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Guest Post: 13 Ways to Make Saying NO Easier

December 1, 2011 | By | 8 Replies Continue Reading

Saying no may be the “just right” response sometimes; agreeing to what others ask doesn’t necessarily make you a nicer person.

More than four years ago, I interviewed my friend, colleague, and fellow Psychology Today blogger, Dr. Susan Newman, on the topic of Saying “NO” to a Friend. Susan recently prepared a post for her own blog on the same topic and I’m delighted she agreed to share it here. After all—saying “NO” doesn’t come easy for a variety of reasons and we can all use a “booster shot” once in a while.

By Susan Newman, PhD

People often can’t or don’t say NO for a variety of reasons. Instead, they agree to be somewhere, do something, help someone out, or be the good sport for a host of reasons such as:

  • Not wanting to disappoint a friend, colleague, or relative
  • Wanting to be seen as the good guy, a team player
  • Afraid that someone will think you are selfish
  • Fear of being banished from the group
  • Worried others will view you as lazy or uncaring
  • Wanting people to love, or at the least, like you

Remember, you don’t have to be the chronic Girl or Boy Scout. Few things are more rewarding than the relief of having said NO. With most NO’s comes the realization that you just extricated yourself from some commitment that would have made you anxious, stretched you too thin, wore you out, or took you away from the people you truly wanted to be with.

Getting Yourself “Off the Hook”

When you find yourself about to be roped into a situation or chore that holds little appeal, here are insights and reminders culled from my book to help get you off the hook.

  1. The first “no” to a person makes subsequent refusals easier.
  2. The word “no” is enough. Lengthy explanations leave wiggle room for debate, misinterpretation, or permission to ask again.
  3. Less is more. The less said in the way of excuses, the stronger the message.
  4. Don’t apologize for being unavailable.
  5. Having a reputation for being the person everyone leans on is not flattering and makes you a prime target for being railroaded into more “yeses.”
  6. Agreeing to do what others ask doesn’t make you a nicer person.
  7. If you’re known for being able to juggle many tasks at once or for doing everything well, discredit that myth. Being a star  performer simply begets more requests.
  8. You can’t do enough for some people, don’t try.
  9. Dissect each request carefully to make sure you are not being bribed, cajoled, bullied, or threatened.
  10. Be aware of your limits; reconsidering and redefining your boundaries will ease an escape.
  11. Believe that you can say “no” and remain an involved, caring, and committed person.
  12. Most people are understanding and forgiving. You don’t want the unforgiving in your life anyway.
  13. Remind yourself daily that “no” is liberating and saying it is your right. 

About Dr. Susan Newman:

Trained as a social psychologist, Susan is the author of The Book of NO: 250 Ways to Say It-and Mean It and Stop People-Pleasing Forever (McGraw-Hill, 2006). She has also authored numerous other books.

You can follow Susan on Twitter.

Prior related posts on The Friendship Blog:

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Category: Creating and maintaining boundaries, KEEPING FRIENDS

Comments (8)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I feel I have experienced a lot the exact same things you address. With 4 kids, I feel overwhelmed and at my limits much of the time, so I also can look back and recognize I got WAY too good at saying no, out of a fear of being taken advantage of. I now recognize, the time to say “no” is once you are taken advantage of. ‘
    I see now that my attitude has made me view, approaches by aquaintances as a negative…thinking chances are they want something,,”Be Ready to get out of it”. It is hard to enjoy relationships when you assume the other person wants to take advantage of you.
    I also found I got where I take things way to personal, feeling another lady is put out with me.
    Unfortunately, I am having a hard time changing these mind sets, I want to be a “yes” person..or atleast a “tell me whatcha need” person!..
    So thank you for the comment, nice to hear someone else relates.

  2. Irene says:

    I love your post! You do a wonderful job of explaining the pitfalls of saying "no" too often. I guess the point is we really shouldn’t fall back reflexively and say "no" or "yes" too often. Both responses need to be appropriate to the request and to the situation.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Opposing viewpoint:
    Now, this is only MY experience. But I want to tell people what I have experienced and felt. So here goes.
    I’m working on myself to say “yes” more often. That’s right! I want to be more of a “yes” person. I have learned far too well how to say no. And it has not worked out that great for me. I am someone who took too seriously and too literally the whole “be assertive” and “don’t be a door mat” movements. I have turned into someone who is always suspicious or worried someone is trying to take advantage of me or is going to roll right over me if I don’t stand up for myself every minute and be on the offensive. And I have spoken up immediately to “defend” myself at every junction, whenever someone disagrees with me or is disagreeable toward me. I take everything too personally. I don’t allow for the fact that some people are disagreeable not because of anything I’ve done but because of what’s going on with them. Or that they are just jerks and I don’t have to respond to them or give them the time of day. I am trying hard to not feel the need to speak up for myself. Sometimes silence is golden. Walking away can be platinum. I’m trying to realize that if I am okay with myself, I don’t really need to defend or explain myself to others who try to railroad me. Ever since I have started with baby steps to train myself to say “yes” and assume the best and give people some slack, I have been happily surprised at how things have turned out. I feel that I am slowly changing into a more accepting and open person. I’m not always “worried” in the back of my mind that if I am not on the ready, someone is going to crap all over me. Obviously there are exceptions to this. People in my past who have been nasty. They don’t get second chances and I don’t think about them. But many people I am now saying yes to, it turns out they respond well to kindness and compassion and it’s a win-win for everyone.

  4. Irene says:

    You make an excellent point!
    Friends want to help and support one another but there are times, even in the best of friendships, when someone crosses the line and makes requests (or demands) that are so burdensome or so frequent that boundaries need to be drawn.
    There are also "friendships" that are unbalanced — in that one person is always the giver and the other always the taker.
    It is these situations that may require the NO response. Saying NO reflexively can be just as inappropriate as saying YES.
    Best,
    Irene

  5. Anonymous says:

    Irene, I think there is a danger that some people can take this too far. And they become people who never say yes.
    Would you address that? I’m sure you must know what I mean.

  6. WonderWhy says:

    I’m going to print this post out, then carry it around with me as a reminder that it’s perfectly okay for me to say “No!” to my friend’s requests for help when I don’t want to or can’t help them out. I agree that being a “yes-woman” doesn’t mean you are a nicer person. What it means is that people will see you as a doormat to wipe their feet on. They won’t respect you or think you are a better person because you are available to them 24/7. Saying “No” is about creating boundaries with friends for sure. And it’s about taking care of yourself and your needs first because others needs aren’t more important than yours, in the context of friendship.

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