Turning people down is an extremely difficult thing to do. We don’t want to hurt peoples’ feelings and so we play nice, whilst neglecting our own needs. Well, today we’re going to explore the art of saying no.
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Do we have trouble saying no
Humans are an especially weird bunch. As unique and wonderful as we all are, our behaviours are so predictable. I’m going to let you in on some of the research I’ve been doing as a Ph.D. student in communication. Let’s talk about how we, as humans, have trouble rejecting requests.
‘’Person A: Are you coming to the party tomorrow?’’
‘’Person B: Yup, I’ll be there at 7’’
‘’Person A: Are you coming to the party tomorrow?’’
‘’Person B: uhhh, I can’t. I haven’t been feeling sick for the past couple of days, so I won’t be able to make it. I’m really sorry!’’
Let’s look at these two contrasting examples. In Scenario 1, where we’re essentially saying yes, you can notice two things. The response is very quick and to the point, there’s no dancing around the subject. This is how most humans react when agreeing with each other. It’s an ideal situation because both parties leave the conversation satisfied. However, when there is disagreement, then there’s trouble.
In scenario 2, where we’re saying no to the party invitation, the art of saying no comes into play. You see, when we turn people down, we get uncomfortable. There’s hesitation in our response. Excuses are thrown into the mix to justify our decision. Apologies to show that we don’t mean to hurt the other person’s feelings. Compared to scenario 1, saying no is a completely different beast.
Don’t believe me? Try it out for yourself. Next time someone turns you down, pay very close attention to how they speak. There’s a very high chance that you’ll pick out some of the strategies I mentioned earlier. But why? Why is the art of saying no so difficult?
Why do we have trouble saying no
The answer is both simple and complex. Simple answer? We don’t want to come across as a bad person. However, it’s more subtle than that. See, in psychology, there’s this concept called ‘face’. Your ‘face’ is the positive self-image that you have of yourself.
Whenever we decide to say no, we’re doing a face-threatening act. We’re going against the wishes of other person. We’re violating their expectation that we’re going to say yes. Essentially, we’re going against the rules of the game of conversation that humans secretly play.
So, because we’re doing this ‘horrible’ injustice by saying no, we apologize, explain, delay. All in the name of maintaining that positive self image. If you’re interested in learning more about the ‘why’, I’d highly recommended doing some reading into politeness theory. Here are some useful links to get you started.
Benefits of saying no
Now I’m not saying you should say no to everything and everyone. However, there are times in life where it’s beneficial to be agreeable. It’s not so black and white. However, there are situations where the art of saying no is necessary. Harassment in the workplace. Abuse by relationship partners. The list goes on. Now that we’ve covered why we find it so difficult to say no, let’s look at some of the benefits.
Keeping boundaries clear
When it comes to boundaries, so many people talk about the importance of setting boundaries. I completely agree, you need clear boundaries with the people in your life. However, we need to talk about what happens when someone threatens to cross those boundaries. Humans aren’t perfect. Knowing or unknowingly, it will happen. The art of saying no is critical in this situation.
In relationships, I’ve always been anxious. There have been many times where I have been so afraid to lose people in my life, that I let them cross my boundaries. I was scared that if I said no, then they would choose to leave me. All that got me was constant anxiety as I was getting triggered daily.
I knew what was going on. I knew that my boundaries were being crossed but I didn’t have the strength to say no. Nowadays, I try to be as clear as possible. This way, if they cross my boundaries, I know that it was a deliberate act. I can decide what to do from then on.
Protecting your mental health
Outside of relationships, there is also an importance to saying no. For example, in the workplace. Personally, I’m a people pleaser. It’s another part of me that I’m actively working on. However, what this means is that I always get in over my head at work.
Can you do this for me? Sure. Will you help Mary with her project? Of course. Can you work late this weekend again? Yes. It was never ending. I constantly felt taken advantage of, but I was also encouraging it to happen.
My mental health got worse and worse. I was always tired, stressed and anxious. After doing some reading on essentialism, things finally clicked. Frank Sonnenberg says that ‘‘Subtracting from your list of priorities is as important as adding to it.’’ . I realized that, as much as I wanted to be seen as helpful, I needed to start saying no. My mental health should always a priority. It may sound selfish but it’s completely necessary. When I’m in a good place, then I’m a position to start helping others.
Frees up space for you
Have you ever been a situation where you’ve made plans for the evening? A nice book, warm bath and a bottle of wine. Then, you get a call. Someone needs you. Without a second thought, you drop everything to go help. As much as you’re being a good friend to that person, you’re being a bad friend to yourself.
Sometimes you just need some time to yourself. Some time away from the outside world where you can just be yourself, without any expectations. In these situations, the art of saying no is critical.
Every Sunday, I have a specific routine that sets me up for success in the week to come. I specifically set time for self-care. These take extreme priority. I promised that time to myself. Not my partner. Not my neighbor. Not my friends.
Unfortunately, this means that I’ve had to say no to these people trying to make plans. It’s not that I don’t want to go. It’s simply that I know that if I don’t take care of myself, then I’m more likely to spiral into negativity. By freeing up space, I’m doing the ultimate act of kindness to myself.
It’s empowering to say no. If you don’t believe, just try it the next time someone asks for something you can’t give. No apologizing. No long explanations. Can you borrow some money? No, I don’t want to. End of story. It shows that you have a high level of self-respect. People will eventually pick this up and stop trying to take advantage of you.
It takes time for this to happen though. Multiple instances of you prioritizing yourself. Time and time again of you letting people down. Then, you’ll start to notice that you do have the confidence to stand up for yourself. You’ll believe in yourself more. It will start to spread to every other aspect of your life. It’s an efficient method to becoming more confident in yourself.
So, what do you think? Do you think there is an art to saying no? Have you ever noticed yourself apologizing when you’re saying no? Do you have any boundaries that need to be protected at all costs? Let me know in the comments below, I’m curious.
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