Learn the power of “NO”

The more you say "no," the more natural it’ll feel.

We are 50-plus-year-old folks, and many of us have worn out the word “yes!” When our children want us to babysit our grands even though we might have something else to do, we say “yes.” When a relative wants us to dip into our retirement money so that they can get their car fixed, we say “yes.” When our grown children bring over their dirty laundry for us to do, we say “yes.” Every time we say “yes,” we give away our time and energy. This opens the door to resentment and frustration that could have been easily avoided by using that two-letter word that no one really enjoys hearing or saying…”NO!'”

Some people have no problem saying “no.” But for many people, especially women, the desire to please others often leads to saying “yes” to things you don’t want to do or don’t actually have time for. “The ability to communicate ‘no’ really reflects that you are in the driver’s seat of your own life,” explains Vanessa Patrick, Ph.D., Associate Dean for Research, Bauer Professor of Marketing, and Lead Faculty for the Bauer Executive Women in Leadership Program at the Bauer College of Business, University of Houston.

Psychologists agree that saying “no” is a skill you can sharpen. The more you say “no,” the more natural it’ll feel. When is it best for you to decline? To kick-start the discovery process, ask yourself these questions whenever you’re not sure how to proceed:

  • Will saying “yes” prevent me from focusing on something more significant?
  • Does this potential project, opportunity, or activity align with my values, beliefs, and goals?
  • What are my core values, beliefs, and current goals?
  • Will saying “yes” make me even more tired or burnt out?
  • Will saying “yes” be good for my mental health? Or will it worsen my symptoms?
  • In the past, when have I said “yes” and then ended up regretting it?
  • When am I more likely to accept a request I’d rather decline? How can I reduce these challenges?

Therapy is also a great way to help you grow some cojones and to get into the groove of telling folks “NO!” But if you can’t afford therapy, then try these suggestions:

Don’t mince your words. Be crystal clear with your “no” response. If you are wishy-washy about your response to a request, then you will wind up saying “yes!”

Be brief. You don’t always have to explain yourself when telling someone “no.” Still, it’s often more considerate to provide a straight-up “no” rather than a non-response because leaving people wondering tends to read as thoughtless.

Offer an alternative: Sometimes, you’d like to say “yes,” but the timing is off. Or there’s some other reason you can’t accept. But if you’d like to in the future, offer an alternative that you’re comfortable with and one that takes YOU into consideration.

Suggest a recommendation. You might know someone else who can step up to the plate; suggest that person. Sharing other recommendations means you’re still being helpful.

Be selfish. It’s okay to put YOU first. If you prioritize someone else’s needs over yours, there will be resentment, and it will mount. Resentment can lead to stress which will take a toll on your health.

Skip the excuses. If asked for an explanation, remember that you don’t owe anyone. “It doesn’t fit with my schedule” is a perfectly acceptable response.

Remember that there are only so many hours in the day. Whatever you choose to take on limits your ability to do other things. It is essential to protect your own needs and interests.