Saying “no”

Joe Peraino, Ph.D.

Bottom Line: Get in the habit of saying no because it means saying YES to yourself!

Saying ‘no’ to others reflects an affirmation of one self. When you say ‘no’ to another person (partner, boss, child, coworker, parent), you are saying ‘yes’ to yourself, your beliefs, and your values. There is no need to feel guilty about standing up for who you are. Saying ‘no’ seems like a negative when actually it is a positive!

Especially in a work environment, saying ‘no’ is a time saver and a way of staying organized. Saying ‘no’ is a commitment to your plan, a commitment to your goal. It prevents distractions and keeps you on task. Saying ‘no’ also improves your performance and increases your productivity. People are less likely to distract, take advantage of or habitually depend on you in the future

Some people are raised to please and accommodate others. This is particularly true for women who are often trained to be caretakers. Without a balance between pleasing oneself as well as others, pleasing others often results in disappointment, being taken advantaged of, or even abused. It takes time to break the habit of pleasing others, and it involves not sacrificing oneself in the process of helping others. Saying ‘no’ involves getting clear about what you’re about and what you believe in. Often, it’s a self-esteem issue.

Of course, saying ‘no’ is one way to break the habit. It takes practice and nerve to say ‘no.’ First, start with somebody who is relatively safe to say ‘no’ to or a topic that you have a good chance of being successful. The first time will be nerve-racking but with successive practice, saying ‘no’ becomes easier and easier.

People will respond with anger, annoyance, and rejection to your initial efforts. They’ll get over it. You might lose some friends; if they leave you (e.g., don’t talk to you as much), they were not ‘true’ friends to begin with. You need to shed that interpersonal/emotional baggage! And remember, their anger is not your crisis. They are primarily frustrated because they’ve always gotten their way, and you changed the rules. They’ll adjust if they truly care about your relationship.

Guilt is your problem. People can try to make you feel guilty; it is your choice if you decide to feel guilty. If you sincerely believe in your values and what you stand for, there is no need to feel guilty about. Others are disappointed in your choice? They’ll actually learn to respect you in the long run. Besides, you will probably be helping them get over some dysfunctional dependence on you.

A word of caution. Don’t be hostile or angry in saying ‘no.’ You’ll just be perceived as picking a fight. And if you are accustomed to pleasing others, it’ll be a fight you’ll likely lose. Be diplomatic. Tell them you see things from their point of view but your perception is the reality of the situation you’re in. So, get clear about what you what and what y