I was in Trader Joe’s the other day when I overheard a conversation between a mother and her toddler. I couldn’t hear much of what the mom said, but the only word emanating from the daughter was “no.” It’s experimenting with that word that allows children to begin defining themselves and to figure out who they are.
As adults, we need to cultivate the ability to say no and to discern when it’s necessary, otherwise our priorities suffer. When might you want to say “no?”
- When you’re already over-committed
- When you’re stressed, sick or tired
- When someone else is trying to drag you into his/her drama
- When saying yes would violate your values
- When it’s something you don’t want to do
- When it takes away from something you’d much rather do
- When you’ve had enough to eat or you’re not hungry
Okay, I know that last one seems weird, but think about it. People regularly eat to please others like the grandmother who urges a second helping, or the host who went to all that trouble to make a table full of food that shouldn’t go to waste. But overeating hurts our weight and health and doesn’t really help grandma or the host.
If you’re out of practice, run through it in your mind. Think about a situation in which you often say yes when you’d rather not. Picture the request being made and see yourself comfortably, assertively responding “no.” Sometimes you may need to give yourself space to decide. If someone asks for your time (e.g. joining a committee, attending a meeting), use the phrase “let me get back to you.” This gives you the time to assess if it’s something that’s genuinely a fit for you or if this is a chance to practice no.
And realize that you don’t have to explain every no that you give. I love this quote from Ann Lamott: “’No’ is a complete sentence.” When we start explaining ourselves, the other person sometimes sees it as an opportunity to talk us into whatever it is! Be thoughtful about when explanations are necessary or appropriate to the situation, but often it’s sufficient to simply say “No, thank you.”
Lastly, we are finite beings so every yes is a no to something else. It’s the law of tradeoffs (not sure it’s technically a law, but I know it to be true). And remember, saying no doesn’t mean it’s a no forever. It may just be a “not now.” That’s an especially good thing to remember when we’re making tradeoffs between two really good options. Make decisions based on today’s priorities, knowing next time your choices may be different.
Head over to Facebook and let me know what a healthy “no” looks like for you!