We all find ourselves at times in situations in which it is difficult to say no. For instance, you've planned to go skiing over Thanksgiving and your parents write saying how much they'd like to have Thanksgiving dinner with the family. Your boss asks you to work overtime and you have plans for that evening. A professor asks if you can do some extra work for her on a research project she's working on. You have just bought a new sweater and a friend asks if she can borrow it. Someone asks you out that you don't want to go out with. If you repeatedly find yourself acquiescing or agreeing to these types of requests and feeling unhappy about it you might want to look at some reasons why you say yes when you prefer to say no. You might fear the loss of the relationship or be afraid of damaging the relationship in some way. So you end up treating the relationship as fragile and dependent on your constant compliance. You, like so many people, may feel guilty about saying no since you have been taught to go out of your way to avoid hurting people's feelings. So you end up feeling responsible for the other person's feelings as of their happiness depends on your agreeing. This takes away their right to be responsible for their own feelings. You might feel you are a bad person if you refuse - selfish and self- centered. You have been taught the virtue of self-sacrifice and self-denial. So you end up being more concerned and more considerate of others than you are of yourself. You may feel flattered at being asked. It makes you feel important and you're afraid if you say no this time you'll never be asked. These are examples of emotional hooks that can interfere with your freedom of action.
What are some ways to make it easier to say no? Much of it is cognitive work. The first thing to do is identify the emotional hooks and beliefs that are getting in your way. For example, if a friend wants to borrow your favorite record to take to a party, what are the negative consequences you anticipate if you say no? Are you afraid he or she will never speak to you again? If you say no to an employer, do you fear being fired from your job? If you say no to a professor, do you anticipate getting a bad grade in the course?
Once you have identified your catastrophic expectations, the next step is to restate them more realistically. For example, you might tell yourself if I say no, my friend will be disappointed not to be able to borrow my records, but our friendship is not contingent on this. He or she will likely respect me more for having said no clearly.
My employer may not be happy about my not staying overtime, but it is reasonable to refuse when it is inconvenient for me. If I agree to do something I don't want to do I will probably feel dissatisfied with myself. I may also feel angry and resentful at the other person. In this case the no may come across non- verbally, in missing deadlines, being unpleasant or silent, thinking of other things when with the other person. Self-denying behavior will probably reinforce the unwanted behavior of others and encourage them to keep making unreasonable demands of me.
After you have restated your beliefs more rationally so that you feel ready to say no and felt good about doing so, the next step is to say it directly to the person, with a sense of assertiveness in your voice and manner. Make sure the non-verbal message is the same as your words. Are you making eye contact? Is your tone non-apologetic?
Because you have been socialized from early years to be acquiescent and compliant, saying no will undoubtedly be very difficult for you the first few times. To make it easier, begin by saying no in some low risk situations where you're perfectly assured of your right to say no and with this practice you'll build up confidence in yourself and an ability to say no in more difficult situations, appearing confident at times when you may be feeling uncertain of yourself inside.
It is usually easier to say no to certain people than to others. For you these may be close friends or maybe strangers or family. Anticipate a situation you think will come up and practice what you will say. Rehearse saying no in a clear and direct way. Be aware of your entire manner and tone of voice when you do so.
In more difficult situations when you are unsure of what you want to say or how you want to say it, try giving yourself time, by telling the other person - can I think about it? Then sort out what you feel and what your irrational beliefs and expectations are to your saying no.
If you have said no, but someone persists, like a broken record, not listening to your first no, you may need to persist in saying no. Are you simply the kind of person who gives in? Or do you tend to get angry? You may need to get their attention by touching them and saying - you seem to be invested in getting me to agree, but I've said no and I really mean it.
Despite the messages many of us get when growing up about being accommodating and going out of your way for others, it is important to realize that there is healthy selfish behavior. You have a right to say no and feel good about it. As you attend to your own feelings and needs you will have a lot more willingness to say yes at other times.
There are many good books written about assertiveness that have sections on saying no. Among these are:
When I Say No I Feel Guilty by Manuel Smith
Don't Say Yes When You Want To Say No by Tenserheim
Your Perfect Right by Alberti and Emmons
If you are in doubt about where to turn for assistance, please feel free to call the
Counseling Center at 661/664-3366.
This information was prepared by the University of Florida to assist students with academic stress management. Information contained herein was gleaned from on-line publications found at the following location: