Most people I know wish they were more comfortable saying no to requests and opportunities that are inconsistent with their current needs or goals. Recently, a college student with ADHD that I was coaching told me that he did not get a homework assignment in on time. He happens to have access to an automobile. A friend had asked for a ride to a social event and he decided to stay there until his friend was ready to leave!
By not saying no, he got a grade of zero on the homework assignment. He also increased the probability that his friend will ask him for more rides in the future!
I asked this young man why he had said yes. He admitted that he wants to have more fiends and was afraid to say no.
Why People Say Yes When They Want to Say No
You probably know people who are too accommodating. They say yes when most other people would say no. One or more of these things may contribute to why they often say yes:
- A strong need to make friends and be liked by others.
- A desire to be included in social activities.
- A fear that others may stop asking for them to do things.
- Feeling guilty when they say no.
- A tendency to respond to requests too quickly.
- Feeling like they have to repay a favor right now.
- Not knowing how to say no or how to hold their ground with persistent people.
One of the personality assessments that we use rates individuals on a trait called Accommodation. One aspect of Accommodation is described as how readily we inconvenience ourselves for others.
The authors go on to describe examples of how co-workers take advantage of this tendency at work. Managers with this trait often give in to requests from employees when the best response for the team as a whole would be to say no.
The Cost of Not Saying No
Saying yes to someone generally involves an investment of time, money, or both. Therefore, time management experts recommend that you delay responding to requests if you need more time to assess the cost.
In my example of the college student who gave someone a ride, he paid a high price: he got a zero on the homework assignment. He also got less sleep that night than he normally needs. Additionally, he had to go back and do the homework to be prepared for his final exam. And, finally, he also broke a promise to his parents that he would hand in all homework assignments on time.
Can you remember when you said yes and you regretted it afterwards?
What led you to say yes? How much did it cost you?
When Saying No is Best Right Now
If you are unable to do what someone is requesting at a particular point in time, you have the option of saying, “No, not now.” This response is appropriate when the request interests you, yet the timing is not right.
When the request involves money, you may want to indicate that you are not in a position to offer any money at this time. If the request involves your time, you can explain that you have already made a firm commitment to something else.
You may want to provide more details, but be careful. Giving too many details may make it easier for a persistent requester to convince you that you really should be saying yes!
Buying Time to Decide
Even when someone wants you to do something 10 minutes from now, think about taking a few minutes to decide. You can pause and say, “Let me check my calendar.”
You may already know that you have another commitment, yet it gives you practice in not responding immediately! Buying time gives you a chance to assess the cost of saying yes, and to decide how you want to communicate your answer.
Saying No – A Way to Set Boundaries
If you find yourself unable to say no, regardless of who is asking for something, here are a couple of things you can do:
1. Ask: Am I Taking Care of My Needs?
If someone wants you to do something for them, they are expressing one of their needs. For example, if a neighbor asks you to feed his cats for three days while he is out of town, he is expressing a need and hoping you can fill that need. The question is, are your needs being met if you say yes?
My wife and I have a cat, and our neighbors do, too. They look after our cat when we are away. We return the favor when they are away. This works because it is a reciprocal transaction, but either one of us feels free to decline if we have other commitments.
On the other hand, if our neighbor asked us to take care of their cat ten times for every one time they took care of our cat, the relationship might start feeling lopsided. We might decide that the investment of our time was not working out well and decline some of the requests.
2. Ask: Am I Setting Appropriate Boundaries?
Sometimes things get out of balance. The other person’s needs may get met far more often than your needs. In such cases, it may be important to say no even when you could do what the other person asks you to do. When the benefits are out of balance, it is usually time to establish tighter boundaries.
Saying no can send the message that the other person cannot take advantage of your accommodating nature! In fact, it is usually best to say no and then explain why!
For example, we have a wonderful friend who does everything spontaneously. These days when she calls or drops by at the last minute to ask us to do things, we typically say, “We would love to do that with you, but we already have plans for the rest of the day.” Which is true!
Saying No and Feeling Good About It
If you struggle with how to say no and feel good about it, we invite you to find out your WorkPlace Big Five or Myers-Briggs personality results. These assessments, as well as the Conflict Dynamics Profile, can help you get more insight and discover how to say no.
Please contact us to arrange for a personality or conflict assessment. We hope to hear from you soon!