Learning the Art of Saying “NO”

NO – it is a 2-letter word, it’s one of the first words we learn, and yet it is the hardest word for me to say. I often wish to say this word, in fact when I open my mouth it is the word I’m sure is going to come out. So imagine my surprise when what I hear instead is: “I’d be happy to help” or “That’s no problem, I’ll take care of it for you.” Then I stand there in complete shock because I’ve said yes when I meant to say no, while the person who asked me gets to walks away with the knowledge that I will take care of it. And how to I walk away from this? I walk away feeling mad for not saying no – mad at them for asking and mad at myself for saying yes, used because it is something I really didn’t want to do, and just plain stupid – after all it is a 2-letter word, N-O what is so hard about saying that.

But it is hard because for most of my childhood I wasn’t allowed to say it. I wasn’t allowed to say the NO that was in my head when he touch me, the NO that was in my mind as he force me to touch him, the screaming “NO” that went through my whole body as I was being raped. I was taught with each of these acts to deny myself and what I wanted, to quiet that no that was racing through my mind, to force that no into if not an active yes then a passive- no argument given yes. I was forced into making no mean yes so often and so long that no, no longer had any meaning to it, it no longer existed.

Now that abuse that killed the word no has ended, and I need to resurrect/bring back/start using the word NO again. But how? Like everything else it’s going to take baby steps, mishaps and setbacks, but this time I am going to get that NO heard.

First of all I need to be using the right kind of NO. Yes that’s right there are different kinds of NO!

The Wishy, Washy NO – It is the no that is followed be excuses. I know that when I say no my first instinct is to give an excuse to why I am saying no, because I don’t want to feel like a bad person for having said it. The problem with excuses is that you come up with excuses that sound wishy, washy and thus very fishy. If you lack confidence when you say “No”, and you use excuses as the reasons to convince the other person (and yourself) that you mean it; you could have this backfire in your face if the excuses you use are a lie and they are exposed, then you will sound ineffective again because you need to have an excuse to support your stand.

The Figurative Face Smack NO – This is the aggressive no, the “you are crazy to thing I’m going to do that for you” no. You might as will smack the person in that face. While you want your no to be taken seriously, you don’t want to alienate or show contempt for the person that is asking you a favor.

The My No Means No, NO – This is the simple, direct no. The “sorry but I just can’t help you” NO. No excuses, no guilt, no trying to make the other person feel bad, just no.

Which No do you want to be using? I know that we feel like we need to give excuses for saying no or maybe we are mad at the person for asking so we want to take it out on them but really all we want to do is be able to say no and have the other person listen to it.

So now we know that kind of No we want to use – but how to we use it? Practice and some simple strategies that will make it easier. I’m all for making saying “NO” easy.

1. When someone makes a request, ASK FOR TIME TO THINK IT OVER. Asking for time is ok. This will give you time to get your thoughts in order; weigh the pros and cons of saying yes, and give you time to get in touch with your feelings. Don’t make snap decisions and then regret them later. The person asking is going to have to wait for your answer; if they can’t wait then they need to find someone else. You have the right to time. In thinking it over, remind yourself that the decision is entirely up to you.

2. Use your nonverbal assertiveness to underline the “No.” Make sure that your voice is firm and direct. Look into the person’s eyes as you say, “No.” Shake your head “No,” as you say, “No.” Your whole body should be saying NO.

3. Remember that “No,” is an honorable response. If you decide that “No,” is the answer that you prefer to give, then it is authentic and honest for you to say, “No.” IT IS OK TO SAY “NO”!

4. If you say, “Yes,” when you want to say, “No,” you will feel resentful throughout whatever you agreed to do. This costs you energy and discomfort and is not necessary if you just say, “No” when you need to.

5. If you are saying, “No,” to someone whom you would help under different circumstances, use an empathic response to ease the rejection. For example, to your friend who needs you to keep her child while she goes to the doctor, you might say, “No, Susie, I can’t keep Billie for you. I know it must be hard for you to find someone at that time of day; I won’t be able to help you.

6. Start your sentence with the word, “No.” It’s easier to keep the commitment to say, “No,” if it’s the first word out of your mouth.

I am making a commitment to myself to practice saying NO to one thing every day. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, but I need to know that I have the option.


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