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The Value of No


Here’s a secret: saying no is not about saying no, it’s about respect. Both respect for yourself and respect for those around you.

It’s not fair to anyone to put yourself in a situation that you aren’t committed to being in.

Just in case you don’t believe me, here are a few examples to illustrate my point:

1. You took on a project you couldn’t handle: When you take on more responsibility at work, your co-workers and your boss are counting on you to know what you’re doing. If you aren’t up for the challenge, don’t have time between other projects, or don’t have the necessary skills to complete the work – tell them. Ask to help out in other ways that you can handle.

2. You said yes to being a bridesmaid when it’s not in your budget: Weddings of good friends are a celebration of the couple’s love. It is wonderful that they want you to be part of such a huge milestone in their relationship, but it isn’t worth it if you can’t afford it. It’s going to put a strain on you, a strain on the bride, and possibly even your relationship. You are allowed to politely decline.

3. Your friends want you to go out with them, but you want to stay home: There is no law that says you must go out. While you do need to spend time with friends, if a club or bar is not somewhere you want to be, don’t go. If your friends consistently want to go places you can’t afford, tell them. Present them with an alternative activity that is more budget-friendly. They should be 100 percent willing to accommodate. If not, find new friends.

4. Over-scheduling and making more commitments than you reasonably have time for. If you’ve ever double-booked yourself, promised you’d be somewhere and knew you couldn’t make it, or couldn’t keep to a commitment because of all of your other commitments, you should have said no.

Keep in mind that your honesty is valued far more than your overcommitted schedule and unenthused attitude.

Now, all this no talk is not meant to devalue saying yes. I think saying yes is a wonderful thing. We need to push ourselves out of our comfort zones to grow, and new experiences are the way to do that. But saying yes to everything that comes your way will put you in the fast lane to misery.

And now for the other side of the proverbial coin – when people say no to you.

The first thing to cover here is that people have the right to tell you no and you need to respect their decision. Sometimes a gentle coaxing can be a good thing, but you need to learn to read the situation. If your friend is obviously uncomfortable, respect the boundary and back off.

Secondly, stop asking for reasons why someone says no to you. They don’t need to divulge the minute details of their schedule just for you to pick it apart and find a way to fit yourself and your agenda into their life. If someone tells you no, assume it’s for the best, respect their decision, and move on with no hard feelings.

Third, don’t take the no personally. Chances are it’s not you, it’s them – really. Hearing someone say no to you does sting a little, but if their heart isn’t in it, it’s not going to work out anyway.

Here’s how you’re going to get comfortable with saying no:

It’s really okay if you aren’t comfortable saying no just yet. It takes time to learn how to assert yourself without feeling rude or as if you are letting someone down.

1) Tell yourself no: Seriously, go look in the mirror and practice saying the word no. Tack on a “thanks, but no thanks” to be polite. Let the word roll off your tongue and accept it as part of your everyday vocabulary.

2) Don’t offer excuses or reasons for saying no: A pitfall if there ever was one is undermining yourself. You don’t need to explain that after a 60 hour work week, you just want to spend the weekend with your Netflix account. You also don’t need to explain that after a 20 hour work week, you just want to spend time with your Netflix account. There is no shame here.

However, there are times when a no will need to be followed up with a reason. In these cases, be honest and leave no room for interpretation. Say you were offered to lead a project, that despite your boss’ confidence, you know you aren’t ready for. Explain why to your boss and figure out a solution where you can build your skills so that the next time this happens, you’ll be able to take the project on.

In the case of a well-intentioned friend, instead of letting them change your mind, set an alternative date. You aren’t feeling up to this weekend, but next Saturday you’d love to have dinner and drinks. They can take it or leave it, but you’re going to be going home tonight.

3) Accept that you are a priority in your life: Saying no to situations that threaten your mental, physical, or financial health is not something you should ever feel guilty for. The night might be fun, but tomorrow your hangover and over-drafted bank account won’t be.

Do what’s best for you, even if that means you have to say no. Respect yourself and other enough to say no when you need to, and learn to accept a no when it comes your way.

About the Author

Nicole Booz

Nicole Booz is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of GenTwenty, GenThirty, and The Capsule Collab. She has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and is the author of The Kidult Handbook (Simon & Schuster May 2018). She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two sons. When she’s not reading or writing, she’s probably hiking, eating brunch, or planning her next great adventure.