For many of us, it’s the first word we learn, thus the popularity of baby T-shirts that read, “My name is No No” on the front. We learn to use “no” first, because it’s a powerful word synonymous with taking a stand, contradicting authority, being an individual. “No, I won’t take a bath!”
It was so easy to say as a child. Why do many of us stop using the word?
A friend recently expressed feeling as if people take advantage of her. “The more you give, the more they take.” To which I replied, “Why don’t you just say no?”
This brings me back to the question from my book excerpt above, “Why do we stop using the word?”
As children we quickly learned that even if you say “no,” you end up doing what your parents wanted anyway. They were bigger, stronger, and in control. Somewhere along the line, we become adults, but don’t take the power back.
The fact is, how we say “no,” and whether we “stick to our guns” is totally up to us. Others can debate, cajole, and do whatever they want to do to try to convince us, but in the end, we’re the ones who make our choices.
Here are five tips for saying “no” and making it stick.
1. Think carefully about whether you really want to say “no,” and how willing you are to stick with it. If you’re ambivalent about the request, or are just looking for someone to beg you to do it, or you’re holding out for something better (like a higher pay raise) then you’ve really made your choice—you’re saying yes—just making the requester work for it. If you truly want to say “no,” move on to tip 2.
2. Weigh the costs and benefits of saying “no.” What are the costs to you? Will you get fired? Will you lose a friendship? Also, ask yourself what the costs are to the other person. If you care about him or her, you may choose to do something you personally don’t want to do for the greater good of the other person or your relationship. However, weigh carefully and be realistic about the costs. Will you REALLY be fired? Will that friend REALLY disown you, or just be mad at you for a day?
3. Say “no” confidently. Look the person in the eye and say with a firm, but polite tone, “No, I can’t.” If you want to be apologetic, then say, “I’m sorry, I can’t” and leave it at that. This is the key to avoid being talked into doing something. If you offer rationale or explanations, people will find ways around them.
4. Offer an alternative. Sometimes we say “no” because the request doesn’t work with our schedule, values, or lifestyle, but we really do want to help. For example, we might not be able to take a day off from work to help at a child’s school party, but we’re willing to help in another way, like baking cookies or sending supplies. We can say, “I’m sorry I can’t attend the party, but I’d be glad to _____ instead.”
5. Use the phrase, “I have another commitment.” The word “commitment” sounds official and most people don’t question it. Your commitment is simply anything you’ve already determined you need or want to do instead of the request. In 20 years, I’ve never had someone reply, “What is it?” They just accept it and move on.
What creative ways (without telling a lie) have you found for saying “no?”