Yes, You Can Say “NO” and Maintain Relationships

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Every relationship has its challenges. Sometimes the scariest thing you can do is say ‘no’ to someone you love. A whole host of scenarios run through your head. What if by saying ‘no,’ you break the friendship somehow? What if the other person doesn’t understand, or even gets mad at you? What if, by saying no now, they never ask you for anything again? 

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way.  A solid relationship that’s healthy has plenty of room for ‘no.’  It all starts with setting up new expectations. 

Here are some thoughts to ponder:

1. When you say ‘no’ from a position of confidence and assurance, you’re allowing others to see that you’re taking care of yourself. More than that, if you’re saying ‘no’ without guilt, then they won’t feel bad for asking. It shows you respect the person doing the asking, and that you respect yourself. 

2. When your friends see you saying ‘no’ without guilt, you’re teaching them that they likewise don’t have to experience feelings of guilt when they want to say ‘no’ to something. You’d be amazed at how often we look to others for permission to feel good about ourselves. Think about how empowering this is for both you and them.

3. They’ll know that when you finally do agree to something, that you actually mean it – that you’re not there because of some feeling of obligation or as the result of a guilt trip. This leads to more mutual trust all the way around.

4. By saying ‘no’ you won’t get caught up in that resentment loop that happens when you say ‘yes’ to things you really don’t want to do. This keeps the relationship healthy, with good feelings all around.

5. People will see that when you say ‘no’ with grace, that you care about the relationship enough to be honest about your time, your interests, your ability, and your commitments. 

The trick to all of this is really no trick at all. It’s about treating others the way you’d want to be treated. After all, the last thing you want is for your friends and relatives to be saying ‘yes’ to your every idea, especially if doing so creates bad feelings along the way. 

Show people respect, and they’ll show you respect in return. It’s a pretty basic premise but still holds true today. Sometimes, saying ‘no’ is the best way to show someone that you care and that they matter.

But, What If They Still Won’t Accept My “NO”

There are always someone who won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. How you handle pushy people is the difference between keeping your sanity or becoming so hopelessly overbooked that you no longer can tell which end is up. Let’s review some of the steps shared in earlier posts, in perhaps, different terms.

1. Be firm. Then continue being firm, as many times as necessary. If the person you’re talking to keeps pushing, then change the subject or walk away. 

2. Buy some time. Rather than saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ right away, say that you need some space to consider the matter. Then take the time you need to make an informed decision. The best part? By taking the time to think about things on your own, you’re not being pressured by a sales pitch or an urgency to decide. This puts the control back where it belongs – in your hands. 

3. When saying ‘no’ to one thing, find something you can say ‘yes’ to. If possible, find an alternative to what you’re being asked to do, something with less of a commitment on your part that interests you – if you wish to be part of the request.

And when all else fails? Remember the rules to saying ‘no’ we discussed earlier and then stick to them:

  • Hold the course – If you’re not firm in your answer, you can’t be expected to be taken seriously. A confident tone can make all the difference between having your answer accepted for what it is, and in being pressured to change your mind.
  • Be clear in what you mean. Here’s where you need to watch your language. Saying things the wrong way can lead to confusion or even the thought that you intend to revisit the decision when what you mean is a solid ‘no.’
  • Don’t offer excuses. When you spend time apologizing or giving lengthy reasons as to why you can’t do something, you are leaving an opening to further arguments. Keep your words brief. You really don’t have to say anything more than a simple ‘no’ – long explanations are not necessary. 
  • Prioritize.  Take a hard look at how you’re spending your time and decide if what you’re being asked to do is how you wish to be spending it. Then convey this – clearly – that you do not have room in your schedule for something new.

Pushy people don’t have to rule your life. Remember, saying ‘no’ gets easier with practice, so don’t beat yourself up if you falter along the way. Keep at it, and in time, even the pushiest of people won’t be able to convince you to do something you have no desire to do.

A healthy relationship has plenty of room for ‘no.’  

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