Say No and Mean It

How this simple two-letter word can set you free.
Feb 06, 2013
Little girl crying

Feb 06, 2013

Take a quick look at your upcoming schedule. Is it out of control with events, shopping, and chores? Now take a second, more careful look. Are all those commitments ones you truly wanted to make? Or, with some, have you let yourself fall into the accommodation trap — saying yes when you really wanted to say no? Saying no to anything or anyone can seem impossible at times. But learning to say no to the less important things can be an invaluable skill that will allow you to make time for what truly counts — including much-needed breaks to care for yourself or to just relax. These tips can help:

  • Identify your yes. When we say no, we often focus solely on the negative, deriving our response from what we are against — the other person's demand or behavior. Instead, root your no in a deeper yes — a yes to your interests and what truly matters. Ask yourself, "Why do I want to say no to this?" Your answer will point you toward the underlying yes.
  • Assert your no. Saying no is not easy. It takes confidence to stand up for yourself. Basing your no on your core values will make it easier. Keep your no neutral and matter-of-fact — remember that you are not rejecting the other, simply affirming what is important. Tell your son who's asking for an expensive new toy, "I'm sorry, but we're saving that money for a family trip." To your relatives who want to stay a week longer than you agreed to, say, "I love your visits, but I need to focus on my family/personal life/work right now."
  • Respect, don't reject. The problem with saying no is that it often causes a feeling of rejection in the person to whom you say it, which in turn causes you to feel guilty. Avoid this situation by showing respect when you say no. Give positive attention to the person with whom you are dealing. Listen and acknowledge her. Treat her with a sense of dignity.
  • Propose another yes. Don't overlook the opportunity to propose a positive outcome that works for everyone involved. One woman was worried about her elderly mother, who lived by herself. "Living alone in the old house wasn't safe for her anymore. Despite my entreaties, however, she refused to move. Finally, I made her an offer. ‘Try this assisted-living apartment for six weeks. We'll keep the house, and if you don't like the new arrangement, you can move back home. How's that?' It was easier for her to move for a trial run than to think she was giving up the house. She ended up loving the new apartment, and that made it possible for her to sell the old house."
  • Stand your ground. Once you've delivered your positive no, you still need to deal with the other's reaction. It can be difficult to receive a no. While you might not be able to stop a certain natural resistance from unfolding, you can help others move through it so they will have an easier time accepting your no. The most important things to keep in mind at this stage are to control your emotions, listen respectfully, and continue to stand your ground. As Mahatma Gandhi said, "First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win."
Raising Kids
Child Development and Behavior