We already know that it is often better to say no. Yet, how many times have we yielded to the temptation to wrongly accept a request ? Too many… Admittedly, it’s much more friendly, more pleasant and at the same time easier to say yes. But don’t be fatalistic and let’s deal with that matter to convince us of its importance and to finally know how to say “NO”.
Here are the whys and the how of this issue :
1- Why is it difficult for us ?
The 1st obstacle to say no comes from far away, from our childhood and upbringing: it is this sense of guilt that we experience by refusing to help the other one, the remorse we feel by rejecting his/her request. In this case, we are mostly afraid of hurting him/her but also disappointing him/her.
Indeed, by refusing to offer our help, we also dread returning a bad image of ourself, fearing that our decision might be interpreted as the reflection of a negative, selfish or even aggressive attitude. In that case, we are afraid of being judged by the other.
By not rejecting the other one not to be finally rejected ourself, it is thus especially us who we consider by choosing to say yes !
2- Why is it important to us ?
Knowing how to say no is firstly essential not to lose sight of our priorities. If we accept every request targeting us, it quickly becomes impossible to continue our activities according to our objectives and preferences.
Similarly, it may be sometimes necessary to dare to say no in order to stay in sync with our own values, in agreement with ourself. If a request obstructs our convictions, we have to counter it.
Knowing how to say no is also crucial to keep our free will and, by the way, respect ourself. It is useful for not being too much influenced, for not undergoing rather than living. As the French author Jean-Paul Sartre said, “being free is knowing how to say no.”
Finally, this is the way to protect ourself. Managing to say no to ourself is also necessary not to overstep our abilities, unleash our weaknesses, give in to all our temptations…
3- Why is it useful to others ?
Despite appearances, a ‘no’ can be more salutary than a yes. If we accept every new request, the situation quickly becomes unmanageable and the result is immediate : accumulation of delays, declining work quality, and ultimately dissatisfied requesters. And what could be more absurd than doing a disservice to somebody while believing to help him/her ?
So knowing how to say no allows us to improve our reliability and to be recognized for that. In practice, it strengthens mutual confidence and, at the same time, it gives much more value to our ‘yes’. As former French president Mitterrand said, “to say yes, we must know how to say no.”
It is finally the opportunity to set an example about assertiveness and demonstrate some courage (daring to say no) hoping to be emulated.
4- How to say no ?
Now that we are convinced of the importance of knowing how to say no as well for us as for the others, the remaining question is how ?
In this matter, the 1st rule is not to answer hastily. Indeed, it is better to balance the pros and cons before accepting or refusing somebody’s request. Our supplicant will understand that very well as long as we answer him/her within a reasonable time of course.
When the choice is made to say no, we have to express it clearly, without hesitation. Especially we must not justify ourself nor get lost in convoluted explanations. Statement made, we must hold fast to show our interlocutor that we know what we want.
On how to do so, the key word is diplomacy : tact, understanding, and above all no aggressiveness.
Last but not least, to make it more acceptable and to prevent hard feelings, we’d better provide an alternative to our interlocutor, like a “no, but…”. This shows our goodwill towards him/her 🙂