No is Not a Four-Letter Word

Around the time a child turns 2, they discover the word “no”. And then the answer for everything suddenly becomes no.

Are you sleepy? No.

Are you hungry? No.

Are you ready to go home? No.

Pick up your toy. No.

And just as quickly the child's caregiver steps in to teach him or her that no is not an acceptable answer to every question and that obedience is prized in a caregiver-child relationship.

Some of us take this path of obedience to heart, which can lead to difficulty telling others no in adulthood. We don't want others to be angry with us or disappointed in us. Sometimes we're afraid of the other person's reaction. We feel bad when someone wants something from us and we tell them no, so we don't. Often, this leads to regret, frustration, and guilt.

If you find you have difficulty telling others no, try these techniques:

1. Give yourself time. Don't commit to a request right away. Let the requester know that you will consider it, and give him or her a timeframe in which you will give an answer. This allows you the opportunity to really think about whether or not you want to comply with the request without the pressure of needing to give an answer right away. If the person is not respectful of your need to think about the request, consider saying no right away as this person might not be receptive to you setting boundaries and respectful of your time.

2. Put things in perspective. Ask yourself what will realistically happen if you say no. Is anyone going to die? Will the person requesting my assistance be able to find another way to get what they need? Will me saying no really matter in 6 months or a year? Will saying yes to this request inconvenience me? If I say yes, will I feel resentful or used later? Additional questions to ask yourself: How do I feel when someone says no? How do I behave when someone says no? Many of us are going to respond with empathy and understanding when others tell us no, and others are likely to treat us the same way when we say no.

3. Feel comfortable feeling uncomfortable. If you are used to saying yes to everyone, then saying no will initially feel uncomfortable. Whenever we make changes in our routine or behavior, there is often discomfort. Think about learning to drive. Most of us feel a lot of anxiety when we are first learning to drive, but we become more and more comfortable as we continue to get behind the wheel. Eventually driving becomes second nature. This will also be the case when we start saying no. Initially we might feel nervous, guilty, or uneasy, but we will eventually be able to say no as if it is what we have always done.

In a future blog we will look at techniques to help say no.