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Saying a Healthy ‘No’

Text saying yes no

Saying a Healthy ‘No’

People often assume I don’t get stressed or anxious because of my work. Not true. Life happens and, like all of us, I may get stressed and anxious at times. However, after many years of experience and a lot of learning, I now know how to manage stress and anxiety and keep them to a minimum. One of those ways has been learning to say a healthy ‘no’.

Saying no can be a struggle for many of us and there are lots of reasons why we may find it difficult such as:

  • It feels selfish
  • You don’t want to let anybody down
  • You’re used to putting other people’s needs before your own
  • You don’t want to miss out on a potential opportunity
  • You want approval and worry that people will think badly of you if you say no
  • You feel obliged to return a favour
  • You say yes habitually, with barely a thought
  • You fear being disliked or rejected
  • It feels rude to say no
  • You feel it’s expected of you to say yes
  • You want to prove yourself
  • You feel a sense of responsibility towards the person asking you

The problem is, if you regularly say yes when you want to say no, and if you’re always putting somebody else’s needs before your own, it can impact on your wellbeing. You can end up feeling exhausted, angry, frustrated, stressed, overwhelmed and anxious. It may also negatively affect your sense of self-worth. And if others know you’re the person who usually says ‘yes’, you could find an increasing number of people beating a path to your door.

A healthy ‘no’ arises from conscious choice rather than a fear of saying yes. When we choose to say a healthy ‘no’, we’re also choosing to direct our own lives. But saying a healthy ‘no’ isn’t about never saying yes. Human beings are social animals and giving as well as receiving is a necessary survival practice, as well as an important way of building and maintaining good relationships with others. And helping others can actually be good for us too. It fosters connection, trust and a sense of purpose, and has been linked to increased happiness and wellbeing.

A healthy ‘no’ is about treating both ourselves and others with respect. Saying yes when you don’t really have the time, energy or interest may not actually be that beneficial to the person asking for your help; there may be somebody else with the availability and enthusiasm to truly do justice to the request instead. A healthy ‘no’ is a conscious choice based on an objective view of our present commitments and constraints, an understanding of our values and priorities, and with due regard for our wellbeing.

One of my top tips for clients who struggle to say no is to respond with the statement, “Let me get back to you about that”. Responding with this statement gives you time to pause and consider your options. It gives you the opportunity to reflect on whether saying yes is something you’d like to do and have the time to do, or whether it will actually put you under unwanted pressure.

You may also like to pre-prepare one or two ‘no’ statements that you can use when you want to respond to a request immediately. For example, “Thanks for thinking of me, but I don’t have the space to take on anything else this week.” Or, “It’s not for me, but thanks for the offer.” Or even, “I like the idea but it doesn’t fit with my priorities right now.”

Finally, remember these things when you’re struggling to say no:

  • Saying yes all the time means you could indirectly be saying no to something you’d really like to do, as we all have time and energy limits
  • If somebody feels it’s okay to ask you to do something, it’s just as okay for you to say no
  • Most people won’t think badly of you for saying no – and many may wish they could say no more often themselves
  • Nice people can, and do, say no

© Michelle Drapeau, 2020

Image by Gerd Altmann on Pixabay