Monthly Archives: August 2013

How To Say No Without Losing Friends

I called around to my friend Alison’s house. She looked stressed out and she was rushing around the house looking for something even as her phone buzzed a series of new text messages. She grabbed the phone, let out a deep sigh and frantically texted back. It was a typical day at Alison’s place, I could guess how her day had started.

Around 6 a.m. she woke up after too little sleep and did some work on her computer. Then, she dashed through the morning rush of breakfast, school run and traffic back home to start work from her home office. Only she is constantly interrupted. Her phone never stops buzzing, beeping and ringing. Her boss needs just one more thing done right away and by the way it’s urgent. A neighbour wants her help with a neighbourhood problem, a friend wants her opinion on a web site design, someone else wants her to help run a charitable event and the school principle just asked her to do a small favour.

Alison has a problem and she doesn’t even know it. Her life is such a tailspin of activity and demands coming in from every angle that for her this is normal life. She rarely has time to do what she wants and even though she’s always helping everyone else out she doesn’t feel appreciated. And the sad truth is that most people take her for granted.

And Alison is to blame. She has one fatal flaw that causes all of this daily madness to continue. She can’t say no. I almost never hear her say no to any request for a favour. And the very, very rare times she says no it’s not because she wants to back out it’s because she was already committed to helping someone else. Even then, when she doesn’t say yes she feels guilty about it and she hopes letting people down doesn’t mean that they’ll dislike her.

Alison needs to learn how to say no for two reasons. Firstly, being at everyone’s beck and call is wearing her out and leaving her with no time for herself. Secondly, since she always says yes she is taken for granted, she’s that person you can always call and make unreasonable demands of because she’s so dependable. In other words, her help is expected.

How to Soften the No:

There are four simple ways to say no and take back control of your relationships, friendships and work interactions.

1. Impose a Time Delay on Helping

When you are asked to do something do it on your terms. If you are willingly helping out then you decide when you will do the requested work. Instead of jumping to attention and dropping everything fit it into your schedule in a way that suits you. In many cases this a gentle way to postpone the task or to get the other person to find someone else who can act immediately.

2. Say No with a Reason Why

This is a more direct approach. Instead of being blunt say that you’d love to help out but you can’t because… It’s important to give a good reason and it’s best to be specific. For example, “I’d help out only I’m busy with my cousins birthday party that evening.” If instead you said “I would but I can’t make it” the other person will presume you are lying or just being difficult. That’s why a specific reason is important.

3. Offer Partial Help

Say yes to only part of the request. This is a softer way of letting someone down. It shows you care while also ensuring your own needs are met. Let’s say a friend asks you to spend the weekend helping him landscape his garden, you might say, “I’m free Saturday afternoon and evening so I’d love to help but I’m busy on Sunday with a family meal I have to prepare and serve up.”

4. Train Peoples’ Expectations

If there are people in your life who you always, always say yes to then start saying no from time to time to train people to respect you and not take you for granted. If you are unable to say no then saying yes means nothing. You know it and they know it. For this reason start saying no to minor requests.

Let’s say you are always the one driving everyone home at the end of a night out. Ask your friends to share the work load, tell them you won’t be the taxi driver next week so it’s someone else’s turn. Tell them it’s only fair that you get a night off.

Start doing this and you’ll see a big change in how family and friends treat you. They’ll become more grateful for what you do, you won’t be taken for granted so much and you’ll start to feel genuinely appreciated, because, you now are.

As for Alison. She’s still rushing about like a crazy person and she keeps going until exhaustion forces her to stop. Only then can she say no to people. “I’m not feeling too well right now, I think I’ve caught a bug or something. Let me get back to you when I feel better. Sorry!” I’ve pointed out to her what she’s doing but she isn’t open to change which is entirely her choice.

Don’t use exhaustion and ill health as your only guilt free way to assert yourself and say no. Be creative and start finding your own ways to gently say no so that when you do say yes you really mean it.

Is Life Friendly?

It was a hot summer in Hyannis, Cape Cod. The beaches were packed, cars drove by with air conditioned vacationers trying to find somewhere to park and the only place to cool off on a scorching August afternoon was Cape Cod Mall.

I always liked that time of year, even though town was packed, the locals were happy to rake in the money while the sun shined and the tourists were tanned and relaxed. It was also a good time to meet people with all the summer parties and outdoor activities that filled the lazy weeks and sunny weekends.

