Learning To Say “No”

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If you are like me, there are times that saying “no” is extremely difficult. The natural people pleaser in me comes out in full force and I struggle with feelings of guilt.

Actually I vacillate between feelings of guilt and feelings of resentment. I want to both please myself, and please others, but it’s just not always possible. Sometimes there is an opportunity to reach a compromise that is workable, and I try for that when it concerns people close to me. But there are other times when I must make a choice.

This becomes particularly important when it involves a conflict between time or money spent for things inside versus outside of my relationship. Commitment to one thing means not being available for something or someone else. When that someone else is a spouse there can be potential for some serious consequences.

So how do I learn to say no without feeling any guilt?

I think the first step is to realize that what we are feeling is usually false guilt. Often we are not doing anything wrong, it just feels that way. I have a right to make choices for my life, and I may need to change my self talk from self condemning to self affirming. This is not an excuse to make all my decisions selfish choices, but rather to embrace the reality that I need to exercise good self care and protect my primary relationships as well.

Part of the solution is to learn how to be gracious and effective in the way we turn people down. People use four strategies to say “no”. Only one is desirable. (From “The Power of a Positive No” by William Ury and thanks to Michael Hyatt).

 Accommodation: We say Yes when we want to say No. This happens when we value the relationship of the person making the request above the importance of our own interests.

Attack: We say no poorly. This is a result of valuing our own interests above the importance of the relationship. Sometimes we are fearful or resentful of the request and overreact to the person asking.

Avoidance: We say nothing at all. Because we are afraid of offending the other party, we say nothing, hoping the problem will go away. It rarely does.

Affirmation: We use a formula of “Yes-No-Yes.” This is in contrast to the ordinary “No” which begins with a No and ends with a No. A positive No begins with a “Yes” and ends with a “Yes.”  Example: “I appreciate you asking, but I will not be able to attend this time. But please don’t forget to ask me next time.”

The reality is that our resources are finite, and we must be wise about how we distribute them. Will we be misunderstood? Will people be irritated, offended or disappointed when we say “No”? Unfortunately, the answer will often be “Yes”.

Learning to deal with those uncomfortable feelings is part of our maturity. From a psychological perspective, it is overcoming our codependency. From a spiritual perspective it is being a good steward of our resources (time, talent, treasure).

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