Learning to say no without feeling bad about it
By Julia Kirchner Oct 27, 2011, 3:06 GMT
Berlin - It's one of the shortest words in the English language, but it can be one of the hardest to say.
No, as in 'No, I can't' instead of 'Yeah, sure, I'll do it.' Often people are afraid to say no because they don't want to be a bad friend or appear egotistical. In fact it's possible to learn to say no without feeling bad about it.
Nearly everyone has said yes to something, then asked themselves why they did. They want to say no, but when a request is made, many times 'yes' is the word that crosses the lips.
Most people would agree that saying no sounds easy, but it's hard to do in practice. Experts therefore advise people to practice saying no until they can do it without thinking about it for a long time and without it bothering their conscience.
Some people aren't able to turn down the requests of colleagues on the job, others buckle when relatives or friends constantly approach them with requests or assignments. In order to understand when and why a no turns into a yes, the person affected must get wise.
'It's important to analyze these situations,' said Monika Radecki, an author in Germany who offers training courses that cover how to say no as a topic. Only those who figure out what behavioural pattern is preventing them from saying no can fight the impulse in the future.
In order to become aware of the situations in which yes is spoken too easily, different strategies can be applied. This might involve taking a moment to withdraw and write down what happened. Another possibility is to have a conversation with a partner or friend in which past cases are played out.
Also important to understand is that when a person doesn't show enough assertiveness it also can be felt physically.
'For example, when someone asks me something, everything inside me flinches,' said Radecki. People who learn to pay attention to such signs get a good grasp of them when they say no to something. There are numerous reasons that prevent people setting clear boundaries.
'In some people upbringing plays a big role,' said Markus Biebl, a psychotherapist in Germany. One's self-perception is also a factor. People who expect a lot of themselves and aim to be helpful and generous at all times find it harder to turn something down than people who don't expect those things from themselves.
When someone asks a friend to go to a party and the friend answers yes, although she has little desire to go, why doesn't she just cancel? Usually the answer is that she doesn't want it to bother her conscience or she doesn't want to be a bad friend. Also, she expects not to get off easily as she might have to provide explanations or perhaps risk an argument.
Feeling that saying no must be justified is actually the first mistake people make. 'A simple, friendly no is enough. Long explanations aren't necessary,' said Radecki. Stand fully and completely behind the word so that the no seems authentic.
Often saying no fails not due to the will of the individual, but rather due to time pressure. Therefore, take time to think, said Biebl. When someone asks for something, just say, 'I'd like to think about it. I'll let you know later.' This creates a buffer and allows time for a person to ask themselves whether they want to do it and whether they will be able to fulfill the request.
The difficulty with saying no also has to do with the fact that it has two sides. There's saying no and then there's the reaction to the no.
When someone who only rarely declines says no, they usually hear a question like, 'What's the matter with you?' Biebl advised not to become irritated by such reactions: 'It's important to be true to yourself and ignore it.'
This is important for a friendship, which shouldn't fall apart just because someone declined to organize a party. The fact is every no makes it easier to say no again in the future. At the same time the experience offers the person a chance to develop their self-perception.
'You recognize that you are allowed to be angry and unwilling to help. That means you win freedom,' said Biebl.
People with low self-esteem have a more difficult time saying no than people who don't have low self-esteem. Though Biebl said this is correct, it's only partly so.