Learning How To Say No

Just-say-no-300x187Learning to say no is a skill worth learning.  Last week I wrote about giving and taking and how I always have been more of a giver than a taker.  Giving doesn't mean you always have to say yes.  The hardest part of being a giver is how to feel ok about saying no.  

Certainly being a parent you learn to say no or maybe but maybe generally means no.  It is easier to say no to them than it is to other people in your life.  Years ago I hit the wall saying yes to everything.  I kind of figured that I could just get it all done.  Sure I would be happy to lead that committee, sure I'd be happy to meet with your friend, sure I wouldn't mind sitting on that board, sure I can call everyone in the entire school, sure I can take care of that too.  Then I hit overload.  

Someone gave me great advice years ago about plotting out the reality of where you spend your time. I used that analysis for how much time I was saying yes to being a good girl giver.  Was all that saying yes actually being productive or wouldn't I be more productive if I said yes to the things I really wanted to say yes to.  

The first time I was asked to do something I said no to, I do not even remember what it was, but I do remember saying no and how I felt.  No, thank you so much for asking me but I just can't.  It felt incredibly empowering.  It was if a seismic shift was taking place in my life.  

My eyes are generally bigger than my stomach but now I say no all the time now.  There are several times that I think hard about the opportunities that have been presented before saying no but if it isn't right and I know that the time needed to do it will take away from something I am already married to that deserves real focus and time I feel fantastic saying no.  It sucks at first but seconds later it is a sigh of relief.  

I do think saying no is harder for a woman than a man.  I talk to so many women that have a hard time saying no and of course when they say no they begin the sentence with I am sorry but they shouldn't be sorry.  I think saying yes all the time comes from this inner voice that says you can do it, you can save the world, you can fix everything, you can take care of everything, you can help these people, you might enjoy this, you really should do this, you know it will only take a short amount of time, etc. 

Saying no has taught me that I can not save the world, I can not help everything that comes my way succeed and tap into me because it will run me ragged, I can not be spread this thin, I can still be a giver, I can still be nice about saying no, I can better balance my day to day life, I can make a bigger impact in the places where I am already involved, I can have some time for myself.  

No is a really good word if used properly.  I highly suggest making it part of your every day vocabulary.

Comments (Archived):

  1. emmastia

    Joanne, great post. Hopefully it will encourage more givers to say no. I especially appreciate your point about women saying I’m sorry before they say no. No one should have to apologize for making decisions that make them the best they can be.

    1. Anne Libby

      Yes! And also, an explanation shouldn’t have to accompany each “no.”Anyone else ever feel pressured when RSVP-ing a “no”?In 2013, I really practiced not explaining myself unless it was really warranted.”I’m not able to do this/this won’t work for me” is more than sufficient for most non-family responses of “no.”.(Actually sticking with that, occasionally challenging, often liberating.)

      1. Gotham Gal

        RSVP’ing is something people wait forever on. Drives me insane

        1. Anne Libby

          +1000. That’s a whole ‘nother blog post!That said, pieces of that puzzle include fear of saying no/defending a no.

      2. panterosa,

        My mother raised me more like a man. She said “men never explain themselves – why should you?”.

        1. Gotham Gal

          I love that

        2. Anne Libby

          Great advice.

  2. pointsnfigures

    I still get a feeling in the pit of my stomach when I say no. Maybe learning to say no is good, but the feeling is good too.

    1. JLM

      .Haha, baloney.You have daughters, you can’t even form the word “NO”.Haha, I know. I have a daughter.JLM.

  3. JLM

    .One may be inclined to suggest that you are being a bit tough on yourself. You apparently say YES quite a bit.Folks often over think things like this and let the burden lie with themselves. Cast it off and don’t fret.When you have a reason to say yes, then you say yes.Your default position could arguably be no and appropriately so.It may be a woman thing but then it still is self-inflicted torture. No self-inflicted torture allowed.JLM.

  4. falicon

    My post yesterday was very much in-line with this struggle as well ( http://falicon.com/post/732… )I hate saying no. I get asked to build stuff for people all the time – yes I *can* do it, but at what personal cost? What does it mean I then *can’t* do. I always try to think of it that way, but It’s a constant struggle.When you’re involved in a start up you get told no all the time (and, though you learn to roll with it, it always hurts) which I think makes it that much harder to then turn around and tell others no…but it really must be done.BTW – Not only *can* you change the world, you *are* doing it every day…just not in every way that everyone asks/wants you to from the outside…but yours is the *right* way to do it.

  5. Guest

    Totally understand the sentiment, and it seems especially necessary coming from someone in the investing world. But every time I read a post like this I think of Dave Eggers’s now iconic Selling Out rant. The Addendum is an absolute must-read (it’s something close to a manifesto and honestly one of the most overwhelming things he’s ever written), but the part starting “The thing is, I really like saying yes” is most prevalent to this post. I’m sure you’ve read it. But if not: http://www.armchairnews.com

  6. TanyaMonteiro

    this post reminds me of the saying sorry post/story you shared too. great reminder