BBM Team

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Simplify Life: Say Yes to Saying No

If you are tired of having become a “yes” woman – you say yes to your boss’ last minute request to stay back and finish the project, you say yes to your neighbour asking you to pick up some veggies on your way back, you say yes to your colleague begging you to swap your weekly off with hers, you even say yes to the maid asking for yet another day off – it’s time you included another word in your dictionary.


Saying yes by default may lead to a feeling of importance, value and worth in the short term, but can have negative long-term consequences including poor quality work, a failure to delegate, no time for yourself, and a feeling of frustration and inadequacy.

Jana Kemp, the author of No! How One Simple Word Can Transform Your Life, says women find it “especially difficult to say no because we are caretakers of ourselves, our extended family members, our children, our households, and often our workplaces”. “We are expected to be helpful and with that expectation comes the belief that we will say yes to requests for help,” Kemp says.

Social psychologist Susan Newman, author of The Book of No, writes that the need to please is so intrinsic that many people equate saying no with saying “I don’t care about you”.

Most people fear saying no may imply they are unwilling or unhelpful, and that they may be perceived as rude or cold. But saying no, whether to the boss, family, friends — or yourself — sends out a strong message. It means you have priorities, value your time, and don’t want to commit and do a lousy job. So don’t worry about someone – be it family, friends, colleagues, or acquaintances – taking offense or feeling hurt.

It is important for one to learn how to say no. The key is to know when and how to say so. Here are a few ways you can say “sorry, can’t do that”:

1. Practice saying no. While a ‘yes’ is generally associated with positive behaviour, a ‘no’ is not always a negative attitude. It actually means you are saying ‘yes’ to something else.

2. Be gentle yet firm in saying ‘no’. Remember, it’s not what you say but how you say it. Even the harshest word can sound like music if said gently. Do not forget to smile while saying ‘no’.

3. Offer an alternative after declining their offer, perhaps another day or another time as is suitable to you.

4. Don’t take it personally if someone is unhappy with your reply. There will be people who won’t like being turned down but you have to make an effort to stop counting those on your fingertips. As a consolation, realise this is a natural reaction.

5. A reason why you find saying no so difficult is because you’re trying to find an explanation. Maybe you have one but are not sure if the person will believe you. However, accept that at times you simply don’t need to explain anything (except maybe, when it’s your boss asking you to do something!)

6. It’s important your know limits and strengths. Do not try to be a hero if it wastes your time, energy and leaves you feeling disgruntled. Say yes only if you have the time or the inclination.

7. It takes a lot of courage to say no, especially at work. However, with time it will become a part of your system and you’ll end up becoming more productive and wiser.

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