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How to Say No

Many people struggle to say “no.” They may have grown up in a household where saying no was seen as a complete rejection. In other words, they were emotionally blackmailed and made to feel bad for saying no. Others are afraid that if they say “no,” that other people won’t like them or that the person who asked will have hurt feelings. Some people come from families where a “no” is simply not accepted, and they are badgered until they give in. Whatever the reason, I want you to know and believe that it is okay for you to say “no.” And, in fact, if you can’t say “no” to some things then you sometimes won’t be able to say “yes” to things that are important to you. Your schedule will be full of things you agreed to do even though they weren’t your priorities.

So, how can you say no? You’ve probably heard this one before and it’s true: “no” is a complete sentence. So, one way to say no is to say just that and nothing else. There is a really big advantage to this: it doesn’t give people anything to push back on. If, for example, I asked you to take me to the store the following day, you could say, “Oh, dang, I’ve got a couple of appointments that day and I don’t think I’ll be able to.” Then if I’m someone who is oblivious to the possibility that you might not want to do this no matter what your schedule looks like, I can reply, “Oh, hey, the day after that will work, too. Can you take me after lunch?” Now you’ve got to come up with another reason. Some people will have a workaround for whatever reason you give them. That’s why “no” can work so well. About all they can say is, “What do you mean, ‘no’?”

Some people won’t feel comfortable stating a simple “no” as their answer. It might feel rude or abrupt or cold and uncaring. In this case, you can add “that won’t work for me.” Be careful, though: the determined person could respond, “Well, what would work for you?” And then you’re probably going to end up giving in and doing the thing you don’t want to do.

Another option, then, is to start with “no” and add what you are willing to do. Using my example above, you could reply to my request for a ride to the store, “I won’t be able to do that, but I can pick up an item for you the next time I go.” This allows you to stick to what you are comfortable with and makes it hard for the other party to claim you are being completely unreasonable.

If you come from an upbringing where you weren’t given the option of saying “no,” then it can feel pretty scary to say it to someone in real life. My suggestion is that you practice it. This might sound silly, but have a friend you trust help you practice by asking you for favors. If you need to, start with outrageous requests or requests that are utterly bizarre and make it easy for you to say “no.” Remember, this is practice and there are no real stakes; your risks are low. As you become more comfortable, have your friend start asking you more realistic favors that you can practice turning down. Once you are comfortable with simply saying to seemingly reasonable requests, have your friend start pushing back. Have them pretend to be oblivious to your answer or to refuse to accept “no” for an answer. This is a risk-free way for you to practice and get comfortable holding firm and standing up for yourself so that in a real-life situation you feel more confident.

Is there some issue that you’d like to work on? Give me a call or text to set up an appointment at 816-226-4678. I am currently accepting new clients.

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