I was fresh out of high school and ready to take on life. The world seemed extra bright and teeming with people, places and things to do…too many things to do. I’ve always tried to be a dependable person, but I learned that when people can count on you, they’re more likely to ask for favors. While I enjoy helping people when they’re in need, this can also become a burden, if not handled thoughtfully.
Knowing that I was someone people turned to when they didn’t feel they had anyone else they could depend on was a wonderful feeling. But I went through a phase where I started to regret being the go-to guy. My best intentions were backfiring because I had over promised help that I couldn’t provide. I had so many obligations that I started losing track of them. And one-by-one, they began to slip through the cracks in my mind. When people started making comments about how they couldn’t depend on me anymore, it hit me pretty hard.
Enough is Enough!
I really started to resent people. I began to feel like everybody was dumping their trash on me. I just wanted to be left alone. I wanted to shout out to the world, “Stop asking me to do things for you! I want my life back!” It was time for me to draw a line. But before I could do that, I wanted to get clear on how I got into this situation in the first place.
After a careful evaluation, I realized that I was my own problem. The issue wasn’t that everybody was dumping on me. It was my own behavior and the fact that I didn’t know how to say “no”. Whenever someone asked me to do a project for them or show up somewhere for various reasons, I felt uncomfortable saying “no”. It was so much easier saying “yes” than facing their reaction if I said, “no”. Perhaps you’ve experienced this too.
Here’s a list of reasons why I couldn’t say “no”:
1. I didn’t want to hurt their feelings.
2. I felt obligated.
3. I didn’t want to let them down.
4. Saying “no” feels awkward and uncomfortable.
5. I felt vulnerable saying “no”.
6. I felt guilty saying “no”.
7. I was afraid that if I said “no”, they would take it personally and think I didn’t like them.
8. I put my own needs second to theirs.
9. I was afraid that if I said “no”, they might not like me.
10. I lacked the self-confidence needed to say “no”.
11. I had low self-esteem, so I depended on what I did for others to give me value.
Why Say “No”?
Whatever reasons you have for saying “yes” to all requests for your effort, time, or sometimes even money, it’s important for you to learn how to say “no”, when that’s the appropriate and honest answer. But why? Because your life and time is just as valuable as theirs. It’s great to help people out. But when you have to start putting your own needs on hold every time you turn around, then it’s time to start saying “no” for a little while. By turning down invitations to help people, you give yourself some badly-needed breathing room. You’ll have more time to get your own life back on track. You say you want more peace of mind? Well, this is the way to get it.
If your own life is a wreck and you have no time to put the pieces back together, then you are obligated to yourself to start saying “no” to people while you get your own life on track. You are better capable of helping others when your own life is in order and running smoothly. If you spend so much time helping other people smooth out bumps in their lives while your own life is full of holes, you’re not going to be at your best for yourself or the people you are helping. Get your own life sorted out and running smoothly first. This is a direct path to greater peace of mind.
The Strategy: How to Say “No” From The Heart
The most important thing to remember about saying “no” is that you must say it from the highest part of yourself. Back when I was struggling with this issue, I reached a point where I had to start saying “no” to requests for my time. I reasoned that if I wasn’t 100% sure I could follow through on the request, I would turn down the request for my help. My thinking was that if I said “no” but only because I didn’t want to let them down, they should understand that I have their best interest at heart. So I began saying “no”.
Say “no” from the heart. You can’t control how someone else responds when you say “no”, but as long as you’re saying “no” with the highest, kindest intentions, and with love in your heart, then let them have their experience, whatever it may be. You mean no harm and have only goodwill toward them. Give them the space to learn from their experiences as you try to from yours.
Don’t feel guilty. You have only the best intentions and you want people to know that if you say “yes” they can depend on you. But if you say “no”, you aren’t sure you can follow through and you don’t want to cause problems for them because you didn’t come through. If you say “no”, you may disappoint them by not coming through when they needed you, but they’ll recover and they’ll likely respect your honesty, and authenticity.
