I have noticed in my years as a coach, counselor and human, that many people in general and women in particular, have a hard time saying no. It can be no to our child who wants their second piece of candy or no I don’t want fries with that burger… Some people struggle to say no to anything.
I’m not sure if it’s in our DNA, if it’s solely learned behavior or if we just have such poor modeling and examples of watching other people (our moms and women friends and relatives) say no and deliver that no well.
So why are we saying so many yeses to things we really want to say no to?
Sometimes it’s out of the story we tell ourselves that nice ladies don’t say no. We are taught to be cooperative and helpful and we want to please as often as we can. While little boys are off having a wrestling match in the mud, little girls are often having tea parties and being encouraged to make sure the other little girls are happy and fulfilled and have plenty of tea and cookies… that’s what good girls do.
I see evidence of this dynamic a lot while I am out and about. Two people arrive at a stop sign at the same time. The man I observe will often plow through thinking nothing of it. I’ll watch 2 or 3 women all politely wave the other to go first.
Now, to be clear I am not dissing politeness. Far from it. What I am saying is somewhere between “it’s my responsibility to ensure that everyone around me is happy all the time,” and “screw you it’s all about me”, is a sweet spot called boundaries.
When we can begin to question our story that we actually are not responsible to ensure everyone else’s happiness, and that we deserve some balance, joy, peace and happiness, we then can learn the art of giving a good no. We can learn boundary setting, which includes flexing our no muscle.
It requires us to question the story that only mean, unkind or uncooperative people tell others no. This is a myth created by people who were either well intentioned (moms) and /or people who just like getting their way.
Either way, you’ll need to choose if you want to continue to act out of old scripts and stories, or, if you are ready to take better control over your life, reduce your stress, and begin to enjoy your life again.
If it is the latter, here are some ideas for you to begin a new way of relating and a new way of setting appropriate boundaries; in other words, learning to give a good no.
1. Remind yourself you are not the happiness fairy godmother. It is not only ok, but it is wise to tell our kids no so they can learn how to appropriately deal with disappointment which life will surely dish out both now and later. None of us gets everything we want so the sooner we focus on helping our kids with great resilience and coping skills the better their life (and ours) will go.
2. Reframe the idea that nice people are cooperative and say yes to everything. People who say yes to everyone, and to every request are some of the most exhausted and stressed people I know. We are not meant to serve others to our own detriment.
3. Employ the 60 Second Rule. This is about taking a breath and pausing before you answer anyone’s request to do anything beyond your usual and normal roles and responsibilities. By pausing, you slow down your brain, and create time and space to really consider if this is a request you have time for, and one you want to do.
4. Make your no mean no. Giving a good no sounds like, “I hear your request to have me do ______ and I’ll need to say no to that.” If you are asked why, it will be up to you to decide if you wish to provide a very brief answer. If not, then simply respond “I thought about it and realized I need to choose that I am not available for that task.” Resist the urge to verbally tap dance your way through an awkward explanation. It wastes your time and energy and the other persons as well and it won’t change the outcome if you hold to your boundary.
5. Counteroffer only if you really want to. Counteroffers are also boundaries with a bit more flex… they can sound like, “No, I am not available to drive you to the store today, but I am available on Saturday at noon. Would you like to go then?” Once you put your counteroffer out there, stick to your boundary. Your requester then has the option to say she will wait until you are available, or she can make other arrangements if she really wants or needs to go sooner.
Giving a good no, is a bit like walking outside into the fresh Pacific Northwest air and inhaling deeply. Letting go of preconceived notions or messaging from our past that says we are responsible for others’ happiness is equally freeing.
Next time you are tempted to say yes to a request without thinking, stop, slow down, pause and utilize the 60 second rule. Think first and let that person know you will get back with them… perhaps in 60 seconds, 10 minutes or the next morning. Follow up when you say you will.
The first time you flex your “no muscle” it can be quite uncomfortable. By practicing giving a good no, you will be amazed at how much easier it begins to be over time. You are worth caring for- learning how to give a good no may just be the thing you need to regain your health and joy and let go of stress and exhaustion.
Can I get a yes to that?