The Art of Saying No

Scroll social media for any length of time and you’ll likely see someone’s massive pile of bags awaiting pickup or drop off to a donation center because they’ve uncovered the “secret” to getting organized by Marie Kondo. Her series on Tidying Up lit a fire under a half-dozen of my friends to clean out their closets, their kitchen cabinets, their kids toys, and the ultimate space for every-thing-else, their garage. Admittedly, I’m a bit obsessive about organization. Just driving by The Container Store will send my heart aflutter! Maybe it’s because I’ve done alot of packing and moving in my life, or maybe I just don’t like clutter either way, I looooooove me some organization tips, tricks, and tools. Marie Kondo has a good approach and I’ve used a similar tactic: it either brings you joy or it doesn’t. In essence, let go of shit that no longer serve you. Then, drive to The Container Store and find a ridiculously cute storage solution for all the things you love. Warning: this can be hard on your wallet.

I digress…

If we apply Erika’s Well-Practiced-Method-For-Decluttering-Pretty-Much-Everything-Then-Go-To-The-Container-Store technique we ask a few simple questions:
  • Does it make me happy?
  • Does it fill my cup? (and no I don’t mean in a way like Vodka fills your cup)
  • Does it align with my priorities?
  • Does it give me joy?
  • Does it bring me value?

If so, it’s a HELL YES!

BUT, if it steals your focus, your vision, your goals, your priorities, your happiness, your time, or your money, it’s a HELL NO.

Cleaning out your closet could be a metaphor for lots of things:
    • Leaving an abusive relationship
    • Getting a new job where you feel more valued and appreciated for your talents
    • Removing an emotionally draining friend from your circle
    • Not accepting the leadership nomination for a non-profit organization
    • Declining an invite to the family reunion
    • And, it could actually be you cleaning out your closet!
As a recovering people-pleaser I can appreciate that this is a tall order. And yes, it is extremely uncomfortable at first. But you need to say it and you need to say it OFTEN.
Here are some things to prepare for:
Yes, there will be people who get upset when you say No.
Yes, there are people who have no freaking idea how much of a drain they are on your energy.
Yes, there will be people who – no matter how hard you try – are never going to “approve” of your decision.
Yes, they will ask you over and over.
That’s okay. Why? Because YOU don’t need their permission.
  • You don’t need their permission to to get a manicure instead of go to brunch with your friends because you just need some time for yourself.
  • You don’t need their permission to kindly decline an offer to join an organization that you know will eat into your already limited time with the kids at home.
  • You don’t need their permission to not donate to every single charity cause under the sun.
  • You don’t need their permission to buy store-bought cupcakes for the class birthday party because you’re a working mom (or dad) and would rather spend those hours playing with your kids (or your partner!) than in the kitchen baking cupcakes that will probably be a Pintrest fail anyway.
You don’t need permission to honor YOUR goals, YOUR dreams, YOUR visions, YOUR intentions, YOUR decisions, or YOUR calendar.
I wish there was a simple three-step program to help you master this task and skillfully execute it each time a situation arises. Or a worksheet for “How To Make Sure Everyone Still Likes You When You Tell Them No” (that would be cool though, right) however, since I don’t know your priorities, your family, your goals or your dreams so you’ll have to determine what works best for you but there are some things to know and avoid.

Top 4 Mistakes People Make When Saying No

Mistake #1: Feeling like you need to provide an answer on-the-spot.

Request: “Umm yeah, hi Julie, I was wondering if you’d be a doll and take the entire kindergarten class on a field trip to the zoo on Friday morning. I know you work outside the home but figured you could just ask for the time off. Right?”

This is not only a request of your precious time, it’s time-sensitive, it could also be an issue for your work schedule… not to mention your sanity. While you can’t be prepared for every single request that comes your way, you can ask for time before you give a response.

Response: “I’m not sure Susan, let me check with my husband/wife/boss/schedule first and I’ll get back to you.”

Don’t use this as a delay tactic, use it to take a minute to assess your priorities, decide if it serves you, and offer a kind response.

Reply: “Thank you so much for thinking of me for this field trip, Susan. Unfortunately I need to honor my commitment for a previously scheduled colonoscopy because I’d rather have my intestines drained than spend a half-day at the zoo with those monsters.”

OH WAIT. That was what you said in your head…

What you said to Susan was “Thank you so much for asking Susan, unfortunately I’m not able to help you this time.”

Mistake #2: Over-explaining.

In the previous example Julie could have said she was unable to join for the field trip and then offered any number of reasons why: the actual colonoscopy, a scheduling conflict at work, springtime allergies, binge watching the entire 1st season of Gray’s Anatomy, a flat tire, a hair appointment, blah blah blah, you get the point. Over-explaining says: I don’t really want to do what you’re asking so I’m trying to find proof of why I can’t. Why not keep the focus on the issue rather than trying to justify your decision about why you are unable to accommodate a request and say “I’m really getting clear on my priorities and I’m cutting back on any extra activities so I need to say no. Thank you for your understanding.” Then, say nothing. Be kind, but offer nothing more. Pro Tip: the look on the other person’s face will be priceless, just wait for it.

Mistake #3: Trying to get someones approval.

Saying No means that somebody, somewhere, sometime is going to be pissed. You’re going to disappoint someone. Just accept that now. But know this: THAT’S NOT ON YOU. If you politely decline a request and the other person appears to be in complete disbelief and even questions you, that’s their shit, not yours. Give them the gift of allowing for disappointment in their life. Give yourself the gift of having preferences. You either please them or you please yourself – one is ultimately more important than the other. The good news is the scales will eventually tip and you’ll love the feeling of space and the experience of empowerment MORE THAN you need the feeling of approval.

Mistake #4: Feeling guilty

Remember that episode of Friends where Ross’ new girlfriend asks him “where the relationship is going.” Ross admitted to his friends that he didn’t want the relationship to go anywhere and instead of stating this to his girlfriend he gives her keys to his apartment AND THEN tells her he loves her (like an idiot). When you say No there will likely be some guilt and most people cave in as soon as the feeling of discomfort floods across you. Then within a matter of months, weeks, days, hours, or even minutes you’ll change your mind and opt back into the thing you didn’t want to do in the first place. Allow the guilt, and just experience it. It literally can’t hurt you and it WILL get easier after a little practice. Let’s keep this simple. Say NO to distractions and YES to yourself, your marriage, your goals and your priorities. You shouldn’t feel guilty about that.

What are areas in  your life you need help saying No?

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