Why do we have so much trouble saying “no?” I think there are several reasons. We may not want to hurt the other person’s feelings. If we say “no” the other person may think we’re unkind. Saying “no” is often a confrontational experience – something we want to avoid. And when we think of taking on another task we may panic.
Some of us have so much trouble saying “no” that we say “yes” by mistake!
I’m not talking about saying “no” to tobacco, drugs, sex, and crime, I’m talking about daily refusal skills. Let me give you an example. A friend invited me to a toy “party” (home sales) to demonstrate preschool toys. Since I wasn’t teaching any more and my daughters were grown, I declined her invitation.
The night of the “party” my friend called me on the phone. “Are you coming tonight?” she asked.
“No, I can’t make it,” I answered.
“Why?” she countered.
“Well, I’m not teaching any more, so I don’t need preschool toys,” I began. “Besides, we’re having a blizzard. It’s snowing so hard I can’t see across the street.”
“You’re not coming?” my friend persisted.
“No,” I answered firmly. “I’m not going to drive in a blizzard. I don’t need to do that to myself.”
“OK,” my friend answered. At last she understood – and accepted – my refusal.
If saying “no” is hard for adults, you can imagine how hard it is for kids. An increasing number of school systems are teaching refusal skills. Websites are also teaching them. The “Kids Shout Out” Website has these tips: “No, thanks,” (the polite refusal), saying “no” repeatedly (for emphasis), stating reasons, walking away and/or ignoring the person, changing the subject, and being assertive.
It has only two letters, but “no” is a powerful word, according to Linda D. Tillman, PhD. On her Website, Tillman says there are three ways to say “no.” One is the unassertive “no,” usually accompanied by weak excuses and rationalizations. Another is the aggressive “no,” stated with ridicule and contempt. Then there’s the assertive “no,” which Tillman characterizes as simple and direct.
A US Government Website for parents recommends the N.I.C.E. refusal plan for teens. The acronym stands for saying “no,” giving an “I statement,” changing the topic, and an exit plan. I’ve used this plan intuitively and it works. And thanks to life experience I’ve learned additional ways to say “no.”
ASK FOR TIME. According to Dr. Tillman, it’s “always OK” to ask for time and I use this strategy often. Asking for time gives you the chance to check on an organization or individual. Timing is important in life and, two months from now, you may be able to help.
QUALIFY “NO.” I volunteer for many organizations and don’t have time to volunteer for any more. But organizations keep asking me to do things. If I agreed to all of these requests I wouldn’t have a writing career. However, when I believe in an organization I may say “no” and offer to do one thing, like writing a brochure.
TRY HUMOR. A humorous statement or joke can make your “no” more acceptable. I often say, “If I take on anything else I’ll meet myself going in the other direction. Wouldn’t that be a sight!” This response usually generates laughter and stories about volunteering.
BE FIRM, BUT POLITE. Some months ago I was asked to work on a political campaign for a candidate I didn’t support. How could I refuse? I opted for being firm, but polite. “Thank you for thinking of me,” I said. “However, I see the candidate’s issues from a different viewpoint. I wish you well with the campaign.” My polite refusal was received politely.
From a grandmother’s perspective saying “no” is an art form; You have to practice it to get good at it. Saying “no” isn’t a painful experience for me, it’s a necessary experience, and I do it confidently. Because I say “no” I have time to say “yes.”