How To Skip The Guilt And Just Say No: A Tutorial

2009 October 7


Photo by cheerfulmonk

According to my parents, I spend a significant chunk of my toddlerhood refusing to utter the word yes under any circumstance. Okay and maybe were apparently cool, but yes was off the table. Evidently, the stubbornness kicked in right out of the womb.  Maybe this early experiment in opting out is why I have very little guilt about saying no in the present.  I have noticed, however, that I’m rather an anomaly in that regard and that ixnaying doesn’t come quite so easily to many folks. As in the case of asserting yourself, it gets easier the more you do it and I’m more than happy to offer y’all a little nudge in the right direction.

How To Say No And Skip The Guilt

Put the no in context

There are a lot fewer obligatory yeses in the world than you think, especially if you throw away social convention and any investment in human relationships.  But assuming you don’t want to alienate friends, family and the folks who sign your pay check, that still doesn’t mean you have to agree to every request or offer that comes your way. Think about the big picture consequences of refusing. Is it a deal breaker or a drop in the bucket?  Bailing on working overtime on a big project that means the difference between your employer staying in the black or not might be akin to signing your own pink slip, but will your best friend since third grade cut off contact if you take a pass on a Saturday afternoon matinee? Doubtful. Keep things in perspective.

Value your own comfort and happiness

Looking out for your own needs is not selfish. There’s nothing wrong with preferring to hang out at home in your pajamas eating s’mores instead of attending a coworker’s son’s Christmas pageant. Opting to do so doesn’t make you a bad person. Neither does running a quick cost-benefit analysis of requests you receive and/or asking yourself if the person would say yes to you if the roles were reversed. If they feel that they unequivocally would, then you may choose to sack up and do likewise, but if you have doubts about their follow-through, that should ease your mind about declining. And guess what? People (at least those of the well-adjusted adult variety) do not expect every request or invitation to be accepted. Saying no will not crush them. Your guilt over opting out should be just like their disappointment at your refusal – fleeting.

Be respectful, but not apologetic

If you know upfront that you’re not interested or can’t accommodate, don’t leave your no until the last minute. Don’t say yes now and then try to figure out how to weasel your way out later. People much prefer an initial no to an eleventh-hour flakeout, especially if they’ve made plans based around your initial acquiescence. Don’t make up an elaborate excuse or apologize effusively (unless you really do have to bail at the last minute for factors beyond your immediate control).  Be polite and be brief. If your no is circumstantial, by all means suggest an alternate plan for the future – I can’t make it on Tuesday, but I’m free next Wednesday. Or if you know someone better suited to saying yes, you could opt to point the asker in their direction.

Two caveats:

Learning to figure out the difference between valuing your comfort and indulging your laziness is key. Sometimes, you have to power through your own inertia or repress your own reclusive tendencies to ward off a knee-jerk no. Prioritize the long-term benefit over the short-term inconvenience. Sure, you might feel dead on your feet at the end of the day, but if you know you’d really enjoy the concert once you actually got to the club or made it through cross-town traffic to catch your favorite author at a book signing, then it’s worth the initial pain. Sometimes, I can rationalize myself into action and other times I have to resort to bribery in the form of coconut milk ice cream. Whatever works, folks.

Expect others to value their own comfort and happiness, too. Believe it or not, this may include saying no to you. Try to extend them the same graciousness you’d want for yourself.

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Everybody Has A Hungry Heart: Why Complacency Is Your Enemy
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