If there are small kids near, you have surely noticed. They do not need to learn to say NO.
Almost automatically, they always say NO to everything.
- Come for dinner. No.
- Wash your hands. No.
- Give grandma a kiss. No.
- Help me with the laundry. No.
However, adults tend to automatically say YES to everything.
- Get me the data. Yes.
- Arrange the meeting. Yes.
- Help me with the report. Yes.
- Take care of the minutes. Yes.
In one way or another, we were taught according to these principles:
- Be kind.
- Helps others.
- Collaborate with the team.
- Please your boss.
These are the attitudes that are valued and rewarded in our family, social and work environments.
In most cases, all this inevitably turns into a great problem when it comes to say NO.
It seems that saying NO turns us into rude, impolite and selfish people, as well as irresponsible professionals or worse workers. That’s not the case.
The bright side.
It is in your nature as a human to be satisfied when you feel useful, believe you are needed and knowing that someone else is better thanks to you.
If you help a colleague finish a presentation, you are a good colleague.
If you stay two extra hours to complete a report, you are a good employee.
If you agree to arrange the follow-up meeting again, you are a good professional.
And, at least, you then feel great because you’re doing what you have to. You’re being nice, you’re helping others, you’re collaborating with your team and pleasing your boss. Can anyone ask for more?
The not-so-bright side.
Of course, you can and should ask for more.
You can start by asking yourself what is wrong with you, with your time, your well-being, and your life.
How will helping your partner finish their presentation impact your day?
How will your plans be affected if you stay two more hours to finish a report?
What happens to the rest of your work if you newly agree to arrange the follow-up meeting?
There’s a problem if you don’t know how to set limits, if saying yes is automatic because it’s the correct thing and you don’t even consider saying NO to a colleague, a boss or someone who needs you.
There’s a problem if you work non-stop, if you forget about yourself and are unable to take into account your situation, your needs or your interests. In the long run, you will have a hard time meeting deadlines and keeping your promises. There will be problems related to a lack of trust, your interpersonal relationships will deteriorate since you’ll feel resentful thinking they abuse of your good will.
Saying NO is an art.
And like art, it must be learned, practiced and cultivated.
You can’t automatically say NO. It must be said in the right way and without damaging the relationship with the other person.
The art of saying NO requires learning to say NO and acquiring the ability to do it skillfully and easily.
“The most important thing I learned to do after I turned 40 was to say NO when it is NO“.Gabriel García Márquez
Learn to say NO: take care of your self-esteem and enhance your self-confidence.
To learn how to say NO, just follow these 3 simple steps:
- Don’t be impulsive and take your time before answering a request. It can be minutes, hours or days if necessary. It’s as easy as saying “please, allow me a couple of hours to think about it; I don’t want to commit to something that I can’t deliver”.
- Think about what it means to agree to the request and the positive and negative consequences it has for you. For example: your urgent or important tasks, meetings, free time, personal commitments, etc.
- If your answer is NO, convey it assertively, confidently, and with empathy. Don’t offer more explanations than necessary to avoid exposing your decision to debate. It is your decision; you know better than anyone the reasons. You can say, for example, “I’m sorry, but my hands are full and I won’t be able to help this time”.
Acquire the ability to say NO: perfection and automation.
To acquire the ability to say NO, as with any other, you must practice and practice. Practice leads to the ability’s improvement, to master it and to be able to do it automatically.
You only need two things to get to say NO when it is NO:
- Be very sure of yourself and have a high self-esteem. Connect with your needs, focus on what you really want and prioritize how you are and what your situation is. When you say NO, you also say to the world and to yourself that you are important, that you know what you can or cannot do and, above all, that you have every right in the world to decline.
- You must be willing to give up flattery, and to be recognized as kind and helpful. Saying NO comes at the price of giving up on being needed, flattered, and continually admired for your constant generosity, availability, and sacrifice.
Do you want to learn to say NO?
Give up being the most popular colleague or employee due to your absolute availability and your praised spirit of sacrifice for the team.
Always keep your needs, situation and priorities in mind. You come first.
Of course, say NO loud and clear, as if it were being said to you. Say NO in an assertive and empathic way.
And remember: prioritizing your needs and desires is not a sign of selfishness, but of responsibility, self-esteem and maturity.
Try it today and let me know how it works for you or what problems you encountered.
Thank you and see you soon,
Cristina PS: There is much more about the art of saying NO that I will reveal in future posts. For example, the expectations of your requests or what happens to us when we ask for something and the answer is NO. In the meantime, if you liked this post and want to know more, I recommend the book The Art of Saying No by Hedwig Kellner or or this article from the Harvard Business Review. You’re also welcome to drop us a line. We’ll be thrilled to know about you, answer your questions and tell you everything you want to know.