No. It's one of the smallest, simplest words in the English language, but one of the hardest to say.
We’ve all been there… the phone rings, an email slides into your in-box, or a text message shows up from a friend, co-worker or your kids’ PTA group asking for a favor. “Would you mind (insert request here)?” You say “yes” even though you’re already stretched thin because you don’t want to offend, hurt or upset someone you care about.
Prior to becoming a mom, I (Kalie) had a serious problem—I said yes to everything.
It didn’t matter how busy I was, if I felt sick or was 8 months and 29 days pregnant, I felt this innate pressure to say yes. There were times when my yes wasn’t a big deal, and someone needed help with something simple. There were other times (many times) when saying yes to someone else meant saying no to something I had desired for myself.
Late into my pregnancy, my husband and mom saw how much saying yes was wearing on me and decided to address it head on. After our conversation, I realized that I was neglecting my own needs and priorities because I was continually putting others ahead of myself. As a consequence, I always felt stressed because I was trying to play catch up. After some serious self-reflection, I started to acknowledge that saying no wasn’t something to feel guilty about and it didn’t mean being selfish.
Because saying no is something that so many other women struggle with too, we wanted to share some simple ways to find the balance between self-care and helping others, without feeling selfish.
First and foremost, get rid of the guilt!
Guilt is an emotion reserved for when you do something WRONG that compromises your own standards. When asked for help, we often let guilt take over and feel immense pressure to say yes. We convince ourselves that if we don’t help, there may not be anyone else to do it. But what we tend to forget is that there are other options out there.
Next time you’re asked to do something, take a few minutes, do some soul searching and determine your reason(s). Ask yourself, “What am I making room for by saying no?”
For example: Did you decline taking on a new client or a heavier workload because it meant sacrificing time with your family? In that case, your priority was creating a healthy work-life balance. It doesn’t sound wrong when it’s put that way, does it?
There are certain occasions when you have spare time to help out, want to lend a hand or the person asking means a lot to you. However, there are many times when you’re well within your right to say no and not feel guilty about it. Understanding that you can’t do everything will really help release guilt when saying no.
Prioritize and put yourself FIRST.
As women, we tend to believe that caring for ourselves is bad or selfish; that everyone else’s needs always take precedence over our own. But, if we accepted every offer extended to us, we’d have absolutely no time to ourselves. While there needs to be balance between how much time we put into caring for ourselves versus caring for others, we NEED to remind ourselves that we’re important too.
It’s not unreasonable to have other commitments in place (even if that involves you on the couch, with a book and bottle of wine). The more you tell yourself this, the more comfortable you’ll become and the better you’ll feel about saying no.
Know your value.
From the time we’ve been children, we’ve been told that it’s impolite to say no. Now, as adults, we continue to correlate no with being dislikable, unkind or selfish. We worry that a simple no could lead to rejection. Because of this innate desire to gain others’ approval, we often say yes, even if it means our own inconvenience.
So, where do you draw the line?
It’s important to know your value, set boundaries and respect yourself enough to stand up for what’s best for you. If you’re constantly saying yes or coming to the rescue of others, they may start to take advantage of your generosity.
Once you’ve said no don’t overthink the “what ifs” or stress about the situation with thoughts like, “Are they no longer going to think of me as a team player?” or “What if they talk poorly about me behind my back?” Accept that you can’t control the opinions of others and if they value you, they already know where your heart is. If you make choices and live your life depending on other people’s approval, you’ll never feel free and truly happy.
How to politely say no
Saying no can be extremely difficult at first, but, just like riding a bike, it becomes more natural and comfortable over time. Approach the response with more than just a direct and concrete no, but with an acknowledgment that contains feedback. And if someone is furious because of your completely reasonable and genuine response, well then they don’t value the friendship the way you do.
1. First and foremost, practice makes perfect!
- If the idea of saying no makes you uncomfortable, come up with a go-to phrase and rehearse it.
2. Start with a compliment rather than an apology.
- Apologizing means you did something wrong and saying no is nothing to feel guilty about. Instead, start with a compliment, such as, “I really appreciate you thinking of me…”
3. You don’t have to answer immediately.
- There’s nothing wrong with taking a few hours to process the request. You can always say something like, “Let me take a look at the calendar when I get home and get back to you.”
4. Put feeling and emotion behind the words.
- Be polite and empathetic but firm. Being wishy-washy gives room for the other person to try and sway your reasoning. “Tone is the hardest part of saying no.” – Johnathan Price
5. Be clear and keep your explanation brief.
- Over-explaining can put you at risk of sounding like you’re being dishonest and making up a story on the spot.
6. “Because” can be a magical word.
- The other person is much more likely to accept your refusal if you give a reason why. “I appreciate you thinking of me. I won’t be able to (insert request) because… (insert reason).”
7. Offer an alternative suggestion.
- “Have you tried (insert suggestion)…” When you deliver it kindly, no can be quite a positive response
- “Thank you so much for thinking of me. I know I have helped with the after-school program in the past, but I will not be able to this year. Unfortunately, I have other obligations. I bet some of the other moms would love the opportunity to get involved.”
Learning to say no (and not feel guilty about it) is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
Not only will it challenge you to overcome your fear of rejection, it’ll alleviate stress, create more balance in your life and help you feel in control. So, next time you receive a request, ask yourself if it’s worth making room for.