Say No, But Protect The Relationship

Improve your communication:  Helpful Ways to Say “No”

Do you have trouble with the word “No”?  A lot of us do.  We want to be liked and needed, we want the security of friends and family who will be close by.

And so when someone asks for help or asks for our time, it is easy to immediately say “Yes.”  Then we may experience the sinking feeling in the stomach.  We might notice the tension in our shoulders or in our gut.  We feel the pressure:  “How can I fit that in?”  “When will I get time for myself?”  “What can I cut out so I can do {the new task} that I just took on?”

Somehow we do fit in the new task, sometimes we cannot, and that leads to guilt and self reproach.  However, if we do the additional work we may experience more tension, more physical stress, more fatigue, and more frustration.

What can we do?  How can we improve our communication skills so we respect the requests of other people, and at the same time respect ourselves?

Here are a four simple suggestions that I have found helpful.

First give yourself time.

Recognize that you do not have to respond immediately.  You can take some time to consider the request. The phrase “Let me get back to you” is a great first step in good communication.

A Woman Considering Her Options.

A Woman Considering Her Options.

Second:  Recognize that when someone asks for your help, you are not the only resource.  There are other people who have different schedules, interests and commitments.  If you say “no” the world will not collapse.  Your friend or relative can find other ways to get the help that he or she is seeking.

Third:  You do not have to give an immediate “no” if you don’t want to say “yes”.  We are often conditioned to think in extremes.  Something is either easy or difficult, friendly or mean, a complete yes, or a complete no.

I bet number three is a surprise, but it follows from the other two, and also it follows from the fact that you do have choices.  There is a lot of room between easy and difficult, friendly and mean, and also between yes and no.  You may think about what you can do, if you don’t want to agree to what was requested, but you don’t want to turn the person down completely.

Fourth: Everybody should have an agenda.  I mean a specific agenda.  An agenda will help you keep track of what you are doing and will be helpful in organizing your day. This might be your to do list, or it might be on your daily calendar.  It should be specific, and there is no reason why everything on it has to be productive.

Hang out with my kids, is an agenda.

Read my new magazines, is an agenda.

Go for a walk, read a book, watch a movie, all of these can and should be on your agenda.  In other words, put positive restful and enjoyable activities on your agenda every day. They are important for your well being,  just as your work and your relationships are important for your well being.

Now for the solution to your problem:

When someone asks for your time or your effort, avoid saying either “yes” or “no”.  Instead, say “Let me get back to you, I will check my agenda.”

Give your self the gift of time to really check that agenda.  Here are the things to consider:

Do you in fact have the time?

If you don’t have the time, then you don’t need to go any further.  We all have the same amount of time, we have 24 hours in every day.  If those 24 hours are taken (don’t scrimp on your health or family or friend relationships when you are thinking about this) then you don’t have time.  It is okay to accept that fact.

Check your feelings.  Is this something that you want to do?  Will it result in a good outcome? Will benefit you or others who are important to you?  Check your gut and your heart.  Do they hurt, do you feel down? Do you feel sick?

Or do you feel pleased?  Do you feel light, competent?

Check your thoughts:  Does this task fit your values, does it fit your interests?

Here is the most important question: “If I say Yes to this task, what am I saying No to?” Remember you only have the same 24 hours that we all have, time will not stretch because you over filled your schedule. You are saying no to something.  If the something is leisure, or in some way not productive, it is important to remember that we all need leisure, recuperation time, and down time with ourselves and with family and other close relationships.

This does not mean that the only things that we say “Yes” to are activities that we enjoy or that will do us some personal good.  This is not a way to think only of yourself.  Helping others is a value for many of us and that value is not to be ignored.  This does mean that we need to keep a sense of balance.  Balance takes the needs, interests, strengths and resources of the community into account.

Woman proud of herself.

Woman proud of herself.

Allow yourself to make the choice.  “Yes I can do that”.  “No I cannot fit that into my schedule” (you don’t have to give a reason).  An alternative is to decide that you will not do all of what is asked, but there is something that you are willing to do.  If the person who is requesting your help is important to you, and you do not want to say “no” decide what you can or are willing to do to help out.

“This is what I can do, will that be a help?”

In other words, you are taking control of your own time, and energy.

This is a technique that is respectful of the person asking for your help and also respectful of yourself. 

You are using your communication skills to improve your life and the lives of those who are close to you.