I know this sounds like a super exaggeration. How can everything change just by mastering the art of saying no? After all, it’s just a word. Can it have such a profound effect on our lives? Yes and here’s how.
No is a powerful word. It’s almost more powerful than yes in most circumstances. No is also an honest word usually. It helps us be concise and direct.
No prevents unrealistic expectations. It prevents relying on a resource which may not be reliable. It is introspective and deep in its application. It helps us face the reality quicker.
But then why do we have so much trouble saying it? I believe the answer is simple. We find it rude to say no. We find it rude to be straightforward or forthright. We find it easier to lie and say yes. We find yes a more graceful word with more societal acceptance.
And I was of the same mind as most people. I had an inner distaste for this word. I found it to be rude and frankly, demeaning. I would beat about this word if ever I had to really say it and would end up agreeing and saying yes against my better judgement.
But did this attitude help me?
Not really. What this attitude did was get me into more trouble than an initial no would’ve. This attitude made my relationships tense and it also made people expect things from me that were very tough for me to deliver.
So one of two things happened when I said yes against my resources and judgement. I either failed to deliver what I had promised or I delivered what I had promised at the expense of my mental peace, money and sometimes my respect.
Yes isn’t a universal word for politeness. If we practice it enough then a legitimate “no” can also come across as polite and respectful. I have seen people respecting me for being forthright about how much I can do. This honesty helps them make arrangements for themselves if they have to and gives them an idea of how reliable I can be. I find that a well-used no also makes people know us as an honest person.
And why should we say yes under all circumstances? Short of any emergencies, we don’t owe anyone a yes under all circumstances. We all have our limitations and sometimes we can and sometimes we can’t work beyond them. There is no shame in saying that something is beyond our power.
Women are especially expected to say yes in all relationships. Particularly in-laws relationships. We generally aren’t considered important enough to make decisions collaboratively with our husbands when it comes to his family. And yet, we are required to ask his permission about things pertinent to our own family.
So two things that I’ve consciously worked on in order to have a good communication channel with my husband about what we can and can’t do for our respective families.
1. I don’t commit to anything on the spot. I ask for time to think about it. Being a working woman, I don’t have a lot of time for helping people with minor projects (like I said emergencies and major issues are a separate case by case issue) and grievances. After I’ve had time to think about it I go back to him and give my yay or nay. It’s usually a yay but taking that time to think not only gives me autonomy, it also helps my husband never forget that I’m an equal partner and things need to be run by me.
2. I don’t say yes or no without consulting with my husband. I always ask for time to think and talk to my husband if someone needs our home, money or time. Or if someone needs our car. I never say yes even when I know that my husband won’t have an issue with it. This keeps the situation open for him. He can make an independent decision and therefore becomes part of the decision-making process.
The art of saying no comes naturally to many people and is an exercise for some. But knowing how to say no politely without feeling guilty about it is how we can have lasting relationships. This also protects us from burnout.