No is not a four letter word. It is a word that we can incorporate into our vocabulary with ease and, perhaps, even some grace. No will not hurt you, in fact no is sometimes more likely to take care of you when you are the utterer of the word than yes. Perhaps if we change the way we view no, it won’t even hurt us that much when we hear it said. Instead of attacking us on all fronts it will come, and be heard, from a place of human connection and empathy. Despite its brevity, no seems to say a lot.
For a long time to me it said:
You are weak. You are incapable. You can’t cope with life as well as other people. You let everyone down. You’re going to lose all your friends and connections. You’re never going to get anywhere.
Or, sometimes it didn’t say anything at all because it was squashed down at the bottom of the dirty pile with all the other unmentionables (self-doubt; fear; vulnerability to name a few).
But here’s what I’ve recently learned no can say:
You are a valuable human being who is worth having time out. You are allowed to listen to your gut, how you feel, what your mind and body is telling you it needs. You are so very strong for practicing self-care and vulnerability. You are better able to serve others when you serve yourself by saying no.
I used to think no was a word to avoid at all costs, only to be used in very extreme cases. The polite, British girl in me never wants to offend anybody and, as a result, she says yes all the time and ends up offending herself. I’m learning to take her out of the driving seat now.
No is powerful, I know that now. But still, it’s taken me a long time to get from the knowing of that to really being able to practice saying no.
Some things that have helped me practice saying ‘no’
Know the why behind your no. Everything comes down to our why, doesn’t it? When we’re saying no it helps to know exactly why, on your terms, you don’t want to accept the proposition. It might be because you really need some time to yourself and know the event will drain you. It may be because the thing being proposed doesn’t align with your values, the why of you work and your life. Getting specific on the why of our no helps us to say it with power.
You don’t have to tell anyone else the why. Here’s the great lesson I learned only recently. Nobody else needs to know why you’re saying no! I’ve always believed I need to provide the whole backstory to my no if I want anyone to have a chance of understanding it, perhaps you do this too, but it turns out we don’t need to do that.
You can say no, without an explanation AND without hurting anyone’s feelings. Some ways to do this are:
Say no, but offer an alternative if you do want to do the thing but not at the time proposed. “No, I can’t make that but how about this instead”.
Say no, and offer an alternative thing. You might not want to go out for evening drinks, but do want spend time with the friend who invited you. So you could say no and suggest a different thing that works for you.
You can always just say no as well. If you want to maintain a relationship with the person who you’re saying no to, you can say it in a friendly way that still keeps the relationship going. For example “no I can’t make that, but I hope you have a great time and I look forward to hearing all about it”.
These are some things I’ve learned recently about saying no, and they’re helping me out a lot. I hope they can be of some use to you too – but know that I’m not saying getting out of a people pleasing, saying yes to everything mindset isn’t easy. Let’s work through it together!