How to Become Comfortable Saying “No”

I think the main reason people, especially we women, are uncomfortable with saying the word “no,” is fear. Fear of aggravating, alienating or hurting the person asking, fear of being rejected or fear of being thought of as selfish or lazy. So instead of being true to ourselves, we take on yet another commitment, project, errand, favor or pain-in-the-neck task!

Before I learned to say “no” and mean it, it was not at all uncommon for me to say “yes” when asked by family or friends to do something, even while inside my head I could hear me chastising myself for not being honest. The result was I’d end up doing things I didn’t want to do. I’d end up feeling stressed, frustrated, irritable and overwhelmed. Sadly, these feelings sometimes caused me to not do my best, to take my frustration out on others and or even ended up with me becoming sick as a result of too much on my plate!

Are you consciously, or unconsciously, afraid that if you tell someone “no” that they will not like you, be your friend anymore, respect you or admire you?

If that’s the case, then there’s a good chance you also dislike saying “no” to sales people. Avoiding sales situations for fear of having to say ‘no’ to a sales person at the end of their pitch, is common. Even more anxiety-provoking is the fear you won’t be able to stick to your guns at the end of the sales pitch, and will cave under pressure from a too pushy sales person.

Chances are, that part of what contributes to your uncomfortable feelings around saying “no” to people, is your own discomfort around asking others for something you want or need. If you frequently feel dread when faced with asking for something from others, or you worry that you may sound too needy, too pushy, too unclear or too uncertain in making your requests, it could be because you fear hearing the loathsome “no” yourself.  If you equate being told “no” with a personal judgment about you…rather than about the request you’re making or the service or product you’re selling, it’s very hard not to feel personally rejected.

A great way to increase your comfort level with saying “no” is to practice!

Yes! Practice saying “no.” I don’t mean just saying the word over and over to thin air. Instead, intentionally seek out opportunities to express yourself with a polite, but firm, “No, thank you.” An ideal place to do this is whenever you go shopping. Go into a variety of stores or stop by mall kiosks. In the beginning, choose to go to places selling things you’re really not interested in, since it will be much easier for you to say “no” and mean it.

As you grow in confidence and find the “no” word slipping off your tongue more easily, begin to hone your skills even further by going to stores where there’s something you really want. The more you practice saying a polite, but firm “no,” the more you will find that your anxiety will lessen. In fact, if you practice enough, you may even find that you have no adverse reaction whatsoever to being true to yourself!

I know it’s awkward to simply say “no” and leave it at that, so here are some ideas for things you might say instead.

  • I have another commitment, so I have to say no.
  • No, I’m sorry, but my schedule is packed right now.
  • I’m not taking on any new projects right now, maybe next time?
  • Sorry, but I’ve decided to cut back on volunteering until after ________.
  • Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m not available this time.
  • I wish I could do that for you, but I have another appointment.

Also consider this: You are ALWAYS saying “no” to something!

Before agreeing to do anything you don’t really want to do, consider what saying “yes” will mean to you. Think about the cost to yourself if you agree to accept a new commitment. Take a moment or two to consider how much energy, time or money it may require from you. Think of what you won’t be able to do that might be far more important to you in the long run, if you agree to the request.

Consider making a rule to never give an immediate “yes” to requests for your time, energy or money. If you make this rule, and stick to it, you will be far more likely to give an honest answer.

And remember that a request is just that – a request! It’s entirely reasonable for you to decline a request, and if the person making it is reasonable and open, they will accept your answer, no matter what it is! If not, that’s their problem!

Know your priorities and be true to them! The most important commitments to honor are the ones we make to ourselves. Years ago, when I was forced by ill health and personal circumstances to consistently put myself first in my life, I finally learned to say “no” gracefully. When people asked me for something, I would tell them, “I’d love to be able to help out, but I’m not in a position to do so right now because I’ve decided to focus on just taking care of me for awhile. I’m sure you understand.”

Most people understood! And for those few who didn’t, I remembered what Dr. Seuss said:

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

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