No is the new yes

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Column -

DO you know how to say ‘no’? It’s such a small word but of­ten one of the most dif­fi­cult to say. In to­day’s world of lim­it­less choices, the pres­sure to give in and say ‘yes’ grows greater ev­ery day, pro­duc­ing over­load and over­work, ex­pand­ing emails, and erod­ing the courage to de­cline.

Ac­cord­ing to Wil­liam Ury, au­thor of The Power of a Pos­i­tive No, the word no has never been more needed. He be­lieves a pos­i­tive no has the power to pro­foundly trans­form our lives, by en­abling us to say yes to what counts: Our own needs, val­ues, and pri­or­i­ties.

So, it seems that no is the new yes. But why then is it so hard to say this two-let­ter word?

Many peo­ple, and I in­clude my­self, can of­ten fall into the trap of feel­ing guilty for say­ing no. Ap­par­ently, this is a symp­tom of ‘the disease to please’. Does this sound fa­mil­iar to you? It’s not just the guilt, it is a part of hu­man na­ture to want to help oth­ers.

Last week I talked about per­cep­tion; how the world sees you. We of­ten con­fuse per­ceived good be­hav­iours with per­ceived neg­a­tive ones. It seems re­fus­ing to do some­thing can be viewed as rude and self­ish, while ac­cept­ing to do so is an act of kind­ness, gen­eros­ity, and em­pa­thy. How­ever, if you are not self­ish with your time to a cer­tain ex­tent, you’re not hon­our­ing your ex­ist­ing com­mit­ments in work, re­la­tion­ships, and life, and are pos­si­bly not de­vot­ing the re­quired qual­ity time to them. Also, by con­stantly say­ing yes, it may lead to burnout.

When I started work­ing for my­self a few years ago, I was in­vited to at­tend many dif­fer­ent events. I didn’t want to let any­one down, so I used to take on more than I should. I felt that by say­ing no, they would think ill of me and wouldn’t of­fer me other op­por­tu­ni­ties in the fu­ture. If I’m hon­est, it was also to do with a fear of re­jec­tion. I’ve spo­ken be­fore about my in­ces­sant need to be liked and I didn’t want re­la­tion­ships to suf­fer as a re­sult of say­ing no. The irony was, I was so wor­ried about pleas­ing strangers and their re­quests that my ex­ist­ing re­la­tion­ships with friends and fam­ily suf­fered, as I didn’t see them as of­ten as I would have liked.

I re­alised that by say­ing yes to ev­ery­one all the time, I was al­low­ing other peo­ple’s pri­or­i­ties to take prece­dence over my own. I wasn’t get­ting enough time for rest and re­cov­ery, so I was be­com­ing in­creas­ingly stressed and frus­trated when I had lit­tle free time. I was also pass­ing up the chance to say yes to other im­por­tant things.

When is it OK to say no? Some­times it’s tough to de­ter­mine which ac­tiv­i­ties de­serve your time and at­ten­tion. Here are some strate­gies to use to eval­u­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties that come your way. Fo­cus on what mat­ters the most. ■ Ex­am­ine your cur­rent obli­ga­tions and pri­or­i­ties be­fore mak­ing new com­mit­ments. Ask your­self if the com­mit­ment is im­por­tant to you. If it’s some­thing you feel pas­sion­ate about make the time and do it. If not, politely de­cline and move on. Weigh up the ‘yes-to-stress’ ra­tio. ■ Is the new ac­tiv­ity you’re con­sid­er­ing a short- or long-term com­mit­ment? For ex­am­ple, mak­ing a cake for a com­mu­nity bake sale will take far less time than chair­ing the com­mu­nity fundrais­ing com­mit­tee. Don’t say yes if it will mean added stress. In­stead, of­fer other ways to help so you can still feel in­volved. When it comes to say­ing no, be po­lite ■ but be def­i­nite. “I don’t think I can make it” or “I’m not sure if I’m free” are not the same thing as say­ing no. These can be in­ter­preted to mean that you might say yes later. This leaves the door open for fur­ther cor­re­spon­dence and sub­se­quent pres­sure to agree to some­thing you don’t want to do. On the art of say­ing no, a Har­vard

Busi­ness Re­view ar­ti­cle ad­vises you not to put it off. If you know no is the an­swer, say it im­me­di­ately. For ex­am­ple, when our email in­boxes pile up with unan­swered mes­sages, of­ten it’s be­cause they are full of emails that re­quire a no re­sponse — ones that we can’t bring our­selves to write, so we pro­cras­ti­nate and pro­long the agony (and guilt).

To make the process eas­ier, cre­ate a few dif­fer­ent email tem­plates, with po­lite no mes­sages for dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances — for ex­am­ple: ‘Thanks for think­ing of me, but I’m only tak­ing on a cer­tain type of work right now’. These tem­plates help to re­move the bur­den of sum­ming up the courage and en­ergy to say no.

Say­ing no isn’t easy, es­pe­cially if you are used to say­ing yes all the time. But learn­ing to say no is an im­por­tant part of sim­pli­fy­ing your life and manag­ing your stress.

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