“When you say YES to others, make sure you are not saying NO to yourself.”— Paolo Coehlo
“Yes” sometimes slips off our tongue before we have a chance to step on our inner break petal while our mind internally screams “nooooooo”. By that time, it's too late. We are now roped into doing something we actually don't want to do...again.
I used to be that person. A passionate “yes” woman. Often times, in the heat of the moment, I'd actually want to volunteer my time or attend an event. But after the initial enthusiasm fizzled, I was often left with spinning thoughts of how I didn't actually have enough time for ME. This resulted in anxiety, disturbed sleeps, and a lack lustre attitude. Sometimes, if I felt too overwhelmed, I'd cancel. Which left me sitting in a puddle of guilt and flaky self-judgement.
I wanted to put a stop to this cycle. So I began extensively researching communication styles, learning assertive techniques, and practicing, practicing, and practicing.
Practice makes progress. Now I teach my clients this very important life craft.
What are the Benefits of Assertive Communication?
Assertive communication is an art that results in heightened self-esteem, empowerment, and mental and communicatory clarity. Instead of feeling resentful towards yourself or others, you'll learn to gracefully honour yourself, while respecting others.
Please note, This isn't a complete guide to assertive communication, however saying “no” is an important piece of the pie.
Why We Say YES When We Really Want to Say NO?
“Yes” is programmed from childhood. When our Mother asked us to do something, we were taught to say “yes”. In third grade we may have said “yes” to playing on the monkey bars so we'd fit in with our peers. Fast-forward to our first job, and we were saying “yes” to impress our boss and earn respect from our co-workers.
Twenty years later, we are still saying “yes”—YES to socializing after work when we'd rather take a hot bath; YES to baking cupcakes for the school bake sale during extreme work deadlines; and YES to a second date with Mr.Good-For-Right-Now, when we'd really rather watch Netflix and chill.
Other times, we actually do want to “yes”— to a project, a cause, or someone we really care about. However, we need to make sure our YES does not add to our bulging to-do lists and crowded schedules!
3 Techniques to Start Saying NO Now
1. Take a pause: If someone asks you to do something, take a pause. Often in the moment we may feel excited to jump on board, but we may regret it later. Other times, we actually want to say “no”, but feel guilty for letting the other person down.
Instead, try to pause and respond by saying something like, "that sounds interesting. I'll check my calendar and get back to you tomorrow."
There is a big benefit to taking a pause. You'll have more time to “sleep on it” and discover if this is actually something you'd like to invest your time in. If you discover this is something you really do not want to do, then craft a short and sweet answer.
2. Keep it short and sweet: Saying “no” makes a lot of us nervous. When we feel nervous, we often keep talking, talking, and talking! Often we tend to dig our own verbal graves and we may even manage to accidentally twist our NO into a YES!
To try to prevent this, use "I am" Statements. Generally, people can't fight with our feelings. For example, if a friend asked you to attend an event and you said, "I am feeling overwhelmed at work and I don't have the energy to go tomorrow", do you think they'd understand?
3. Practice makes progress: Marcia Linehan, a psychologist and creator of Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), suggests practice saying “no” in very small and unimportant situations. For example, have you ever been to Costco? As you leave the warehouse Costco's Visa hawks spot you and are ready to feast. As they smile brightly and ask, “cash back rewards?”, simply say, “no thank you” and walk away.
If this seems to easy, imagine a more challenging scenario and practice saying “no” by yourself or with a friend or therapist.
Think of this exercise as training wheels for your brain.
By continually saying “no” in more comfortable and less threatening situations, you'll slowly build up the confidence to say no in more important ones.
Remember it is better to say “no” now, rather than to bubble with resentful down the road. Did you try any of these techniques? What happened? I'd love to hear from you. If you feel inspired, comment below.