It’s really common for a two year old child to say “no” even if they mean “yes”. It’s age and stage appropriate and any parent would readily say “Yup, don’t I know that one.”
But as an adult it can be just the opposite. How many times have you reactively said yes to someone because you really didn’t want to disappoint them or didn’t know how to gracefully give a turn-down? Did you say yes even though you doubted you had the time, energy or motivation to follow through? I know I have done this more times than I want to admit. I think I have also been a lot like a two year old at times – or at least I’ve said “no” too quickly.
Living in Los Angeles (perhaps Southern California) carries a stigma of being insincere in social commitments. I would like to say that it’s a total myth, but it isn’t. Probably because of overly committed lives which lack margin, we have often succumbed to the label of being flaky. But that is not a reputation we want to carry.
I have a lot of compassion, especially when it comes to (often overly) busy, productive people like business leaders, pastors, entrepreneurs and parents of small children. It’s really hard to turn people down when they have legitimate requests. But it has to be done to maintain one’s balance of life: a.k.a. sanity.
I have often used the self-test I call “play the movie forward”. This is where I take a few seconds to predict possible outcomes to my answers. What will be the result of saying yes or no? I want to operate from a foundation of integrity, so I need to consider my answer carefully. It’s hard to tell someone “I don’t think that is going to work” in the moment, but it will preserve your reputation as a trustworthy person.
When it comes to relationships, this is particularly important. I have always felt that Nan has an endless amount of requests. And Nan would agree that she does. They are not unreasonable requests, just more than I can always accomplish in her time frame. So I must be thoughtful in my responses. It is better for me to endure the momentary discomfort of a turn-down, than the future possibility of disappointing her. The trick is to be firm, but kind.
Often the best answer can be a realistic offer of what you actually can do. There have been times when a client has been too specific on an appointment time that they desire. Our reply is to graciously offer any time slots that are open or supply a referral to another counselor that might have that time available.
When You Hear “No”
I would also ask if you are the kind of person that can take “no” for an answer. Are you too persistent or even hostile when met by a turn-down? Do you treat everyone as an equal or do you categorize come people as your servants? I am always horrified by how some people treat customer service representatives or service technicians. We are not to demean anyone, but treat everyone with respect.
I am ashamed to admit, but there was a time (in my pre-Christian days) that I had a measure of contempt for certain people. When I became a Christian I had to correct this. Whenever I encountered that sin within myself, I would say “This is a person that God loves and values as much as He does me.” It really helped to heal a corner of my heart.
If you are one of the people who struggle with saying or hearing no, I suggest you read any of the “Boundaries” books by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. It might really help you feel good about setting limits.
Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one. Matthew 5:37 (NLT)
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Philippians 2:3 (NLT)