Why do you say yes when you really want to say no?

You say yes when you mean no, because you fear that others will criticise you for being selfish, uncaring or unhelpful. You say yes to hold onto the illusion that you can be there for everyone, the dependable fall-back in every crisis, the perfect employee, perfect friend and perfect partner. There are also times when you say yes to help others follow their dreams, because you are too scared to follow your own.

When you sacrifice your self-respect for the approval of others you find yourself doing things you don’t enjoy with people you don’t like. You put yourself out for people who don’t appreciate your efforts. And you spend your time on their wants and demands when you could be pursuing your own needs.

You say…

‘It’s fine, I’m happy to help out’

‘It’s no problem, I can do it’

‘Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.’

You’re lying! It’s not fine and it is a problem.

Playing nice to gain approval comes with a downside. You have no time or energy left to follow your own dreams or desires and you feel bitter and resentful about the lack of appreciation from those you have helped. As your true feelings start to show, you become negative, critical and even spiteful.  Your self-esteem drops further and your stress level rises. Depression and physical health issues are sure to follow.

Being able to say no is one of the most important skills you need to keep yourself in a good space. It helps you get a life. When you say no to others, you find you have time and energy to pursue the things that are most important to you and that enable you to become a truthful and authentic person who can relate to others with integrity.

It’s the way you say no that matters. Use the acronym CAREwhen you want to plan a conversation in which you will say no.

C is for clear

Start by finding out exactly what the other person wants from you. Ask for the details of what, when, who, why and how much. Make sure you are clear about what you are getting into.

A is for acknowledge

Acknowledge the request. This ensures that the person knows that you have heard and understood what he or she wants, and that you are able to consider the request fairly. It means that if you decide to refuse the request, he or she can be reassured that you have not done so thoughtlessly.

Taking time to acknowledge what someone wants also buys you thinking time in which to consider whether or not you will agree to their request. You might say, ‘So let me check: you want me to …’ or, ‘Okay, you’re asking if I can … Is that right?’

R is for recognise

Before you make your decision, stop and recognise your own needs, resources and skills, constraints and priorities. Do you really have time for this? Do you have the skill to do it? Would you enjoy doing it or is it something you dislike?

Take your time to think through your personal capabilities and wishes. If someone wants to push you into doing something that suits him or her but which he or she is aware may not suit you, be prepared to be pressurised to agree immediately. Don’t be a pushover. Don’t be afraid to take time to make a decision that is good for you. If you don’t, you will be the one with the regrets.

Some useful phrases

‘I’m not sure I’m comfortable about this. Can I get back to you later?’

‘I don’t know whether I can help you. Let me check my calendar.’

‘This may not work for me. Give me some time to think it through.’

E is for effect

Think through the effect of your decision on the things that are important to you. If you say no, will this have a negative effect on an important relationship or your career? If you say yes, will you have to forego things that are more important to you personally? Will you become stressed and exhausted or will the request fit easily into your schedule? Decisions have both short- and long-term effects. You should think of both before you make up your mind.

Finally, when you decide to say no, first explain what you have considered in arriving at your decision. Be brief. Be honest. Don’t apologise and don’t explain unnecessarily. Simply allow the other person to see that you have made your decision thoughtfully and carefully.They might wish that you had said yes and been a pushover, but if they care for you at all, they will respect your decision and the way that you made it.

Sometimes, you may be able to offer a compromise, by helping at some other time, or in some other way. If you are comfortable doing so, that’s well and good. If not, simply say that you cannot help.

Think of all the times when saying no could have prevented your getting into situations that were way beyond your capabilities, responsibilities or best interests. Next time, try saying no and notice the positive effect it has on your stress level.

It’s okay to say no!

This conversation is adapted from material in Straight Talk: how to manage conversations that scare you, published by Struik, 2011. For more information go to www.straight-talk.co.za

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