Hi ladies, I thought it would be great to talk about learning to say no as part of our Empowerment Series.
I know, first-hand, how hard it can be to say ‘No’. Sometimes, it feels like there are some people and things we just can’t say no to.
It could be your boss, spouse, kids, friends, mentors or even church leaders. You tell yourself this time around you will stand your ground but when that request comes, you are unable to form the words, you end up stammering and finally nod your head in acceptance.
This has happened to me more times than I can count and I realised that I wasn’t doing myself any favours by taking on more than I could.
Research indicates that when we find it hard to say no and end up accepting requests, expectations, conditions and what not, our overall productivity decreases, we may become unreliable, and ultimately burnout. That’s scary but happens more often than you think.
There are also a few bible references that can be applied here:
“Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit – you choose.”
“And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions, you only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk…you don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace…Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no’. When we manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.”
These scriptures are pretty convicting. It shows that God truly understands us and needs us to be more careful about what we say and do.
The problems and prickly nature of Saying ‘No’
Have you ever wondered why we find it so hard to say no? First of all, it is something that happens to most of us, regardless of our race, tribe or country.
There is usually that burning need to say yes, to accept a request even where it will be impossible to achieve.
Could it be as a result of guilt, pride or our way of being accepted into the fold? Well, let’s take a further look below.
The fear of missing out
I believe the fear of missing out is tied to our identity as social beings. I talked briefly about the social identity theory here. It is about our need to belong and grow our social interactions. This fear is often exhibited amongst friends and in social gatherings.
We may feel the pressure to conform, to do what every other person is doing so we’re not ‘outsiders’.
The interesting thing is that society doesn’t make it any easier. We are constantly bombarded with information about what we could be doing with our lives, our careers and everything else.
But this is the same even in the Christian fold. Maybe your friends are all signing up for a missionary trip or to attend a great conference and you feel the need to go but you know deep down that taking that trip will not be in your best interests. This could be for financial, emotional or even spiritual reasons.
There is something I’ve noticed about us, we generally feel it’s okay to accept invitations from our friends because they are our friends, but we seem to forget that every one of us is different.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about spending time with friends and doing great fun or learning activities. But then again, there is a time for everything. Maybe, this was one of those times to say no.
Dealing with the guilt
I believe a major fall back from saying ‘no’ is the guilt. We feel saying no or refusing a request is not a nice thing to do and when we say it, we feel bad, like we are letting people down. This is especially so for us as women. We are quick to take on more than we should, always willing to “help” even at the detriment of our work, health and life. This makes saying no so difficult because we may feel like we are being selfish when we refuse requests.
Maybe your friend needs your help with an awesome project she is working on. But you know you wouldn’t have time to assist with that project and all the other things you have going but you believe that this is your friend doing something great and it would be selfish to say no, to her request. So, we go ahead and accept but are unable to be ‘present’ or other things suffer as a result of our inability to say ‘no’.
“You can be a good person with a kind heart and still say no.”
Fear of missed opportunities
You may have heard the sage advice that we should “say yes to everything”. I seem to understand where this was coming from, especially if you consider that as women, we are more likely to hesitate before taking up an opportunity as opposed to men. But the problem with this sort of advice is that it becomes a blanket expectation.
In practical terms, we can’t really say yes to everything. For me, I have been offered some great opportunities but they were also things that were far from where I believed God was taking me. It would have been nice to take these up and try and make everything work, I did that in the past and it didn’t turnout well.
As I’ve grown older, I have not only accepted my limitations but also realised that I need God in the driver’s seat. I can’t make decisions and expect he will be okay with them and bless ‘my hustle’, it has to be what he also wants for me.
“Sometimes, we need to say no so that we have more time t o say yes.”
From a place of shame and pride
Do you think there is also a part of us that says yes because we think we are infallible or don’t want to fail? We believe and want the other person to think we can do anything we want to do or set our minds to.
Some times, we say yes not because we want to help out but because we want to be liked, because we want to be thought of as resourceful, intelligent, rich, beautiful and a host of other things.
The benefits of learning to say No
While there are a few reasons why we find it hard to say ‘no’, I thought it would be good to also consider the benefits of saying no.
Helps with time management and focus
If saying ‘yes’ to everything will mean taking on more than we can handle, which could lead to burnout or losing perspective (time for the things that matter).
It will mean learning to say no to some things will not only lighten our burden but will help us focus on the necessities.
“Be careful then how you live, not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”
You know what I’ve realised: ‘a quick no is always better than an unreliable yes’. Ask anyone, they would rather accept a no now (even if difficult) than a yes you’re unable to follow through with or a maybe that drags out for ever.
Celebrating our differences and uniqueness
Learning to say no is our way of accepting and celebrating our uniqueness. This goes for the moments when you feel like you’re missing out or should be doing what everyone else is doing.
Remember the God that made you and created you for a purpose. The same way no two people are the same, is the way no two purposes are the same.
You should be saying no to the things that are not in line with where you want to be.
Your peace of mind and self-preservation
Learning to say no improves your peace of mind and self-preservation. You may not agree with me if you usually experience guilt. But I’ve noted that the feeling of not being able to meet up or to do what we said we will do is usually worse.
Learning to say no provides perspective
When we learn to say no to the things that we are unable to do or things that are not in line with who we are, it helps us put things in perspective. We are able to consider the variables and not tie our response merely to the person or thing before us.
Our path to being more assertive –
Tips on using the right words and phrases in learning to say no.
There is one thing I want us to remember if nothing else. It is that we have the power to choose to say yes or no. It is not up to anyone else.
God has given us the freedom to choose yet, we place this freedom, knowingly or unknowingly in the hands of people and things.
Being more assertive comes from realising and walking in that freedom. Knowing that we can say yes or no, as we are led.
But then again, I also know there are times we want to say no but are not sure of the best way to say it without hurting the feelings of others or feeling like we missed out. Saying No the right way not only helps us avoid taking on the wrong things but can also help us enjoy the relationships and respect of those around us.
“Gentle words bring life and health; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.”
Which means we should be learning to say no, graciously.
I have created a checklist of key words and phrases to consider when we need to say yes or no to a request or event.
For instance, a study by Professor Patrick and Henrik Hagtvedt revealed that it is more effective to use words like ‘I don’t’ rather than I can’t. The latter seems to suggest your response is not final and can still be changed.
“Tone is the hardest part of saying No.”
Get the Checklist below.