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.