you find it difficult to say no, the following tips can help you:
1. Take your time to think
Most regretted commitments that are done when someone surprises you with their request. So get out of the habit of saying yes right away. Please allow time to think about it. Depending on the urgent matter, you should give yourself at least a day. In this way, you don’t offend the other and protect yourself. Now you can weigh up in peace whether you can and want to comply with the request.
Analyze the following aspects:
- What exactly am I supposed to do?
- How important is the favour?
- How much time will this cost me?
- Do I want to do this, or am I reluctant?
- Do I have time and energy to help the other?
- What things will fall by the wayside if I fulfil this favour?
- How has the person I am supposed to help behaved towards me in the past?
It is best to answer these questions in writing in a pros and cons list. Once you’ve decided, please stand up for it confidently. Formulate your refusal in a friendly but firm manner. Maybe there is also an alternative proposal acceptable to both sides instead of a NO?
2. Find out why you can’t say NO
A diffuse fear often hides behind the inability to say no. To be able to do something in a targeted manner, you should find out precisely what you are afraid of. There are different types of “yes-men”:
- Everyone’s favourite: You want to be liked by everyone without exception.
- The social scaredy-cat: You fear negative private or professional consequences if you refuse a request.
- The Party Animal: You’re afraid of missing opportunities if you’re not everywhere.
- Mother Theresa: You draw your self-affirmation from your willingness to help.
- The Irreplaceable: You feel like no one else can make things right but you.
It is no surprise that all five yes-man types act destructively. It is neither possible to be liked by everyone (everyone’s darling) nor to live entirely without risk (social scaredy-cat). The extent of the consequences is often overestimated! Saying no is unlikely to result in the end of a genuine friendship or job loss.
The person you cancelled may be grumpy for a while, and you can endure this – admittedly – unpleasant feeling! At this point, ask yourself what triggers you when another person is possibly triggering a bad feeling in you? How do you know that? Do you even allow yourself to be happy even though this person is not? Perhaps the quote “Everything that hits you affects you!” will help you in such situations.
Are you one of those who consistently help get praise and recognition? Often, however, the opposite occurs, since those around you will at some point take your commitment for granted. You should also develop trust in your fellow human beings (the irreplaceable ones). Learn step by step to delegate responsibility.
3. Is YES to others is a No to yourself?
We have already briefly touched on the tip to analyze which sacrifices you would have to make to do the favor. Be aware of the consequences a commitment would have for you. What could you do while you’re doing the favor now? What things that are important to you are left behind?
Tip: Feel free to add up the hours you spend doing tasks for others. Seeing this in black and white can be very educational!
It would be best if you also listed what it costs you not to be able to say no. Below are some examples:
- It costs you time and energy that could be invested in more important tasks.
- Unwanted promises create stress and time pressure for yourself.
- You are angry that you gave in again, which weakens your self-image.
- You feel used.
Finally, take stock: Is the “cost” worth doing the favor?
4. Realize that you can always say NO
Self-care has nothing to do with selfishness. If you’re struggling with guilt after a rejection, this is something to keep in mind. Remember, you can only help people if you take care of yourself, first. This also includes saying no if something is too much for you. Nobody can always be there for everyone else without recharging their batteries.
Also, make yourself aware that you are a free person who can make free decisions. It is not only your right to protect your own needs; it is your responsibility. If you don’t want to do something, you are not obligated to do it. Don’t let yourself be emotionally blackmailed! No means no. You don’t have to discuss it.
5. Say NO in a friendly way
Saying no doesn’t mean that you should offend another person. If you send your rejection in a friendly and respectful manner, nobody can be seriously angry with you. Communicate your no clearly and unambiguously! Show understanding for the disappointment without allowing yourself to be persuaded.
Even if you don’t have to justify yourself, depending on the situation, it can make sense to justify your refusal. If your counterpart understands your motives, he can often deal better with the rejection. Unfortunately, there are always people who do not want to respect a no. Primarily if they are not used to it from your side. Only consistency helps here:
“I know you want to convince me by any means necessary. But my answer is and will always be no.”
“It’s obviously very important to you to have me with you. But I can only repeat that this time I don’t like it.”
Important: Pay attention to body language! Keep your torso upright and look the other person in the eye. Avoid nervously fidgeting with your feet or kneading your hands. Speak loudly and clearly, but still calmly and matter-of-factly.
Formulations and Examples that will help you to say NO:
You may not believe it at first, but saying no will not make you unpopular with those around you. On the contrary, someone who can represent his/her own needs is more respected than someone who says yes and amen to everything.
However, different situations of saying no require separate handling. You will undoubtedly reject your boss differently than a close family member. In the following, we would like to give some practical examples for orientation.
How can I say NO to the boss?
Denying the boss a favour is a real challenge. A proven method is the subtle evasion strategy:
“Unfortunately I don’t have the chance to stay longer today. But I could bring forward the project with the deadline.”
“I have one more job to complete, but I can take care of the new matter tomorrow. If it is particularly urgent, you could speak to colleague XY.”
“Unfortunately, today I can’t do it because a long phone call with customer AB got in the way.”
Did you notice something? Any rejection of your boss should include a valid reason, which must correspond to the truth! If the boss feels well informed and can understand the reasons (perhaps customer XY has held him up for hours before), he will accept your no more quickly.
In addition to the evasion strategy, there are other methods:
“I’m uncomfortable with the task.”
“I cannot reconcile this task with my conscience.”
“I’m currently involved with so many other projects that I can’t give the project the attention it deserves.”
“If I prioritize this task, the other client’s case will be delayed further, which could upset the client.”
“I’m happy to take on the task, but I want to remind you that I’m not trained for it.”
“You promised me the Wednesday off. That’s why I made an important private appointment that I can’t postpone anymore.”
“We had already talked about the fact that I can’t work overtime at the moment due to my family situation.”
“As far as I know, last month that project was on priority. What has changed?”
How can I say NO to friends?
Saying no to friends is fraught with the fear of being seen as selfish, and this need not be. If you package your no cleverly and respectfully, your (true) friends will understand.
“Unfortunately, I can’t come on Saturday because I’ve really had a tough week at work.”
“Unfortunately I don’t have the time to make a pasta salad for the party. But I’m happy to bring a bought salad with me.”
“I would like to help you, but unfortunately I really don’t know anything about this topic.”
“Unfortunately you’ll have to do without me this time. Next time I will surely help you again.”
How can I say NO to the family circle?
Within a family, you expect support and cohesion. Nevertheless, your autonomy is also significant here:
“I can’t go on family vacation this year because I need rest.”
“I can’t go shopping after work today. If you are in a hurry, you have to go to the supermarket yourself.”
“I can’t drive you to XY on Saturday because I already have an appointment.”
“I’m not ready to host the milestone birthday party alone. I need your support.”
Saying “NO” takes self-confidence.
Saying no means that you don’t make your happiness in life dependent on the approval of other people. You know who you are and what is good for you. Unfortunately, self-confidence is often damaged in life due to a rigorous upbringing or later negative experiences at work and in a partnership.
However, a lack of self-confidence can be effectively strengthened so that you (re)gain the strength to stand up for yourself.