As soon as I stopped working at my corporate job, I felt an obligation to volunteer in my kids’ classrooms at school. Their teachers needed the help, my kids loved it when I was there, and I had the time. I couldn’t find a valid reason not to do it. The only problem was, I hated it.
I often turned into that version of myself who can creatively not exactly lie but sort of find an almost true reason not to show up. Even worse, most of the time I did go but still did not fully show up. I was annoyed at being there and unless you’re new to earth, you know that being in a room with 30 kids is even more painful if you show up already annoyed. You know why I did it though, right? Saying no was just too hard.
I believe in rational self-interest theory. I believe that all of our actions (yes all of them) come from either trying to experience more pleasure or avoid pain. Mother Teresa found pleasure in administering to the sick in Calcutta. I experience pain when I’m exposed to 30 kids in an echoing classroom. I realize this makes me sound villainous next to Mother Teresa, but that’s different work and a different blog post for a different day.
For today, I want to point out that when we agree to do things that we really don’t want to do, we are doing it because we believe that saying no is even more painful than what we’re being asked to do, or that the pain we’re experiencing right in the moment if we say no, feels more real than the task we’re dreading, which is further away. My hope today is that I can retrain your brain to see that it doesn’t have to be painful AND it’s how you live your best life.
Here are 10 tips so that saying “no” doesn’t have to be so hard:
1. Most people value honesty. There are people in my life who always say yes. I am very reluctant to ask them for help because I’m afraid they won’t want to and they’ll say yes anyway. I create a whole story in my mind when they say yes and I feel guilty for even needing their help. When I know someone will say no if needed, I appreciate their help because I know it’s genuinely offered and I don’t make myself miserable the entire time.
2. When you say no, it gives others permission to do the same. If you’re uncomfortable saying no to others, they are probably uncomfortable saying no to you too. Is that how you want people to feel around you?
3. It’s lying. Seriously. If someone asks for your help and you say yes but you want to say no, you’re lying. It’s not treating yourself with integrity and it’s not treating the other person with integrity either. Let’s stop telling lies.
4. They’re on to you. We like to think we’re good at hiding what we’re really thinking, but it shows up in our tone, our mannerisms and other small ways and the truth is humans are experts at reading other humans. Most of the time they’re on to us when we say yes out of guilt rather than willingness.
5. It makes the yes so much better. I believe service is one way to experience true joy and feel closer to God. I also believe none of that applies when I serve unwillingly. Let’s do a LOT more of the type of service where we can truly give of ourselves and say no when we can’t. That’s true service. Let’s do that.
6. Include an “I love you” in your no. Part of the reason we are uncomfortable saying no is because we worry the other person will take it as a personal rejection of them. So, clear that up right away. When people ask me to coach them for free I say, “I LOVE you! …. and no. I like money.” They always laugh and understand.
7. We like authenticity. You can tell when someone is pretending or hiding something from you right? It feels creepy and weird. The people we find the most fun and easy to be around are authentic. Those end up being our favorite people. Social filters are good and all, but authenticity and manners are not mutually exclusive as we sometimes believe.
8. You may be enabling the person’s own destructive behaviors. This week one of my clients shared that her sister wants her to come help decorate her new home. She doesn’t want to go because her sister is, “negative and critical.” She feels guilty saying no because her sister doesn’t have any friends and after talking it through, we agreed she doesn’t have friends because she is negative and critical. Saying no out of love might be the best thing she could do for this sister.
9. Practice it ahead of time. When you are in the moment, if you’re not comfortable saying no, you might not be able to do it authentically. But if you practice the words that feel authentic and kind, you can draw on them when needed.
10. Give people permission to disapprove of you. Another reason many of us struggle to say no is because we’re worried we’ll be judged by others. So let’s just acknowledge that whether you say yes, no or something in between, people WILL judge you because that’s what some people do. I like to give them permission to do it because I know they will. It’s OK. I’m not for everyone. I just have to be ok with me and I’m happiest with me when I’m being me, instead of pretending to be Mother Teresa.
Have a fantastic week full of no.
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PS – Check out my follow up post: SAY YES