Do a google search on saying no and you’ll be inundated with articles on why it’s important. They will explain why it’s hard, how to do it better, when to do it and what you’ll get from it. So, I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. I think you probably know already that saying “no” is a necessary function of life.
What is curious though is that most of us associate saying no with rejection, denial, conflict and fear and we fail to see or undervalue the positive side of saying no.
Let me explain.
When you are asked to take on a project that you don’t really have time for, won’t really benefit you in any way, is likely to have consequences that you’re going to feel uncomfortable about, then your resistance to saying no gets in the way and ta-dah! You are the happy new owner of yet another thing you don’t want to do. What happens next is you feel resentment and frustration, your inner critic merrily jumps on their soap box and proclaims all of the things you are and are not because you just are not brave enough to stand up for yourself and how useless you are that you cannot even manage a tiny word like no. You believe that by saying yes, you will appear more helpful and flexible, people will respect you and you will be liked. You will be needed and valued.
Be honest now, does any of that actually happen anywhere else outside of your own head? I’m guessing no.
I’m a huge advocate of reframing what the positive consequences of saying no are, mainly because it makes it a hell of a lot easier to say it.
Let’s go back to the project you don’t want to do. In saying no, you liberate that project for someone who does want to do it, who will learn and grow as a result of doing it. You will be showing up as someone who is clear about what they want to commit to and consequently will only commit to something that they will take full responsibility for. When you say yes to a project, the people around you can trust you to get the job done because of your desire to do it. When you say no, you are also saying, you can trust me to tell you the truth. Ok, yes, it may seem like a brave thing to do, especially if you are saying no to your boss or someone you want to impress but if you are authentic about your reason for saying no, if you have truly considered your response and can defend it, you will get a better outcome for them as well as for you.
We struggle with saying no because our culture has determined that saying no is too harsh, too cold, it’s unhelpful or selfish and it separates us from the group. It taps into our very sense of belonging and that’s really hard to overcome.
You may have felt that this is changing. Our culture is reawakening to the idea that saying no is empowering, liberating and our fundamental right. This is exciting but throws us into a period of transition and we dislike change almost as much as we dislike saying no.
So how can we navigate to a place where we can build our no muscles?
Well, surprisingly, for me, it starts with knowing what a hard yes feels like.
Let’s imagine that you’re being asked to do a project that you’ve secretly been desperate to do for some time. You know you’ll be able to do a great job of it and you’ll get to work with some amazing people when you do it. You can already feel how good it’s going to feel to have achieved it and, in your mind, you’ve already started to plan what it would look like. Your answer then is going to be a hard yes, maybe even a hell, yes!
By really holding onto what a hard yes feels like in your body as well as how fired up your mind becomes, you are giving your brain all the information it needs to define the yes. There follows a medley of neural firings and hormonal spikes and every part of you is resonating to the yes. You remember the film, right?!
Now when the dreaded project is presented, and you go exploring for the feelings and thoughts of a yes, you’re going to be disappointed. What does that feel like? What are the thoughts that come up? Can you visualise how it will be to be responsible for this project? How difficult is it going to be to feel good about it? Welcome to your hard no.
Let me guess, now you’re thinking hang on a minute it’s not that easy, there are always other considerations that make it complicated, harder to say no. I believe you. I’ve let my hard no get lost in a myriad of beliefs and assumptions and I get that you can find eleventy billion reasons why you are struggling with it. Try out the reframe. Saying yes when it should be no, denies someone else that hard yes experience, denies you the empowerment of choosing your own path, denies the people around you the truth about who you really are and how they can depend on you to do and say the right thing. Is saying yes to the dreaded project really ever going to be the right thing to do now?
Being brave enough to say no is also saying my needs are important, I am worthy of more, I know what’s best for me. This is one of those it’s simple but not easy things. It takes practise and it takes belief and it’s definitely worth it. When you say no, you’re actually saying yes to much, much more.