But I had mixed feelings about meeting new people. Would people like me? Would I say the wrong thing or end up running out of things to talk about? What if I ended up bored and alone at a party, how would I make my exit without offending the hosts? On the other hand it was fun meeting people with common interests. I hoped I’d meet more people I could relate to and I looked forward to meeting genuine people I could enjoy getting to know better.

Anyway, on this hot afternoon, I headed into the mall with my buddy, Craig. He’s the kind of person who can talk to anyone, he could quite happily meet complete strangers and talk to them like he’d known them for years. Surprisingly, he could also be quiet and retiring and he’d often spend his free time at home with his wife either watching TV or doing chores around the house. He’s one of those quiet people who also loves socialising as long as he gets enough time on his own to recharge.

We wandered about in the cool air of the mall and looked around in a few stores. Everywhere we went I’d look at the merchandise and avoid eye contact with the staff so that I wouldn’t be sold to. Craig on the other hand talked and joked with everyone he saw and if he bought something he’d make small talk with the cashier. He’d smile and have fun with people, tell jokes and laugh with whoever he spoke to.

In his eyes, the mall was a place to shop and meet people. He found people to be friendly and fun to talk to. And this wasn’t a random event, everywhere he went it was the same. Why? Because he chose to smile, be friendly and make small talk.

This was an eye opener to me. I always thought shopping was about buying what you want and getting out of the mall as quickly as possible. I didn’t see it as a friendly place. And it wasn’t, I could now see, because I was the one who wasn’t friendly. I was polite and practical about going about my business but it never crossed my mind that I could enjoy getting to know the store staff and even get talking to other shoppers.

The same distinction applies outside the mall in our day to day life. There are countless opportunities to pause and make small talk for a moment with all the people we come into contact with each day. When you do that, two interesting things happen. Firstly, you feel more connected to everyone around you because you are open to talking to anyone. Secondly, other people will look for ways to help you when you talk about what you are up to. For both of these reasons, day to day life then becomes less stressful.

However not everyone gets the friendly treatment from others. It only happens all the time and wherever you go when you lead the way by being open and friendly, when you do that people feel comfortable opening up to you.

Is Your Life Friendly?

It depends on you. If you choose to be friendly, interested in people and open to sharing with whoever you bump into each day then life will magically become friendlier. If you smile more, make eye contact and say hello to more people then not surprisingly you’ll find you become much more approachable. And that’s the key. Very often we don’t even notice that we are giving off signals that say – stay away, don’t talk to me!

That’s exactly what I used to do only I hadn’t even noticed until I saw Craig do the very opposite. Interacting with people is very much cause and effect. If you change your approach you’ll immediately see different results. If you become friendlier, life will be friendlier.

If it’s that easy, what stops us being more open with people? In one word… fear. We worry that we’ll be rejected, ignored or judged. Thankfully, there is an outlook that can help you with these fears.

Decide that meeting people is a sorting process. Of all the people you ever meet your goal is to sort for kind, decent and friendly people who’ll treat you with respect. You goal is not to be liked, loved and adored by everyone because that’s a fantasy that will never happen for you or for anyone else no matter how wonderful they are.

Imagine then that you bump into someone socially, your goal is to start off with small talk to find if you have things in common to talk about while also paying attention to how this person interacts with you. If you’re smiling, friendly and attentive but the other person is aloof, disinterested or in any way disrespectful then that’s your first warning sign. It’s now up to this person to prove themselves to you, it’s not up to you to try harder to win their approval. If despite some conversational flexibility on your part there is no hope of progress then you know you didn’t meet a good match. It’s then time to move on and talk to more people in search of a good match.

The people in our lives are going to have differing degrees of connection, commonality and compatibility with us. Accept that and allow it to be. Don’t try to force a relationship to be what it can never be. When you look at making conversation in this way it takes a lot of the pressure off and allows you to meet people, search for matches and to enjoy each connection for what it is. You then become more relaxed and easier to talk to, you become the kind of person that is accepting of others and sincerely interested in getting to know them. This in turns makes you more likeable. Do this and one day soon you’ll discover that life is as friendly as you allow it to be.

What Else Can You Do to Make Life Friendly?

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