The Subtle Art of Saying “No”

Why do we have a difficulty in saying “NO?”

I think there are various reasons. We may not want to hurt the other person’s feelings. If we say “no,” the other person may believe we are ignorant. Saying “no” is usually a confrontational action – something we want to bypass. And when we think of taking on another task, we may panic.

Some of us have so much difficulty saying “no” that we say “yes” out of sheer confusion.

I’m not talking about syaing “no” to drugs, alcohol, sex, and tobacco – I’m talking about refusing things pertaining to daily life. Let me give you an illustration.

A friend invited me to a toy party (home sales) to showcase preschool toys. Since I wasn’t teaching anymore, and my daughters are adolescents now, I refused her invitation. The night of the “party” my friend called me on the phone and asked “Are you coming tonight?”.

“No, I can’t make it,” I replied.

“Why?” she countered.

“Well, I’m not teaching anymore, so I don’t need preschool toys,” I said. “Besides, we have a storm. It’s snowing so hard I can’t see across the street.”

“You’re not coming?” my friend continued.

“No,” I answered steadily. “I’m not going to drive in a blizzard. I don’t need to do that to myself.”

“OK,” my friend responded. At last, she realized and acknowledged my refusal.

If saying “no” is challenging for adults, you can imagine how difficult it is for kids. A growing number of school systems are teaching refusing skills. 

According to my experience, it has only two letters, but “no” is a powerful word. There are three ways to say “no.” 

  1. One is the unassertive “no,” usually accompanied by weak explanations and rationalizations. 
  2. Another is the bold “no,” stated with ridicule and contempt. 
  3. Then there’s the assertive “no,” which I feel is direct and straightforward.

A UK Government Website for parents suggests the N.I.C.E. refusal plan for teens. The acronym stands for saying “No”, giving an “I statement”, “Changing the topic”, and an “Exit Plan”.

I’ve used this plan intuitively, and it works. And thanks to life experience, I’ve acquired new ways to say “no” like:

  1. Ask For Time – It is always okay to ask for time, and I use this approach often. Asking for time allows you to check on a business or individual. Time is vital in life and, two months from now, you may be able to help.
  2. A Passive No – I volunteer for many organisations and don’t have time to volunteer anymore. But companies keep asking me to do things. If I gave in to all of these requests, my daughters would forget me. However, when I believe in an organisation, I may say “no” and contribute to only one thing, like writing a brochure.
  3. Humour Works – A humorous comment or joke can make your “no” more tolerable. I often say, “If I take on anything else, I’ll meet myself going in the other direction. Wouldn’t that be a show!” This response usually creates laughter and anecdotes about volunteering.
  4. Firm and Polite – Few months ago, I was invited to work on a political campaign for a nominee I didn’t support. How could I resist? I opted for being firm but kind. “Thank you for considering me,” I said. “However, I see the candidate’s concerns from a distinct viewpoint. I wish you well with the campaign.” My polite refusal was accepted politely.

From a grandmother’s point of view, saying “no” is a form of art. You have to exercise it to be great at it. Responding with a “no” isn’t an unpleasant reality for me, it’s a significant experience and I do it positively.

Because I say “no,” I have time to say “yes.”

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