By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
People struggle with saying “no” for many reasons. As you read about a few of the reasons below, think about which ones apply to you and how you can use the advice offered to say “no” in your own life.
You want to be helpful. We all gain a good feeling about ourselves by helping others, but for some people this becomes a role that is difficult to put aside. They over-commit, putting themselves at risk for feeling too stressed and for failing to meet prior responsibilities.
Saying No: Explain to yourself, as well as the person asking for help, that although you want to help, you are at your limit with what you can do. This frees the person to look for help elsewhere now and in the immediate future. You might want to give a time frame – if you have one – for when you can help in the future.
You don’t want to be rude. You might find that you are not interested in the task you are being asked to do, but you don’t want to be rude by refusing to help.
Saying No: The key to saying “no” in this situation is being respectful. Explain that you appreciate their need for help, but that you don’t think you are the right person for this. You might say that you don’t have the time or skills or that it doesn’t meet your needs (for instance, it would prevent you from being able to pursue another interest). If you have suggestions for where they can find appropriate help, offer them. Remember, even if the other person is disappointed, it doesn’t mean that you did anything wrong. They simply must find someone else whose talents, interests, and availability better suits their needs.
You don’t want people to be upset with you. Others being upset with you isn’t pleasant, but it becomes a serious problem when it prevents you from being able to say “no.”
Saying No: Instead of focusing solely on others, also pay attention to, and find value in, your needs and desires. When you want to decline a request, consider whether you think this is morally and ethically acceptable. If it is, then go ahead and say “no” even though it’s uncomfortable. Talk to supportive others, who can help you to take care of yourself in this way.
You are at your limit with tasks that you can reasonably accomplish, but don’t want to lose out on present or future opportunities.
Saying No: Agreeing to too many requests or pursuing too many opportunities can prevent you from taking advantage of the opportunities that you are already committed to. So, if someone asks you to be part of something that you have a genuine interest in, explain that you are very much interested, but that you cannot commit at the moment. Explore with the person whether there will be future opportunities, perhaps suggesting that they let you know when these arise or asking whether you can contact them when you are free to take on more challenges.
In all of these situations, keep in mind that you can always respond to a request by asking for time to think about it. Then you can carefully consider what you want to do. If your answer is going to be no, you can also think through the best way to say this. With practice, you will find that saying “no” becomes easier and that you will feel happier as you say “yes” more often to your own needs.
The Art of Relationships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.