Saying no is vital to your health & well-being. Learn to do it gracefully.
August 2013  Issue #36

Today's Topic:   Why it’s OK to say NO & 3 tips for doing it gracefully

Dear friends,

Life is so full of opportunities and demands!  Unless I am very clear about my priorities and their order of importance, I can find it very difficult to say “no”.  Like many of you, I like to give people what they want and need – sometimes at my own expense.  So I am learning to cultivate the courage and clarity to decline.
Read on for some thoughts on why it’s important to be able to say no – and how to do so with caring and grace.  If saying no comes easily for you -- but you've been accused of being too brusque -- then the tips on how to do it with sensitivity may come in handy.
Hope you’re having a wonderful summer,

Something to think about

You can say no to a request and still take care of the other person.
                     -- Matthew Budd & Larry Rothstein

Saying no is hard to do
Saying no to the requests of others is something that many of us struggle with.  However it is a critical skill in setting effective boundaries and avoiding the trap of over-committing.   
Our difficulty with saying no can be a great source of inner conflict and stress:

  • How do I tell my mother-in-law that I can’t drop everything and talk to her every time she calls?
  • How do I tell someone after a first date that I don’t want to go out with them again?
  • How do I tell my friend that I can’t take care of her daughter for her when I know she really needs the break?
  • How do I say no to a request to volunteer, especially when it’s for such a good cause?

Even when we know we need to say no we are stopped in our tracks by thoughts like:  

  • I can’t let my friend down.
  • She’ll think I don’t care.
  • I don’t want to hurt his feelings.
  • I should be able to do it all.
  • He might get angry with me if I refuse.
  • If I don’t help her, who will?

 As caring people with busy lives, it can be challenging to decline the many requests that come our way.  However, here are 3 reasons why being able to say no is so important: 
1)      You have limits and that’s OK.
We can’t be all things to all people.  If you find yourself compulsively seeking to please others, at your own expense, then you may want to examine your motivation.  Are you trying to prove your worthiness?  Earn someone’s love or admiration?  Are you trying to live up to an image of someone who is selfless and has no needs? 
If you see your own worth as solely a function of what you DO, then you can never do enough.  I believe each person’s worth is inherent. While I may like to help others, I am not less worthy if I make my own health a priority.  It’s OK to be a mortal, human being with limits.
2)      You are not the only resource that others have.
We often fall into thinking that we are indispensable, however often this is not the case.  Most requests will get filled by someone else, if we decline. Maybe even someone who will really enjoy doing it!
Sometimes we do a disservice to the one making the request, when we assume that they aren’t creative enough to come up with another alternative to our help. And no one appreciates being given help by someone who resents them for it!
3)      Your health and well-being are at stake.
Saying yes when you really don’t want to can erode your self-trust and self-respect. Being unable to say no results in feeling powerless and out of control in relation to others’ demands.  This leads to STRESS.  Stress leads to health issues.
Many people who fail to say no are not taking full responsibility for their own wellness.  And when they burn out because they over-did for others, they are likely to feel resentful or expect sympathy or pay-back.  This system may earn you martyr points.  But it won’t lead to health and self-responsibility.
Saying no to the request and yes to the relationship

If you’re a caring person who has trouble saying “no”, here are three tips that may help:
1)  Express your caring and reaffirm your commitment.
It may help to distinguish between your CARING for the other person and your ability to DO what they’ve asked. Declining a request does not negate your caring.  In some cases, you may remain very committed to your relationship with the person, yet be unable to do what they’ve asked.  Let them know that you care about them, even if you can’t help them this time.

  • “I would love to help you with that, however I simply can’t add another thing to my plate this week. I value our friendship and I hope I can help another time.”
  • "I really love to help you out when I can, however it doesn’t work this time.  All the best with finding someone else."

Or in the case of a first date, when no future relationship is planned, you can still show kindness:

  • “Thanks for taking the time to meet with me tonight, however I don’t think I want to get together again.  I wish you all the best in finding the partner you’re looking for.”

2)      Give what you can.

Perhaps there is a part of their request that you can do.  Or you can counter-offer some other form of assistance that feels good to you.

  • “I’m sorry that I can’t volunteer at your fund-raising event, however perhaps I can let my friends know about it.
  • “I can’t take your daughter today, however maybe she could come another time.”

3)      Reassure them that you are open to future requests, assuming you are.

  • “I’m sorry I can’t help this time, however please feel free to ask another time.”

It’s not always simple
Always consider the CONTEXT of a relationship when making a response.  For example, declining a request from a boss has very different consequences than declining a request from a sales person -- which differs again from declining a request from your best friend.  One size does NOT fit all relationships.  These guidelines are general and need to be tailored to suit each relationship situation you face.
Have compassion for yourself and others
Until we know someone very well, it can feel vulnerable to ASK for help -- and also vulnerable to DECLINE a request for help.  There are many complexities at play when it comes to people’s expectations in their relationships.
So whichever side of the coin we find ourselves on, reassurance and compassion can go a long way towards building respectful and caring relationships -- where we all have the freedom to request and decline, while still honouring the relationship.
Invitation to action:

Next time you are asked to do something, don’t give a knee-jerk yes.  Take some time to consider whether or not it really works for you.  Tell the person you’ll get back to them with a response.  Then give yourself permission to choose honestly.  If it’s a no, then communicate your answer with an expression of caring.

Shirley's Update:

During a recent trip to Ontario, I helped my parents celebrate their 69th anniversary -- you can imagine how tickled I was by that!  They continue to inspire me!  For those of you who are interested in some positive reflections about aging check out the TED talk called Older People Are Happier by Laura Carstenses, the Director of the Stanford Center on Longevity.

Shirley Vollett BSW PCC is a Life and Relationship Coach, with over 20 years of combined experience in counselling and coaching. She delights in helping pro-active individuals make positive changes in their lives, their work/business and their relationships. Her clients appreciate her ability to listen deeply, her compassionate wisdom and her support in staying focused. Contact Shirley for a complimentary intro phone session. If you are experiencing a challenge or are eager to make some changes, explore how coaching works and how she can help. Click on a link below or visit her website at
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