What happens when you are held captive in a conversation you’d rather not be in, or asked to do projects you really can’t handle? Do you ever have trouble saying “no?”
Most of us strive to be polite and helpful in general. That’s healthy, but good manners are not the same as selling your own self short to accommodate requests of others!
Declining offers, keeping your own schedule realistic, and putting your personal goals first are actually habits of a well-balanced person—if you have to say no, it doesn’t mean you don’t care or that you’re selfish. It just means you understand how to prioritize, because you’re not endlessly available.
But the ability to be confident in saying what you can’t do, or don’t want to do, can be tricky to develop. It doesn’t come as naturally to many of us, since we were taught to pitch in, be a team player, and care for family and friends.
So how can you learn to say no, and still feel good about your contributions and your relationships? Try practicing, little by little, with these reminders in mind:
You are not obligated to meet everyone’s expectations of you.
Often most people are putting their own needs first, anyway. For instance, if someone confides in you, you might feel obligated to show them sympathy. But are you? What if you don’t agree that their complaints are valid? They are seeking validation, but you aren’t obligated to provide it. Drawing your own boundaries for relating to people is a simple way of “saying no” to what isn’t working for you.
Likewise, if a team member puts unrelenting pressure on you to lead a big project or take on a difficult task, you might feel you must meet all demands in order to be respected. But are you respected already, as a member of the team? If you are, then having a conversation about deadlines and workload is perfectly fair. Your team members can’t be expected to know how you manage all your tasks and time.
Volunteerism is optional (that’s what makes it volunteering).
When you’re asked to pitch in extra, do someone a favor, or even offer advice, you’re initial response might be an automatic, sure, no problem. But sometimes maybe it is a bit of a problem. You’re allowed to determine how much inconvenience or effort you would like to give away to others when they ask. It doesn’t mean you’ll never help, to indicate that it’s not a good time right now. It doesn’t mean you don’t care, to suggest that someone else might be better suited to answer.
Further on down the path of automatically agreeing to volunteer your time, effort, knowledge, is often the practice of offering it up on your own. You feel for people. You admire their cause or appreciate their challenge. Remember, it is still an option for you to coach a youth team, work the fundraiser, or open your house up to host the neighborhood party. You can raise your hand, or not. If not this time, there will always be more opportunities to give a little extra in life. Letting other people pick up the slack this time is an acceptable way to learn to say “no.”
No can be cheerful and gentle, but firm and complete, too.
In many circumstances, you find yourself happily helping others the best you can. Saying “yes” is at its highest level when you’re comfortably managing your own life priorities, and can find the room to give of yourself, just for the act of being there. Those contributions feel good, naturally, not forced or stressful.
For example, if you don’t have time to train for a half marathon, but are not in shape to run one, it won’t feel good to agree to participate in the charity run with your friend. You can say “no” with well wishes for the cause and admiration for your friend, no further explanation required. Plus, if you so choose, you can support the cause in any number of other ways.
When you find yourself in a “yes” or “no” situation, you might take a moment to consider how will you feel about yourself once you give that answer. Feeling good inside and out is the goal of a wellness lifestyle, so taking care of how we spend our time, express ourselves, and relate to others is truly an essential practice!