Why Do We Find It So Hard To Say No?

By Deirdre Murray, Executive Coach, Trainer and Facilitator with PEOPLE RESOURCES

John has been working hard all week trying to get his project finished. He has burned the midnight oil several times during the week and is looking forward to a nice relaxing weekend with his family. On Friday afternoon, his boss appears at his desk and asks him to prepare a report for the Board meeting on Monday morning. Downhearted, John tries to tell him that it’s his daughter’s birthday and he had planned to take the family away for the weekend but the words don’t come out the right way. His boss caught him on the hop. He is new to this job and doesn’t want to let his boss down and wants to make a good impression. So he says, “Yes, sure.” Again! He knows he will never get it finished by 5pm and will have to work on this report all over the weekend. Instead of looking forward to his family weekend, John goes home dejected, demotivated and cross with himself for saying “Yes,” when he meant to say “No.”

Has this ever happened to you? You mean to say no but the words don’t come out. You want to be seen to be efficient, to be a high performer, hate conflict or like to please and be seen as helpful?

Sometimes saying no can be difficult, as it is easier to go along with the flow and avoid any ensuing conflict. However, saying no is about saying yes to yourself. When you want to say no to something, put the word “value” along with it. Ask yourself, “What do I want? What do I value?

Here are six useful steps to follow when you want to say no:

1. Pause before answering. Don’t give an immediate commitment. Notice your physiology- how do your shoulders feel when you say no? Give yourself permission to say “No.” Seek more information before you make any commitment. You might think something will take you 10 minutes but once you scan it, you realise it will take two hours! The reason people experience burnout and stress from complete overwhelm, is that they don’t reflect what they need to say no to, in all aspects of their life, not just business. Sometimes the biggest “no” you have to say is to family members, as you might feel compelled through peer pressure to do something or go somewhere you just don’t want to go to.

2. Say “Yes” to say “No.” This might seem odd, but if you acknowledge that the issue is important and requires attention, you can make the person asking, less defensive. “I can see that is a major issue that needs to be sorted. However, I have two key projects that are closing out over the next week so I need to concentrate on those.” “If you want to check back in with me then, I can see how I’m fixed?”

3. Give a valid reason for saying no, so you can show that you did not just dismiss their request out of hand. If you have a persistent person whom you know is going to try and make you take on more than your fair share, have your answer ready so you are not caught unaware. By thinking through your reason for saying no, it will come across with conviction.

4. Be respectful but hold your ground. Don’t let yourself be swayed if you really feel strongly about something and politely decline. Sometimes, people can play on our guilt. Manage and be true to your own boundaries. For example, “I’d love to attend that function, but unfortunately I have another booking made so I’m not in a position to change it at short notice.” “I’ll keep it in mind for again.”

5. Mind your energy. Saying yes may erode your commitment to the request and you might not put our heart and soul into the task, as you will feel reluctant and pressured. Make a list of what you want to say no to in all aspects of your life. Start with one thing. Then keep going!

6. What would someone who has no investment in this request say? Sometimes, if you are someone who likes to please and be helpful, it is useful to step back and reflect on the request as someone who’s looking at his from an objective standpoint. It can also be helpful to discuss it with a colleague or friend who is much more objective than you.

As Jack Canfield tells us, “Remember, just as you are in control of your feelings and attitudes, other people are in control of theirs, so if they do get upset with you for saying no…well that is a choice they make for themselves!

About the author
Deirdre Murray, Founder and Director of PEOPLE RESOURCES, partners as an Executive Coach, Trainer and Facilitator with leading multinationals and public sector bodies across all sectors.
Deirdre is co-author of “Emotional Intelligence (EQ) – A Leadership Imperative!” Her second book “Communicate with Impact! is due to be published shortly. She is a regular motivational speaker at conferences, seminars and on radio broadcasts and provides journal entries for leading business magazines.