How do some people not get torpedoed by guilt when they have to say ‘no’ to something or someone? Many of us struggle with that – the idea of letting someone down, looking bad, or seeming inconsiderate. It can play on our emotional and mental health, while it seems the rest are living without the constant worry that comes with being a people pleaser.
Think about the last few times you said ‘yes’ because you didn’t want someone to be upset with you, and then felt anxious about it – when you said yes to a dinner with a group whom you rarely see and don’t actually have fun with; when you said yes to the long-lost college pal who asked if they could stay at your place while in town; when you said yes to go in on the expensive baby shower gift for the person you don’t regard as a close friend. All the while losing your confidence and nerve, spending money unnecessarily, fake laughing and building anxiety.
Why can’t I say no without feeling like I’m hurting someone?
Some people feel bad turning someone down because it can feel aggressive, like you're rejecting the person, and most people do not want to be an aggressor – there’s a negative connotation to it. There’s also a worry they won't be liked or will be perceived as uncaring and unhelpful. As a result, people usually go down the path of least potential conflict and comply with others.
If people do say no, they usually do it in ineffective ways that come with an excuse. For example, they might say, "I'd like to help but I'm really busy." The problem with this approach is it gives the other person an opportunity to continue to ask. He or she feels there's an opening. "Since you're busy this week, how about next week?”
How to say no without feeling guilty
1. Say it kindly and quickly so it doesn’t weigh on your mind
If you genuinely and whole-heartedly don’t want to attend something, don’t stall or delay your response. The more you beat around the bush, the more you provide an opening for the other person to come back with rebuttals. Be brief and don’t give any excuses. You might say, "I'm sorry, at the moment I won’t be able to make it but I will let you know if things change." This approach is polite, and puts you in a position of power by changing the dynamic. You're taking charge, telling people you'll let them know when and if you can.
2. Set boundaries
People sometimes have a hard time saying no because they haven't taken the time to evaluate their relationships and understand their role within the relationship. When you truly understand the dynamic and your role, you won't feel as worried about the consequences of saying no. You'll realize that your relationship is solid and can withstand your saying no.
3. Spin the question around so you don’t feel overwhelmed
This is highly effective in a work situation. Let's say your boss has asked you to take on multiple projects at once, more than you can handle. You might say, "I'm happy to do X, Y, and Z; however, I would need three weeks, rather than two, to do a good job. How would you like me to prioritize them?”
4. Be firm
If someone can't accept your no, then you know the person is probably not a true friend or doesn't respect you. Stand firm, and don't feel compelled to give in just because that person is uncomfortable.
5. Be selfish
Say yes to more time, more joy and what matters most to you. If you prioritize someone else’s needs over yours, you'll find your confidence will suffer and anxiety will mount. In order to live your happiest and healthiest self, you must learn to be selfish and put your needs first.