“No” is a complete sentence! – by Terry Howard

Kicking off year 2023 by making New Year’s resolutions, although we may not keep them, is no different from what we’ve always done. However, looking back over what some would argue was a tumultuous 2022, it’s not inconceivable for many of us to regret not having said no in some situations and to some people. That may include, for example, a bad loan to someone, allowing inappropriate behaviors, making promises you couldn’t keep, ordering a few extra desserts, taking on unreasonable requests or holding onto personal grudges and toxic relationships. Thus, this being another year for fresh starts, you saying (without regret) “no” will save you some unnecessary headaches.

“You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage pleasantly, smilingly, and non-apologetically – to say “no” to other things. And the way to do that is by having a bigger yes burning inside.”  Stephen Covey

Take a few seconds to linger with that quote through the lens of your experiences. Go ahead, we will wait.

Okay, let’s step back before going forward.

Among others, “Chuck” and “Shenna” are two of the most talented and unselfish people on earth. The problem with them is their inability to say no, which causes them to take on more that they cannot always deliver on. 

Sound familiar? 

I called “Shenna” to get her thoughts on my writing on the issue of “no.” Her advice? “Absolutely! You must have been reading my mind Terry. And if you do, please include a list of how to respectfully say no so that I can tack it next to my phone for easy reference,” she said with an awkward laugh. 

“NO!” Two tiny letters. Arguably, they form one of the most powerful words in the English language. For some the word comes easily, but for others it feels virtually impossible. 

So, for the balance of this narrative, I’ve spliced in relevant quotes that may resonate and, with “Shenna’s” suggestion in mind, included a list of ready-made ways to say “no.” So have your yellow highlighter nearby.

“Learn the art of saying no. Don’t lie. Don’t make excuses. Don’t over explain yourself. Just simply decline.” – source unknown

The messages we obtain in our upbringing helps us avoid having to utter that dreaded word “no.” We have developed verbal and non-verbal ways to communicate “No “without having to say “No.”  

The truth is that many of us share this timidity. Why? For starters, saying no by some is loaded with guilt because we’re taught to be polite. By denying ourselves the ability to say no, we abdicate our freedom of choice.  

“When you say “yes” to others, make sure that you’re not saying “no” to yourself.” – Paulo Coelho

So why is it so difficult to say “no?” The short answer is our strong need to please, so we say yes to please. Otherwise, we fear that the person may reject us, or we don’t know how to politely say no.

“No” is a complete sentence and it doesn’t require justification or an explanation” – source unknown

When do we know that we should say “no?” The short answer is when deep down inside, you really don’t want to do what’s been asked of you, are overloaded or saying no crosses your boundaries.

But keep in mind that telling someone no is not a death sentence except in situations of eminent physical danger. And to be clear, context is important in determining when and how to say “no.” For example, saying no to a boss at work may be considered insubordination, or to a parent can be problematic. 

While not saying ‘no’ when we really want to may help avoid the discomfort of confrontation, the long-term toll can range from guilt, resentment, stress, and even to declining health.

But the question remains – why is “no” passivity so widespread? One benefit it provides, say experts, is that everybody gets to save face and, most of all, everyone is saved from the dreaded “C word”—Conflict.

So, what do we do? Here’s a checklist for deciding whether to say “no.”

  • Do I have time and energy to do this?
  • Will saying yes impact other priorities?
  • Is this a one-time reasonable request of part of a pattern?
  • Am I being taken for granted and used?

Next, the advice here is to communicate your “no” clearly, immediately and with gratitude.

  • Thanks for asking but I have other commitments
  • I don’t have the bandwidth right now. But thanks.
  • Sounds tempting but I must take a pass

Nevertheless, just how to say no looms as important. One suggestion is to record yourself saying no and listen to how you may be coming across in delivering the message.

   Tone is the hardest part of saying no.” – Jonathan Price

Saying “no” is not necessarily a relationship destroyer. Quite the opposite. It allows you to take control and set personal boundaries, earns respect from others, and frees you up to focus on priorities that are more important to you. 

Oh yes, don’t say “maybe” if you really want to say no. To level set expectations, avoid saying “not right now, “maybe later,” “call me next week,” etc., if you’re not interested in taking on the task.

Now if you find yourself shocked to be on the receiving end of a “no” by someone who has always said yes to you, personal reflection may be in order. Might you have been behaving in ways that has discouraged him or her or others from saying no to you? Did you miss any non-verbal cues that he/she was not interested in your request? How you receive a no says more about you than about them, so don’t take it personally.

In the end, to all your “Chucks” and “Shennas” out there, get used to saying “no” without apology and focus on other things that matter more to you. Again, saying “no” is not a death sentence. To the contrary, it can be a much-needed confidence builder. 

Now look at the person in the mirror and repeat these words after me: No…no…no!

Terry Howard

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