Learn how to say 'no' gracefully in any situation
How to politely decline time commitments without the guilt.
Mon, Dec 20 2010 at 2:48 PM
Illustration: Jessie Ford/Woman's Day
No. It's one of the shortest words in the English vocabulary, but it's also one of the most difficult for many of us to say.
We all know that setting limits will lower our stress level and save our sanity, but sometimes we are caught off guard by people who simply won't take no for an answer. Read on to learn how to put your foot down with these master manipulators.
Whether it's the friend who tells you how smart you are and how much she'd appreciate your help on a volunteer project she's working on, or the school mom who insists that the students will be so disappointed if you don't make your special cupcakes for the class holiday party, the flatterer plays to your vanity by making you feel indispensable.
• Reality check: If you want to help out because it gives you pleasure, fine, but no one is irreplaceable. "If it's not brain surgery, others can do it — maybe not with your pizzazz, but it will get done and the cosmos will not explode in the process," says Susan Newman, PhD, author of "The Book of No: 250 Ways to Say It—and Mean It and Stop People-Pleasing Forever."
• Your response: Turn the tables — flattery goes both ways. Instead of giving in, put the ball in the flatterer's court. Say something like, "You're such a fabulous baker — I could give you the recipe! Why don't you try your hand at it; I'm sure the kids would love it."
Your mother insists that you never call — never meaning your three calls a week aren't enough. Or your friend sighs that you seem to have time for everyone but her — and does it while the two of you are together having lunch.
• Reality check: Step back and get perspective. If it were a perfect stranger in your position, what would you think? If your grown kids behaved this way toward you, how would you feel? Ask a friend for some insight. If it seems like a bigger minefield than you know how to handle, consider talking to a psychotherapist to help you sort it out. (Find one at locator.apa.org.)
• Your response: "You can't do enough for some people, so don't try," says Dr. Newman. Arguing is futile — you'll never win — so just calmly tell the other person how it's going to be. "Mom, I'd rather we didn't have this same argument over and over. If we can't talk about something else, let's hang up and call back when we can." Or tell your "neglected" friend, "I'm sorry you feel this way, but I try to see you as much as I can."
You're committed to losing those excess pounds, but every time you go out with a certain friend, she tries to get you to order dessert. "Just this one time can't hurt!" she says. "But you can't come and not have the chocolate cake!" The saboteur tries to validate her choices by making you behave as she does.
• Reality check: Be a leader, not a follower, and think about how angry you'll be when the number on the scale climbs after all that hard work. "Saying no is not about selfishness but about self-respect. You're standing up for what is right for you," says William Ury, PhD, cofounder of Harvard University's Program on Negotiation and author of "The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No & Still Get to Yes."
• Your response: Stand firm, and then redirect the conversation. You don't need a lot of excuses or explanations. "No, thank you. Tea is just fine for me. Are you going to watch 'American Idol' this season? I wonder how the new hosts will be."
Every time your coworker receives a difficult assignment, she starts in on how unfair it all is, that she's the one who always gets the hard stuff. She keeps going until you finally offer to help just to make her stop complaining.
• Reality check: Even if she has a point — your boss does give her more difficult work — this has nothing to do with you. It's between her and the boss, and it's up to her to deal with it.
• Your response: Cut her off at the pass before she really gets rolling. "You know, you may have a point. This does seem to be a pattern. Why don't you set up a meeting with the department head to see if you can sort this out?"
Bullying among grownups is more common than you may think. A 2007 study of nearly 8,000 working adults conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute found that 37 percent of workers had been bullied. Adult bullying can take many forms, but the bully always uses his anger and intimidating demeanor to get you to do more than you want.
• Reality check: No matter what you have done or not done, no one deserves to be treated disrespectfully or in a threatening manner.
• Your response: A bully wants to get under your skin, so don't let him see you sweat. Don't respond in anger (he feeds on negative emotions) and don't allow yourself to be browbeaten into doing something you don't want to do. "A calm, quiet, firm, neutral voice is more powerful than a loud no. It conveys more self-control and strength," says Dr. Ury. "Speak assertively and be very clear about what you want to happen. Say, 'I don't appreciate being treated this way. Come back when you calm down,' or 'I think I've made myself clear — I won't discuss it anymore.'"
This article is reprinted with permission from WomansDay.com.
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