When we say no nicely it actually stops destructive conflict. Yet so often we say yes when we know that no is the right answer.
Why we say yes when we should say no
Sometimes we don’t say no because we fear upsetting others.
We say yes without thinking it through.
We get in the habit of being the go-to person, the hero, the saviour.
It might be a cultural thing–we feel it is rude to say no.
We may not feel safe enough or confident enough to say no
It could be a lack of skills, we don’t know how to say no nicely.
Are we responsible for others feelings?
So often, we say yes because we don’t want to hurt others feelings. This quote from Joseph Grenny helped me understand that rather than being kind, that could be seen as manipulative.
“ A primary reason many of us stay in silence rather than connecting honestly is that we misunderstand our responsibility for others’ emotions. We are responsible to care about how others feel, but we are not responsible for how they feel. Their emotions are their choices. How we act can affect them—and we should always act with compassion and respect. But that is where our duty stops. When you take responsibility for others feelings, you begin to live dishonestly. You begin to calculate and manipulate in order to control others’ feelings. And by so doing, you surrender the possibility of both solving problems and connecting deeply.” Joseph Grenny
So why do we need to say no?
We only have so much energy, time, money and commitment. Saying yes to something we don’t want to do or isn’t important may mean we have to say no to something far more critical.
“Until you learn how to confidently say NO to so many things, you shall always say YES to so many things. The real summary of a regretful life is a life that failed to balance YES and NO.” Ernest Agyemang Yeboah
Protect ourselves and others
If we don’t say no, people may assume that we are always happy to do what they ask. We could also set a precedent for others who feel they also have to say yes.
Givers need to set limits because takers rarely do. Rachel Wolchin
“Not every opportunity is meant to be my assignment.” Lysa Terkeurst
Emotional Leakage and Trust
When we say yes when we mean no, it will show. Regardless of how good an actor a person is, feelings leak out or fester. Eventually, this inner conflict results in illness, disengagement or an explosion. For more on the effect of this, read this article. People then may not trust us because they see a gap between our yes and our behaviour.
“I’ve come to feel downright uneasy with people who can’t say no. What if they yes you to death and then secretly hate you for it? If they never say no, how can you trust their yes? Besides, no makes room for yes, and who doesn’t want more room for that?”
How to say no nicely
1. Set Boundaries with S I N G
The first step to say no nicely is to set boundaries so the need to say no may not even arise. (More on why boundaries are so important here) I have used the principles of restorative justice and non-violent communication to create a tool called SING to help you set boundaries. If you would like a pdf reminder of this, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Impact Describe the impact on you. Discover the impact on them (if any)
Needs Explain what you need clearly. Ask for and recognise their needs
Gift Request (NOT demand) they respect your boundary. Offer what they will get if they do and clarify consequences if they don’t.
2. Decide whether it’s yes or no R I C I
Reason What the logical thing to do? Is it your responsibility? What’s the legal position? Do you have all the facts?
Importance How much do you care? What difference does it make? Are you acting out your feelings instead of speaking?
Consequences What happens if you say no? What happens if you say yes? Do you know for sure that will happen?
Inner voice/Conscience What does your instinct say? Tomorrow will you be glad you said yes or will you regret it?
Note if your nos are continually changing to yeses, you may need to revisit priorities or get some training on how to say no nicely
3. S I M P L E How to say no nicely
Story. Manage your emotions and fears by telling yourself a different story. Instead of imagining rejection or stories of loss, focus on why you want to say no. Be clear about the benefits of saying no, the risks of not speaking up and how it could improve the relationship. If you have spent some time working out what is valuable to you and your triggers, this will help, as you will know the reason for saying no. Ask yourself if you really want to say no. Don’t delay, if you’ve made up your mind, tell them. Prepare yourself for their reaction.
Intent. Show your positive intent by respecting the other person. Speak kindly and prepare them for what you are going to say.
Meaning. Don’t waffle or skirt the issue. Be honest and as clear as you can, without hurting them unnecessarily. Contrasting can sometimes clarify things. For example,” I like going out with you, but I don’t like going to the disco.”
Pause. Check they’ve understood. Give them time to process it. Let them have their say.
Listen. Be empathetic, reminding yourself of the reasons for saying no.
Explain. Sometimes, you need to explain what no means and consequences. Don’t justify or excuse, stay objective and polite. You may decide that no is the wrong answer, but be wary if this happens too much!
Saying no is harder than setting boundaries in the first place. So go back and SING!
4. Triple What–Review and move on
Now, you need to check how things went and how to improve. Triple What consists of asking yourself 3 questions:
What worked well?
So What? What does that mean going forward?
Now what? How can I do better next time? What do I need to do now?