Posted by: Dr. Jennifer Fee | November 27, 2010

Saying “No” Doesn’t Make You Mean

Thanks to my kids, I saw this brand new episode of SpongeBob today.  Basically, SpongeBob can’t say “no” to anyone, so his pet Gary orders him an “Abrasive Side” to solve his problem. The Abrasive Side has no trouble saying no to all of the people who constantly ask SpongeBob for things, but he is always mean about it.

Here’s a clip from this brand new episode that aired today!
Vodpod videos no longer available.


SpongeBob’s “Abrasive Side,” certainly can say “No,” but he’s also mean, nasty and rude!  Sadly, this is exactly the image that a lot of people have when they picture themselves saying “no” –they picture themselves as being mean and hurtful!  If you tend to say “yes” to nearly everyone who makes a request of you, then you might just feel like the abrasive side of SpongeBob if you start to say “no.”

However, the truth of the matter is that we have to be able to say “no” at times.  The inability to do so has lots of potential negative consequences for our lives.  It may mean over-committing yourself, agreeing to do things that you don’t feel comfortable with doing, or even breaking promises to others.  All of these consequences trigger stress and anxiety.

So how can you learn how to say “no?”  Here’s three things to remember as you start:

1.  Know the difference between “hurt” and “harm”

One reason some people have trouble saying “no” is that they don’t want to hurt other people.  You can’t avoid hurting other people at times, and just because they get hurt, it doesn’t mean that you were indeed mean or that you were harmful to them.  Here’s some examples:

You say no to your child who asks for candy before dinner.  Your child cries and feels hurt because he doesn’t get what he wants. However, if you give in, your child may not eat dinner (which harms him/her).  If your child eats too much candy (because you never say no), they may suffer from cavities and may not get proper nutrition (which harms him/her). 

Does that example seem too obvious to you?  O.K., here’s another one:

You volunteer at your school’s PTA.  The President (who is your friend) asks you to head up a certain fundraiser.  You are already involved with some projects, you have a job, a spouse, and kids to take care of.   You are afraid that if you say “no,” your friend will be hurt and angry at you.  While this may be true, what are the consequences of saying “yes?”   Will you be able to continue to do a good job on your other projects and at your job? Will you end up breaking promises to your spouse or children?  Saying “No” will not harm the PTA President, he/she will find someone else to do the job!  But saying “Yes” might hurt your spouse, your kids, or cause you to not be able to fulfill your other commitments.

2. You can say “no” in an empathic manner:

None of us likes to be told “no,” because it means we are not getting what we want!  However, if someone understands our feelings, it’s a lot easier to hear “no.”  I have a friend who is so empathic that even when she says “no,” people feel good about it–because she is so kind and gentle that it hardly hurts at all. You too can acknowledge the feelings of the person making a request of you can still say no.  Here are some examples:

“It must be frustrating for you that I cannot pick you up from the airport tomorrow.”

“That’s a great idea and I think you’ll have a lot of success with it.  I am sorry that I cannot help you out.”

“I see that you are putting a lot of effort into this project. I just cannot participate at this time.”

Empathy helps people to feel “heard,” and can help them to accept your “no.” However, if you empathize with people’s feelings, you need to be prepared to allow them to have their feelings.  It needs to be O.K. that your friend is frustrated that they do not have a ride from the airport.  They will work through their frustration.  However, if picking them up means that you will be late for work and put your job into jeopardy, you may not so easily find another job!

3. You do not always need to give a reason for saying “no”.

Some people believe that they need to explain a justifiable reason for saying “no.”   At times, it’s fine to explain. However, there are people who will not take your “no” seriously or respect your right to say “no.”  These people will pick apart any reason that you have for turning them down.  Here’s an example:  I have a married male friend who sometimes walks home from work.  A co-worker, who appears to be interested in him, will offer him a ride home if she knows that he is walking.  My friend tried very hard to come up with the perfect reason to give her for saying, “no.”  However, any reason he gave, I could think of a way that this woman could counter it (and difficult people will)!  The best thing is for him to say,  “I appreciate your offer, but I am going to walk.”  If she asks again or gives him a reason he should take her offer, he should just repeat himself!

Learning to say “no” is difficult for people who tend to say “yes” to everyone.  However, being able to say “no” is essential for being able to manage your life. Start with small things, be patient, and do not give up!

Thanks for reading!  –Dr. Jennifer Fee

SpongeBob The Abrasive Side, posted with vodpod




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