“Hey buddy, can you do this thing for me real quick, please, I’m swamped!” “Congratulations, you’ve been selected for the role but we expect a time commitment of 20 hours a week.” “Can we hop on a video call right now?” “Do you wanna hang out with us tomorrow?”
You may identify with the above scenarios where on some occasions, you have had to say no or wanted to say no. Maybe the roles were reversed, and someone else wanted to say no to you.
Many of us find it difficult to say ‘no’ to people, and there can be many reasons for this.
Why do we feel bad for saying no?
Reflection is the first step to fixing many things. Suppose you’re having trouble saying no to people. In that case, it will be helpful to take some time and think about the situations where you have wanted to say no but were unable to. Why? What held you back? What can you do next time that will enable you to say no?
Honoring the friendship
Maybe you felt like saying no would upset the person and disappoint their expectations from you or in your friendship. This doesn’t always have to be big things. Perhaps your friend wanted to video call you but you’re someone who does not like video calls, and would instead meet them in person or text them. What now? How do you say no? It can be difficult.
For many people, saying yes can be a love language. Even in situations where you may be busy, you might find making time and going out of your way for someone as a way of showing care and love to them. Yet, sometimes, this may not be possible at all. In that case, communication is something that will keep your friendship going.
In an insightful take, Joshua Thomas from the ‘Tea with Gen Z‘s podcast episode Am I A Bad Person For Saying No? mentions that saying no can even strengthen your friendships sometimes (paraphrased). Transparent communication aids mutual understanding and closeness.
In some cases, you may be compelled to say yes because there is a hierarchy between you and the other person. This may be true especially within family structures, student-teacher relationships, and other academic settings.
In such cases, communication is key, and it is still okay to say no provided you have valid reasons to do so. For example, in academic settings, you can say no to opportunities if you feel like you may be stressed out. If you’re still in school and teachers are giving you extra things to do, it’s okay to say no and explain to them that your priorities don’t align. Of course, this does not refer to saying no to everything that you don’t want to do. Unfortunately I am not bashing the idea of homework, yet.
These ideas can be radical especially because they obstruct typical hierarchies, and many contentions can be brought up. But, would you rather put yourself in uncomfortable situations and sacrifice your agency or honor yourself and build a more meaningful environment for yourself and the other person?
Social Conditioning and people-pleasing
“Since we were little kids, we have been taught to not value ourselves … We have this constant pressure to do things all the time but not for ourselves” says Vini Rupchandani, a speaker in the Podcast ‘Tea with Gen Z‘s episode Am I A Bad Person For Saying No?
In many cultures, everyone is generally taught that saying no is unacceptable in most cases. As a result, it conditions children to grow up with the general discomfort of saying no in many cases. It can be challenging to break out of this conditioning but it gets easier the more you try and think about it!
For many who want others to think good about themselves, saying yes to stuff is an easy way to establish a good rapport; at least that’s what we believe. It also feels like saying ‘no’ can be selfish. But not really: do you want to let yourself be used by others for some fragile senses of acceptance? Is it really selfish to stand up for yourself and draw your boundaries in cases where this is really needed?
Fulfilling your roles and duties
This applies primarily in working conditions, if you are in a club, event management team, or an organization. Sometimes, your colleagues or bosses might give you tasks that you were not expecting earlier. This could be difficult for your comfort and time management. How do you deal with this? Should you take it up partly, entirely, or not at all? Why or why not?
Fear of missing out
You may find it difficult to say ‘no’ in situations where you are offered an opportunity that will help you in your professional journey. When you have to reject an opportunity, it may feel like you are missing out and not using your time properly. It may feel like this will never come back and you won’t have much to do in time ahead.
Yet, one of the things to understand in this situation is that this is not the end of opportunities; there will be more coming ahead, even if you don’t see it yet (obviously, we aren’t time travellers). It will be more beneficial to your productivity if you didn’t bite off more than you could chew. At this point, I myself am in many clubs, events, and organizations, and it’s hard to manage time sometimes. Would it be advisable for me to still say yes to new opportunities?
Mastering the ability to say ‘No’
It’s not advisable to say ‘no’ on every instance of even the slightest discomfort (this doesn’t apply at all for romantic advances). For example, situations at work where you may have extra things to do, as long as the environment isn’t toxic and disrespectful of your boundaries, there may not be a well founded reason to say no. Yet, it is important to learn how to say ‘no’ in cases where you feel like it is necessary. The following steps can help get you started:
Some practical Steps to Saying No
- Say ‘no’ in a way that doesn’t make it personal for the other person. You may be saying no because it goes against your personal beliefs and not because of who they are. For example, it’s okay to say no to vaping because it’s outside your value system.
- Communicate why you are saying ‘no’ to establish understanding instead of heat. For example, explaining to a friend group that you can’t see them on a particular day because you are going with someone else that day or have other tasks assigned for yourself. Remember, you can meet your friend on another day but not completing your tasks can have larger ramifications.
- Come to a compromise. You might see yourself in situations where you want to help a close friend but lack time. In such cases, you can partly help them instead of entirely helping them; something is better than nothing, and you have valid reasons too.
- Reschedule. On the days you can’t meet a friend, try mentioning another alternative day and time where you will catch up instead. This will make them understand you without thinking that you are avoiding them, and make it easier on your conscience to say no.
- Reaffirm yourself, respect your boundaries, and be realistic. Remember, saying no to an opportunity now if you have too much going on is not a bad sign, in fact, it’s a good one. Would you rather take up too much work and end up performing badly or focus on what you have and wait for new opportunities when more time frees up to maintain your quality of work?
Remember, what makes you a good person is living up to promises, being true to others and to yourself, not throwing around yes’s like confetti.
Be sure to listen to the podcast uploaded by Tea with Gen Z where Gen Z’ers discuss their struggles with saying no, reflections, and how they can improve at it!
What are some other reasons you’ve found it hard to say no, or some strategies that have helped you in saying no?