Can You Say No?

A couple years ago I wrote a blog post about saying no! Today, I'm sharing that post as a friendly reminder that saying NO is actually a good thing.


Are you someone who never says no? Or, maybe you are someone who wants to say no but then you feel bad so you try to make up for it in some other realm. Perhaps offering to help-out another day?

Regardless of what style you are, learning to say no can be helpful when tackling stress and burnout. Learning to say no also allows you to prioritize and better serve those you can help. Unfortunately, far too many people spread themselves too thin trying to do it all! Here are some tips for tackling that powerful two-letter word...

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1.  Understand the 'no.' 

When you are asked to do something what do you immediately think? Start to pay attention to your thoughts. This is how you begin to understand the 'no.'

Are your reluctant thoughts because this is not an area of expertise or interest? For example, a friend at church asks you to volunteer to make lunch for the church-wide meal on Sunday. You're immediately stressed because you are terrible at cooking and don't have time to put together something before Sunday. These types of thoughts might be because you are being asked to do something outside of your strengths or passion.

Of course, every now-and-then its OK to do something outside of your comfort zone but often, you'll be depleted (emotionally, physically, psychologically, spiritually) much faster because the task is neither a strength or passion.

A better solution would be to offer what is within your expertise and interest - maybe instead of making lunch you could babysit the little ones?

The other side of understanding the 'no' is when your thoughts jump to frustration or anger. This is less about expertise or interest and more about setting boundaries.

If you tend to get frustrated when someone asks you to do something then perhaps there is more underneath worth exploring. 

Is this person always relying on you? Are you enabling them? Do they have some unhealthy patterns that are wearing you down? Are you angry at yourself for giving in? If these questions fit with your experience then you are likely in need of some boundaries. Unfortunately, learning to say 'no' is just as hard as setting firm boundaries. We'll save that for another day but begin with learning whether the 'no' is about expertise/passion or boundaries. 

2. Give someone else permission to say 'no'. 

When we are spread thin we often overlook how easy it is to empower someone else to say 'no'. In fact, when someone says 'no' we often become insecure, thinking that this boundary is a reflection of us. Does she not want to babysit my kids because she doesn't like me? Can she not get lunch because she's mad at me?

Rather than internalize the 'no' you receive, give positive feedback to that person. For example, "Although, I would have loved to get lunch today to catch up, I'm glad I have a friend in my life who knows how to balance work and other demands. Plus, I know that when you are able to get lunch, you'll be fully present and I value that about you."

Sometimes we use the same people to fill a need when we could be helping ease their burden. Instead of asking the same people over and over for help, ask someone new. They may be looking for opportunities to serve or may be a reliable source in the future.

Helping those you care about learn to say 'no' will give you strength as well.

3. Practice saying 'no.' 

Go ahead, give it a try. Practice does make perfect, right?

Begin saying 'no' with someone who is safe and respectful of your needs. It's easier for me to say no to my family and friends who understand my work-load than to a colleague who may not fully understand. Someone who is safe will understand more easily. You can even let them know that you are practicing and felt safe enough to explore that with them - quite the honor.

Also, try saying 'no' in various ways. Perhaps the word needs to literally come out. Or maybe you just need to understand 'no' as a metaphor. For example, you may feel more comfortable saying "I appreciate the opportunity but I cannot help you this time."

However you say it, pay attention to what feels most comfortable and true to YOU. For successful self-care you'll need to say 'no' many times in your life, you might as well begin to see what feels most genuine.

Finally, continue practicing on things that are less significant. It is easier to say 'no' when there is less weight attached. A dinner is not as big as saying 'no' to a need within the community, workplace, or family. Practice with smaller items first.

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So that's it! Understand it, give space for others to say no, and practice! I hope saying No this week is an empowering experience!

-Dr. K