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When was the last time you wanted to say “no” and didn’t?

Maybe you agreed to take on some extra work, yet believed the request to be ridiculous. Or how about the special event you were volunteered to organize and just couldn’t find a way to wiggle your way out of it? Perhaps your client pressures you into changing a finish date on a delivery that means you burn the night oil to get it done. You want to say “no” and just don’t know how.

Think for a moment about a recent incident where you wished you’d said “no”. Now focus on why you hesitated in asserting yourself and saying what you really thought. Your reason may be different than someone else’s and may be different for your various situations.

Here are some of the most common reasons my clients have shared with me — reasons that hold them back from saying “no”. Do you recognize yourself in any of them?

Here’s what could be stopping you from saying “no”.

You don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.

Sometimes, it’s because you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings (after all, he’s trying so hard and is just asking for help, you tell yourself).

You’re afraid they won’t like you.

Everyone wants to be liked and included, at least by the people who mean something to you. So if someone you revere asks you to do something, you may be afraid that saying “no” will compromise how they feel about you

You believe someone’s going to retaliate.

Maybe you find yourself in a situation where you feel if you decline this “opportunity” being presented to you (ya, right), someone in a position of influence will make your life a living you-know-what.

Don’t let fear guide you.

Whatever the fear that trips you into saying “yes” when you really want to say “no”, it’s worth thinking about for a while. Those fears may not be real or may be amplified. Maybe they’re unfounded. Once you know the deep-down reason of what’s holding you back, what’s really scaring you out of saying “no”, you can move forward to change your behaviour.

Here’s an acid test to see if you really want to say, “no”.

Ask yourself if you regret your decision of “yes”. Further, do you resent doing “it” (whatever the “it” is that you agreed to)? If you answered “yes” to either of these questions, you would be better served being true to yourself and saying “no”.

So now you know why you have difficulty saying “no” when to say it, and you’re ready to assert yourself — you just need a few tips how. Here you go …


Be decisive.

Know in advance what crosses a hard boundary for you. Maybe someone is asking you to do something illegal, immoral or fattening. Are those hard boundaries for you? Or perhaps it’s something that will infringe on your precious hours with your family. Or will add undue amounts of stress. Or result in unhealthy decisions. Know your drop-dead boundaries in advance and it will make being decisive easier. Askers who impose on others can smell you out if you waffle — and prey on your indecisiveness. Don’t let them.

Be brief.

Sometimes an explanation of why you are saying “no” is appropriate. It softens the blow and adds context to your refusal. It breeds understanding and helps to maintain relationships. Here’s the key — be brief. Short and sweet is the ticket. Keep it pretty general and don’t over-explain. If you do, it may result in your points being counterpointed, and do you really want your “no” to digress into a debate? (Right answer: no)

Be respectful.

Show the other person that you’ve heard and really considered what he or she has proposed. You may be able to suggest that you doing “it” is not a good fit and therefore will not result in the outcome hoped.

“NO” doesn’t need to be forever.

Maybe you hesitate in saying “no” because it sounds so final like you’re closing a door forever. It doesn’t have to be. “No” now, may simply mean that it’s a postponement, that you will do it … later, at a time and under a circumstance that better meets your needs.

When you’re saying “no”, imagine if the exchange was being taped and aired worldwide. Would you be proud of the way you stood up for yourself? How you communicated respectfully with the other person? Of how you said what you really believed and managed to maintain the relationship? If the answer is “yes”, congratulations — you’ve just succeeded in saying “no”.

© 2020 Marion Grobb Finkelstein

©2021 Marion Grobb Finkelstein

Until next time, here’s to …
Better communication, Better business, Better life,
Marion Grobb Finkelstein
Keynote Speaker / Corporate Trainer / Author
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Marion Grobb Finkelstein

Marion Grobb Finkelstein helps leaders use their natural communication strengths to build resilient teams that talk.

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