What Is So Difficult About NO?

Do you have a hard time saying no? I do.

Whenever my honey, a colleague, friend or even a stranger asks me something that I need or want to say no to, I find it emotionally challenging. I’ve been really curious about this lately – why it feels so awkward, and how lately, I’ve even felt resentment creep in for being put in the position of having to say No, as if the other person should know better than to ask – and YES I know how irrational that is!! I don’t usually have an issue with my decision initially; I know what I’m willing and able to do or accept at any given time, and what I’m not. However, when it comes to having say that little two letter word – N O – sometimes I buckle and kick myself later for not listening to myself – or it comes out all icky and not at all in a way I feel good about.

Whether or not you can relate personally to what I’m saying, I imagine that you at least know someone, or that you know someone who knows someone, who couldn’t say NO to save their own life. They can have a completely full agenda, and when asked to take on yet another project, instead of saying: “No, I’m full thank you!”, “Yes” is the automatic response comes out of their mouth. Know anybody like that – intimately perhaps? Or maybe, you relate more to NO = rejection? Regardless of which side of the equation you are on, if NO equals’ rejection, you’ll either feel rejected or that you are rejecting – neither of which feels good.

So I figure, if it feels so hard to say NO, then I won’t. Instead, I’m going to say Yes – to everything! 

What I realized is this, when I’m feeling awkward or even resentful with the NO, my focus is on exactly that – what I’m saying NO to and the two letter word itself. What I’m not focused on is what I’m saying YES to, by default. In reality, whenever we say NO to something, we are actually saying YES to something else. And likewise, when we say YES to something, we are saying NO to something else. What often feels hard for me is the amount of energy and focus I’ve been putting on the response of NO. If saying NO aligns with my own agenda or plans, honors my values, feels congruent and right for me, then the NO is actually a Yes to ME and what is important to ME.

My new game plan is this… to focus on what I am saying YES to, and then to respond from the perspective of YES.

I started writing this post a couple of days ago, and since then I’ve attracted a number of opportunities to use this new strategy. One decision has been whether or not to take on another board position. The helper in me was tempted to say yes, but then I realized that would be saying no to being as effective and efficient in my other commitments and that is not OK with me. I am saying YES to my personal standards, and YES to leaving the space open for someone who can do it well. That feels good.

Another example was being asked if I thought something was a good idea and a straight NO (because I didn’t think it was) would have been a quick response, however, that felt stiff and inflexible. Instead, I took then the time to recognize what the YES was to, and then I expressed myself from that perspective (which aligned with the bigger picture). It felt supportive and good to express myself in that way and the YES was well received.

I’m going to keep this up and if you are like me, and you find it hard to say NO, I invite you to challenge yourself to find a way of responding to all requests made of you for the next week with a YES. And I’m not suggesting that you simply get wishy washy with your NOs, but to focus on what you are saying YES to, and then to craft your responses from that perspective first. Remember that the YES is often about your own agenda, goals, integrity, self care, personal balance, values, or the bigger picture of whatever the request is about. Saying yes to these feel good – saying NO to helping out… doesn’t always feel so good. So focus on what feels good.

If you take on this challenge, I’d love hear how you do with it. And please remember, while you are working with this challenge, if someone makes a request of you, and inside you authentically feel, 100%, that you need to respond with a clear and unmistakable NO – then please do so, knowing that that NO is really a loud YES to yourself.

Posted by on Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 1:01 pm 
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