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Learning to Say No

15 May

Let's face it.  When we take on too many commitments and spread ourselves too thin, sooner or later we’ll have trouble getting things done well or on time.  

What’s so hard about saying no?  Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and if you’re a people pleaser, that’s pretty a uncomfortable position to be in.  Second, there’s often a slightly grandiose or unrealistic part of us that thinks, well, sure, we can handle just that one more thing – it’s easy to fall into that trap..  And finally, most of us think this is being “nice”, even when the net effect isn’t so nice at all, because we wind up letting others down.

Do you have difficulty saying “no”?  Leo Barbauta has a some great suggestions – his Top Ten Tips on the Gentle Art of Saying No hits all the marks, including the suggestion to pre-empt the request in the first place, warnings against apologizing, and that ever-popular standby, “I’ll get back to you”.. Here are some of his Tips on the Gentle Art of Saying No.

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”

  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments mean less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.

  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.

  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.

  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.

You can find his complete list here.

Dr. David Edelberg from Whole Health in Chicago has written a similar column, called Learning to Say No. Here are a couple of his suggestions to stop agreeing to things you don't want to agree to:

  • Be direct. If you mean no, say no. ("No, I'm too busy to do any more volunteer work right now.") Look directly at the other person and speak in a clear, firm voice. Don't leave any room for misinterpretation. Practice in front of a mirror.

  • Be prepared with a few reasons you can’t say yes. Have a good, honest excuse at the ready: "I'm really over-committed right now." "That's a bad time for me." "I have other plans." "I have an appointment I can't break."

You can find David Edelberg’s list here.

At the end of the day, it’s really about how you say “no”. After all, you have your own priorities and needs, just like everyone else. Saying no is about respecting and valuing your time and space. Saying no is your prerogative.

And don’t forget, delivering a respectful, decisive no can paradoxically strengthen your relationship with the person on the receiving end.

Until next week,
The Health Journeys Staff
{Ed. Note: Belleruth is away at this moment, busy with speaking engagements, and we are bringing back this perennially useful article.}

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award