By Ken Kladouris
It’s time to fall in love with the word no. Your boundaries depend on it. As the saying goes, “Just say no.” Sounds so easy right?! No – one word, two letters, and a complete sentence. People regurgitate this phrase near and far, implying it’s able to be said with complete ease. Many write advice columns and social media posts on boundaries and you guessed it…learning to “say no” is at the top of the list for how to uphold boundaries. I too have written an article on boundaries and included similar guidance, but the truth is that the simplest advice is almost always easier said than done.
Let’s break it down. When you say “yes” to someone’s request, your time, energy, resources etc. are now committed to someone or something else. While the person asking has been freed from their desires, you have been tethered. As life is ever-evolving, there will always be someone or something that needs your time. So, in order to stay true to your wants, dreams and goals, there will come points in time where you will need to say no. The challenge when you choose to say no though is that it is almost always met with a barrage of questioning – pinning you into a corner of explanation. The irony is that no is a complete sentence and the reality is that no does not require an explanation.
One of the first questions someone is likely to ask once they have been on the receiving end of a “no” is “why?” Why won’t you help them? Why would you refuse them? This is typically the time that emotions kick in as you are triggered from the accusatory questions. You start to question whether or not you are being selfish and if you really should have said no. You’re now getting defensive, feeling obligated to justify and explain your response, knowing deep down it is the best thing for you.
“When you say yes to others, make sure you are not saying no to yourself.” – Paulo Coelho
You try to walk the fine line of acceptable behavior for the dynamic of the situation, trying to not hurt anyone’s feelings and appearing not to be selfish. However, the reality is this – no does not have to be a negotiation. It can be a ruling. How you choose to engage after you have said no determines which category the “no” falls into.
To bolster your resolve in remaining true to your “no”, consider these steps:
- Remind yourself it’s not about you. The person asking the question is looking to shift the responsibility to you instead of accepting an answer that was contrary to what they wanted. At the end of the day – both parties are responsible for their decisions – and decisions are never guaranteed.
- The first “no” is the hardest no. When you start to draw boundaries and tell people no, naturally they are going to be caught off guard. After all, they are used to you being a “yes” person. Give them grace to observe and accept your new more structured stance which includes saying no to things. While you may be concerned this could negatively impact your relationship with them, history has shown that boundaries are vital in establishing respect. So, on the contrary, this may strengthen your relationship.
- Be prepared for the firing squad of questions. If you are going to say no, a fair expectation is to presume that your no will be questioned. Remember that there is no reason to get emotional. You can simply hear the other person out and let them know you carefully considered their request but that was the healthy decision for you. Period. Do not be baited into a lengthy explanation. Remember – it is not a negotiation.
In short, your goals are worth holding space for which requires the use of “no” from time to time. You can’t do everything for everyone else and still expect to have enough time to dedicate to your goals. You need to be energized and centered in pursuit of your life. So you need to make sure your energy is moving forward and in alignment with your vision, and not hung up on bringing someone else’s vision to life.