Two little letters, one very straightforward meaning, and a word that can be one of the hardest in the world to say.
It’s funny isn’t it? That no is one of the first words many of us will ever learn to say – my favourite three year old uses it a lot - but by the time we become adults we seem much more reticent to say it.
Why? Because it means disappointing people, upsetting people, rocking the boat – all things that many of us are so often told we should try to avoid if we want to live a happy, peaceful life.
And hey, I’m not here to argue with the peaceful part of it – if we were all to go through life agreeing with everyone and never saying no then we’d likely avoid stacks of arguments and changes of plan.
But would we be happy? Would we ever make any real progress? And would that idea of peace really extend to the way we feel on the inside? I’ll let you guess the answer.
So for today’s post I thought it might help to give you a quick and handy guide to using one of the simplest but most emotionally charged words in the English language… my guide to saying no.
Times it’s not OK to say no
I know what you’re thinking; that you can’t always say no. It’s not possible, it’s not practical or it’s just not OK.
So let me start by reminding you of when it’s not OK to say no…. Never.
That’s right, it is always OK to say no. Honestly, I was thinking about this when I sat down to write and, other than when a police officer says “you’re under arrest, please come with me” (and even then…) I could not come up with another single example of when you should ignore something within you that was screaming a no.
Times it’s OK to say no
So when is it OK to say no? Pretty much whenever it feels right for you, but let’s break it down more simply.
Your gut tells you something is a bad idea? Say no.
You really don’t want to do something or you’re tired, stressed, drained or unhappy and don’t feel you can? Say no.
You’re feeling uncomfortable or have reached one of the boundaries you’ve set for yourself or others? Say no.
That’s not to say you should never take a risk, listen to an alternative opinion or push yourself to do something that seems a little scary or uncomfortable; I’m a firm believer in pushing yourself out of your comfort zone from time to time if and when you need to.
But there’s a big difference between avoiding something because you’re scared, and choosing not to do something because it feels all out wrong. I honestly believe that one of the biggest keys to happiness and fulfillment lies in learning to tell the difference between those two things – although maybe that’s a blog post for another day.
How to say no
So with all that considered, how do you go about actually saying no?
Because I know just how tough it can be to do that. Like I’ve said before, I’m a people pleaser, so there have been plenty of times in the past that I’ve worked myself into a panic trying to work up the courage to disagree with or walk away from something.
But what I’ve learned from all of those times is that honestly, the worrying only ever makes things worse.
So my advice to you is to step away from whatever the situation is if you can, and take a few minutes to compose yourself and your thoughts, and then simply say no. Where an explanation is needed you can add that and explain why you’ve made this particular decision, but remember you don’t need to defend your choices or owe anyone an explanation of a decision you make – ever.
Try to keep your cool, be honest and be firm; if you’re making a decision based on what’s truly right for you (and let’s remember, that’s always the most important thing) then it’s not up to anyone else to try and talk you out of something.
What to do if someone gets upset
That’s not to say another person won’t try to talk you out of it, or that they’ll manage to keep their own cool when you say something they don’t like.
If that happens then first up keep yourself safe – respect their feelings and words of course but then take as much space as you need and, if necessary, walk away completely.
Remember that their reaction isn’t about you, and often isn’t even about your words. More than anything, a negative reaction to your decision is about another person being upset that their own needs aren’t being met, that they no longer have control over a situation, or that things aren’t going the way they’d thought or hoped.
All of those things are a shame for them. But honestly? As the old saying goes – not your circus, and definitely not your monkeys. If someone else gets upset or angry then that’s sad, but remember that it’s their emotion to own and to deal with, not yours.
And what if someone gets upset?
Of course, that’s not to say that those other people will always respect your decisions and opinions in the same way.
So if another person continues to push at you to do or agree to something you’ve previously said no to then you have three choices.
You can give them a straight no and tell them what to do with their ignorance. Let’s be honest that’s probably precisely what you want to do, but isn’t always possible… particularly when you’re dealing with a manager or someone else in a similar position of authority.
But that’s not to say you should go along with whatever they say regardless. Because there is almost always the opportunity to talk to the other person and explain why something is a problem – try to communicate your point rationally in order to find a middle ground between your yes and their no.
And of course there’s always the option to roll over and go with their decision instead of yours. Honestly though? If you’re in a situation where you really can’t say no to something that feels wrong to you… Well then maybe it’s time to think about changing that situation, and to seek out help if it’s not possible for you to do that in your own.
Because if no is something you’re really struggling with then that becomes a much bigger issue than two little letters. It suggests you’re not empowered to live the life that you want, and the life that you damn well deserve.
So if no is a problem for you right now, and you honestly can’t see a way to stand your ground on the things that feel right and wrong to you then give me a shout, I’d love to help you work through that and figure out a new way forward which is true to your own heart and soul.