That dirty little two letter word

Why is it that every toddler on the face of the earth can say ‘no’, but we grownup, smart, savvy women have such a hard time?

Are you baking three chocolate cakes for the community fundraiser on Sunday? Did you agree to pick up Aunt Susan and Uncle Bill to bring them to the family reunion next weekend? They only live an hour away. didn’t you chip in twenty dollars last week for a baby present for a woman whom you barely know? I mean, she works in another department, on a different floor, right?

Isn’t it the truth? It’s okay, you can say. It’s just us girls here.

It is hard to say ‘no’. It’s hard for all of us and there are a multitude of reasons why. We’re programmed from the beginning that saying ‘no’ is not nice. We’re social beings so we say ‘yes’ to be included. Then there’s the fear of rejection or being thought ill of, if we say ‘no’.  We’re keen to please. We want to be liked. We don’t want to disappoint or hurt anyone’s feelings.  Shall I go on?

All that being said, it’s supremely important to learn to say ‘no’, thoughtfully and politely, because saying ‘yes’ to too many things can lead you straight to overload.  We know all too well that overload is not a good thing. And then there are the times when you agree to do something that you wish you hadn’t and so you spend the rest of the day berating yourself. Isn’t that a pleasant, comforting, uplifting experience? NOT.

As Susan Newman says, in her oldie but goodie, The Book of No: 250 Ways to Say It an Mean It, – “Each time you agree when you don’t want to, you give up a piece of yourself. You begin to feel powerless because you are in another person’s grip, fulfilling her wishes or meeting his needs and not your own.”

Not only is it hard to say ‘no’, there are many ways someone can ask you for something that can catch you off guard. There’s the complement and ask combo. (That’s probably how you ended up baking all those cakes. Didn’t she say that yours was the absolute best?) Or the guilt and ask pairing. Or the whine and ask hook up that’s just so hard to deal with. You know the one where she says something like “Oh, this is too hard or I don’t know how to do this. Can you do it instead?” And if that’s not bad enough they’ll often trump it with a little flattery like “You’re so good at this, anyway.” (Shudder.)

It’s not an easy thing. It will take practice, but it has to be done. You need to be strong, clear and, of course, polite.  Try not to apologize, it may seem more polite, but it weakens your response and could provide an opportunity for negotiation.  Try not to lie, that can easily make things worse. Be honest with yourself. You know your priorities and values. If you do not agree with what someone is asking you to do or it’s not the way you want to spend your time, say ‘no’.

Remember, too, that it is not your responsibility how they react to your saying ‘no’. You are not saying this from a place of spite or meanness. You are saying this because it does not fit with what you need and want for yourself.

So, when it’s the right thing to do for you, take a lesson from that toddler and say ‘no’.

What about you, are you willing to learn to say ‘no’? What will you say no to next time it comes up? Share your story in the comments below.

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