Saying "No" could be good for you

August 15, 2013

Text size: A A A

W hether we like it or not, sometimes we have to say no to a family member, friend, customer, boss, or co-worker.

However, most of us have difficulty saying no for various reasons that may not serve us.

The first step is to understand any resistance or discomfort to saying no.

Do you tend to say yes, but feel a strong no inside because you are afraid of being rude or hurting someone's feelings, fear rejection or retaliation, want to avoid conflict, or worry that a no may mean a lost opportunity or door closing? Perhaps you say nothing at all and hope the request will go away.

These situations never do go away and we have to face saying no in our personal and professional lives. If you have a tendency to quickly say yes, try to buy time to think things through. Say you need a day or two to look at your calendar, check with your family, or re-examine your workload.

The second step is to learn simple ways of saying no nicely and effectively.

If your boss asks you to take on one more project when you already have more than you can handle, you can say, "My plate is really full with (A, B, and C) projects. Please let me know if you want me to re-prioritize."

If you are asked to volunteer for an office function or community event, you can say, "This is really a busy time for me right now and I cannot take on any more commitments."

Or, you can offer an alternative such as, "I cannot do that, but I can do this... "

Offer a less demanding commitment that is on your own terms.

Sometimes it's helpful to offer an explanation, especially to a child or customer. They will be more understanding if you educate them on why you are unable to provide what is being requested. You don't have to over-explain or defend your decision.

If the person gets emotional or reactive, don't yield under pressure, as difficult as this seems. Take a deep breath and listen attentively to his or her objections. Then, gently but firmly, reaffirm your no, keeping it simple and clean without backpedaling.

Giving out of guilt is not true giving. To help alleviate those feelings, you can offer something you can do instead, if it feels right, or say, "Maybe I can help you find someone who can help you." This shows respect and concern.

Although it may feel uncomfortable saying no, saying yes when you don't have the energy, time, or without taking something else off your plate to make room, you are saying no to you and your priorities.

Practice getting more comfortable saying no by choosing some easy and low-risk situations. Tune in to your feelings to understand any resistance and keep building your "no" muscle.

Grace Marks, MPH, CPC, is a certified life coach, motivational speaker, stress management instructor, and workplace makeover specialist with Native Empowerment: Solutions for Health and Harmony providing customized training programs for tribal organizations and businesses. If you have any questions or comments, or have ideas for future health columns, please direct them to or visit