The power of saying no - taking ownership and control

We live in highly demanding times, where much is asked of us. We can often find ourselves being pressured into decisions, actions and thoughts, without enough time to truly consider our options or feelings. These wide ranging demands and pressures to say yes can come from a variety of different sources, such as work, family, partners or societal pressures.

So, what if we could say no more often? What would our world be like if we were able to feel less pressured into saying yes, or giving an answer when we did not want to? This article aims to look at why it is so difficult to say no and why we say yes when we don’t want to. It also aims to look at how to tactfully and purposefully say no, different ways of saying no and the benefits brought about by saying no.

Why is saying no so difficult?

Within the moment when we are asked to do something that we may not feel comfortable doing, the present situation is exaggerated in our thoughts, and the discomfort of saying no is momentarily too difficult to refuse. So, we save ourselves momentary discomfort, and say yes, even though in the long run, saying no would be preferable and less difficult.

We might think that we are OK with saying no in principle, but in the moment when we are face to face with the challenge of turning someone down, it can be an experience that is awkward, embarrassing and filled with guilt and worry. The power to always say yes is subtly overpowering, and often we may not realise this, which makes us more likely to say yes to people when really we do not feel comfortable doing so.

Why we say yes even when we don’t want to

Saying no is a powerful thing to do, and can give us back more control over our own decisions and actions, however it is not as simple as simply telling yourself that you will “say no more often”. So, why do we find it so difficult to say no? Below are some ideas on why this can be so difficult.

  • We wish to stay connected to people.
  • We find it hard to reject others.
  • We do not wish people to think poorly of us for declining their requests.
  • We strive to make a good impression on others.
  • We feel that saying yes is the right thing to do.
  • We do not know firmly believe in our own needs and requirements.

The benefits of saying no

Below are some of the benefits of saying no:

  • Saying no - Gives you time to consider what you actually want.
  • Saying no - Allows you to experience different opportunities.
  • Saying no - Protects you from over committing.
  • Saying no - Permits you to control your own time and schedule.
  • Saying no - Develops healthy boundaries and relationships.
  • Saying no - Facilitates your self growth.
  • Saying no - Assists you in eliminating commitments you do not wish to undertake.
  • Saying no - Allows you to follow your true feelings.

How to tactfully and purposefully say no

So, how can find a way to say no, which not only allows you to regain control, but also allows you to maintain relationships with others. Below are some ways to assist with saying no both tactfully and purposefully.

  • Give a simple and straightforward answer.
  • Sympathetically and firmly say “I’m sorry, but I can’t do this right now”.
  • Respond with “How about some other time?”.
  • If pressured further, explain that “I’m sorry, but that doesn’t fit within my schedule right now”.
  • Remember that you are under no obligation to explain your self even under pressure from someone.
  • If you feel comfortable explaining, then make your explanation as simple as possible.
  • Tell the person requesting something from you that you have made up your mind and you won’t be changing it.
  • Remember that it is your time being requested, and that you have every right to say no if you so choose.

Different ways of saying no

Unassertively - “I’m afraid I can’t help you with your presentation because my aunt is staying with me. I am so sorry I can’t help you”.

  • This answer lacks any real confidence.
  • Often apologising for your inability to help.
  • This is accompanied by weak excuses and rationalisations.
  • You support your answer with reasons to convince the person you mean it.
  • Sometimes you may make up a reason to support your answer.
  • This answer can sound ineffective as you need reasons behind your answer.

Aggressively - “Help you with your presentation? I’ve got more important things do than work on something as silly as that”.

  • This can come across with contempt.
  • This answer can sometimes include an attack on the person asking.
  • It could lead to arguments or further discourse.
  • Responding in this way can make you seem irrational or lacking in control.

Assertively - “I’m afraid I can’t help you with your presentation, as it does not fit within my schedule”.

  • This is simple and direct.
  • It keeps you free to pursue your existing schedule.
  • Spares other peoples feelings.
  • Allows you to offer an explanation if you wish.

Moving forward

You may manage to say no to others straight away, and may find yourself struggling. However, over time this will change, and given practice, your personal boundaries, and what you are able to give will become more managed. It is inevitable we will make mistakes and it is likely our boundaries will sometimes shift, but any mistakes we make are an opportunity to learn, grow and develop.

The process of saying yes when we wish to say no, is about how we manage and maintain how other people see us, and the impressions they have of us. Taking control of your ability to say no, will allow you to better understand yourself, and increase your understanding of your own worth, your own time and how much you feel you can give to others.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London N6 & NW5
Written by Joshua Miles, BA, MSc, BPC, BACP Accredited Psychodynamic Psychotherapist
London N6 & NW5

Joshua is an experienced Bereavement Counsellor Therapist with particular expertise working with sudden or abrupt loss. He has helped many people work through the pain of their loss. Joshua also has experience of working with a wide range of issues such as loneliness, isolation, depression, relationship difficulties and anxiety.

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