When It Is Okay to Say ‘No’ – And How to Make It Stick

This is one area where a lot of women struggle. We feel the need to always say ‘yes’, no matter what the cost.

You need someone to pick up an extra shift at work? No problem. You’d like another board member on the PTA? Sure. I’ve got time. You want a ride to the moon and back? Let me check my schedule. Yep. I’m available.

While it’s great to try to help friends and family out in their time of need, what is usually the end result?

They are the ones with the smile on their face because you’ve lightened their load, but you’re left with additional stress and anxiety trying to figure out how to fit just one more thing into your already packed schedule.

Certainly, you can’t say ‘no’ to everything that is asked of you, but there are times that it’s not only okay, but extremely beneficial. These times include:

When there’s nothing in it for you

How many times have you committed to doing something that served you no benefit whatsoever? Once? Twice? Twenty times? Not that you should only do things that are advantageous to you, but if you’re on the fence on this type of decision, if there isn’t anything in it for you then you may want to let it go.

When you’re not committed to something and feel that you won’t gain in any way by doing it, it becomes just another obligation. It adds stress and anxiety to your life with no positive feelings whatsoever.

However, if you feel that you benefit in some way by saying ‘yes’, then maybe you should do it. Perhaps you’ll feel good by helping a friend out or agreeing to do it will make you step outside of your comfort zone, thereby allowing you to grow and evolve.

When it does you more harm than good

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If something is harmful to you, by all means don’t agree to do it. This would include anything that threatens your physical health or that could put you in harm’s way. However, it’s not always easy to see when something is that detrimental to you.

This is especially true in cases where it is harmful to you mentally as opposed to physically. Maybe agreeing to do something will cause you so much added stress that other areas of your life will suffer, or perhaps it would force you to cut something else out that is more important (like attending your child’s sports events or not being around at night for quality time with your family).

You need to look at the big picture of what someone is asking you before you just agree to it.

Sure, maybe being involved in an organization that meets every Wednesday for an hour doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it is if it involves also putting in 5-10 hours of work per week to prepare for that meeting then you have a bigger time constraint than what you originally thought.

When it isn’t something that is important to you

If your heart isn’t into whatever is being asked of you, you’re going to dread it with every ounce of your body. It will suck the life and energy out of you as sure as if it were a vampire feasting on your blood.

For example, if someone approaches you and requests that you sit on the board at the local animal shelter and you’re not an animal lover, that’s just a recipe for unhappiness.

Your passion isn’t going to be very high, which will not only make the situation less than pleasant, but you’ll also be ineffective because you won’t see the benefits.

How to say “no” and make it stick

caucasian young woman

So, if someone asks you to do something and you feel that it meets one or all of these criteria, how do you say “no” in an assertive manner that gets your point across but doesn’t create an awkward situation? Just follow these simple guidelines:

  • Thank them for asking. The first thing you’ll want to do is thank the person for thinking enough of you for asking you to engage in whatever it is they’re asking for. Even if you believe that they’re doing it just to get out of work themselves, a little kindness goes a long way.
  • Ask for time to consider their request. This is extremely helpful if you’re the type of person that says ‘yes’ simply because you can’t think of a reason to say ‘no’ quickly enough. It buys you a little bit of time to formulate your response and makes the requestor feel like you aren’t just shooting him or her down without thought.
  • Explain why it doesn’t work for you at this time. Once you have your reasons for declining in hand, it’s time to let the other person know why you’re going to decline their request. You’re not explaining yourself to seek their approval, but just to help them see why it does not fit into your life to say ‘yes’ at this time. Sometimes if they can see where you’re coming from, that’s all that is necessary to get them to back off.
  • Make it non-negotiable. There are some people that don’t stop at ‘no’ and will try to get you to change your mind. While it may be tempting to try to please them, stick to your ground. Firmly but politely let them know that your answer is non-negotiable. Pretend that you’re talking to your children and don’t let them cross your boundaries.
  • Let go of the guilt. This is probably the worst part about saying ‘no’ as you wind up feeling guilty for letting others down. This is also the number one reason that most people say ‘yes’ when they shouldn’t. Look at it this way: Would you want someone to agree to do something for you purely out of guilt? Probably not. And, most likely, the person that is asking you wouldn’t want you to do that either.

Saying ‘no’ can be hard at first, but it’s also the first step to saying ‘yes’ to yourself. Don’t give up your happiness just so that others have an easy life. You’re entitled to your joy too. And, sometimes that joy comes by saying “No thank you”.

About the author

Christina DeBusk

Changing careers mid-life from law enforcement to writing, Christina spends her days helping others enrich their businesses and personal lives one word at a time.

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