Be honest. Have enough respect and integrity to be honest with them. Nothing good comes from making promises that you don’t think you can keep. Your words and actions form the behavior by which people judge you. Honesty and authenticity are behaviors of the highest order. If you value their friendship; if you care about them; if you respect them, then it is absolutely critical that you are honest with them.
Don’t let them change your mind. People we care for can be very influential. They may even try to “guilt-trip” you into saying “yes”. But if you can’t or don’t want to do it, say “no” and don’t change your mind. Again, honesty is extremely important here. If you are talked into saying “yes” and you don’t come through for them, this can make you seem less trust-worthy, less dependable, and of lower integrity, even if they talked you into it. Stand your ground. Let honesty and care for your mutual friendship or relationship be your guide to making an honest appraisal and saying “no” when that’s most appropriate. Answering “no” doesn’t diminish your friendship, but saying “yes” and not coming through will.
Some examples of how to say “no”:
- “Tricia, because I don’t want to make a promise I can’t keep, I’m going to have to pass on working on this for you. I just have too much on my plate right now.”
- “Thanks for asking, Brent, but I’m not 100% sure that I can be there. So I’m going to say “no”, but please ask again the next time and if I have more time, I’d love to attend.” (Of course, that is only if you truly would love to attend–be honest, always!)
- “Ellis, I really value your friendship. Because of that, I’m not going to lie to you and say that I’ll do it when I know I’m not going to. I care too much about you to lie to you. I hope you understand.”
- “I really wish I could help you, but I honestly don’t have the time and I’d rather not say yes if I’m not 100% sure I can do it. I hope you can find someone to help you with it.”
- “I’m sorry, but I’m not really interested in….”
- “No thanks, I’m not really into it.”
Note: The last two example may seem a little harsh, but they’re not really. If you’re being totally honest, sometimes you have no reason to say “no” other than you just aren’t interested in helping or participating in whatever you was asked of you. Sometimes, this is at the heart of our true feelings. We simply are not interested. This doesn’t mean you don’t value the person asking you for a favor. It just means you’re not interested…no hard feelings.
Here are some examples for when someone starts begging you:
- “I’m really sorry, but I don’t think you want me to say I’ll do it, and then blow you off, right? I know this means a lot to you, and your friendship [or respect, relationship, partnership, or whatever fits the situation] means a lot to me too. I know I don’t have time to help so I have to say no. I hope you understand.”
- “Please realize that begging may only cause hard feelings between us, when you know I’ve already told you I can’t do it because I’m already extremely busy right now. It’s not a matter of wanting to help you, because I wish I could. I’m saying no because I honestly can’t help you right now.”
How Saying “No” is Saying “Yes”
Being honest with people right up front is a great way to strengthen relationships. Believe it or not, people will respect you more for being honest, even when the answer isn’t what they want. You’ll be looked at as a person of your word. Saying “no” when you can’t participate in an activity or help someone with a project is also a way of saying “yes” to your own value and self-worth. When you’re at your peak form, you are capable of giving more of yourself, even if that means turning down pleas for help or participation when you are honestly unable to follow through or simply know that you won’t.
Learn to be honest and say “no” from the heart. This will make you feel less overwhelmed in your own life. It’s okay to say no simply because you aren’t interested in helping or participating. You must first be honest with yourself if you ever expect to be honest with someone else. Honesty leads to authenticity. Free yourself from too many obligations so that you can breathe again. Then consider each request honestly and answer appropriately.
When I became aware that my fear of saying “no”, was really the problem, I started practicing a whole new level of honesty from the heart. The experience of raw honesty with friends and family was remarkably uplifting. Learning to say “no” takes a change in your thinking and behavior. When you master this, you will have mastered a very rare and life-changing skill, indeed.
Let’s talk… Do you have trouble saying “no” to people? Do you think the strategies in this article can help you learn to say “no”? How do you think learning this skill would change your life?