I had this teacher while I was studying abroad in Japan who had a particular way of saying no. When one of us would present a crazy request for how we could spend our afternoon out of the classroom, she would cock her head to the side as if she was considering the idea. Without fail she would then say, “I think… I think… Maybe… No.”

We were a bunch of bratty 16-year-olds wanting to get out and explore. But she was the teacher and needed to keep us in line. At the same time, she didn’t want to upset us by saying no.

As women, I think it is almost hard wired into us to want to please others. We end up saying yes to the point where something has to give. And that is usually us or our relationships. But how do you go about saying no?

Don’t say yes when you really mean no

This is just asking for a world of pain and unmet expectations. If you really don’t want to or can’t do something, don’t say yes because you feel bad or guilty. Easier said than done when you have a neighbour standing on your front door step asking for a favour! Start practicing with small requests and gradually build up your comfort. I’m not saying you have to say no to everything, but know your boundaries and have respect for your time and services. Sometimes the only answer you can give is yes and sometimes you want to help so go for it. Just don’t say yes when you really mean no.

Saying no to say yes

Every time you say yes to something someone asks of you, what are you also saying no to at the same time? A lazy morning at home with the kids? A quiet Saturday night in? The chance to catch up on your to do list? So, while we can’t always say no to things that are asked of us, consider this. What more important/fun/exciting thing can you say yes to if you say no to what you have just been asked? Actually thinking about what it is you are sacrificing can be the impetus you need to say no.

Take time to consider

Often being put on the spot when asked something makes it very hard for us to say no. The pressure of the question or having the person asking it right there is unavoidable. But if the request isn’t urgent, tell the other person that you will need to check your diary/ask your partner before you can give them an answer. This gives you the few minutes you might need to formulate a response and if required, say no. Otherwise you might jump straight to yes and end up regretting the decision and letting the person, or someone else, down.

What are the alternatives?

How many times have you found yourself in the position of being in the wrong place at the wrong time doing something you really don’t have the time or desire to do? People will often reach out for help when they are desperate and can’t see the alternatives. Or perhaps you are an easy option to approach because, well, you always say yes. Sound familiar? If you don’t want to say a flat out “NO”, another way to go about it is to provide alternatives. This could be that you can help on another day or time. Or maybe you can suggest someone else you know is available to help. Putting some boundaries around your time by showing how much you value and protect it, makes you less of a target.

Ask for help

If you are the type that finds it difficult to say no, then I am going to take a stab and guess that you are also the type that finds it difficult to ask for help. Asking for help doesn’t mean that you are weak or incapable. It means that you are human and busy. You don’t do yourself any favours by giving off the impression of being superwoman. Ask for help when you need it so that others can see just how full your plate is. It might not help you say no, but it might prevent people asking you for favours in the first place.

Saying no to your kids

Am I the only one who seems to say no to their kids more than anyone else? You can’t say yes to everything they ask right? The art of saying no (or yes) to your kids is completely different to saying no to a colleague, friend or other family member. And I actually don’t think this one is an easy one to tackle. If you say yes to everything your kids ask, you will never ever get anything done. But if you say no to everything then you probably aren’t going to have very much fun with your kids.

Why don’t you give this a try. For a whole day, keep a record of every time you say no to your kids and what they asked. Go back through all your no’s and see if there are any patterns. If you aren’t the tracking type, simply stop every time your kids ask you something and then ask yourself the question, what am I sacrificing by saying no? Are you giving up five minutes in the backyard running around with the kids? What if by spending that five minutes, you then get the thirty minutes you need to do the vacuuming or get some work done? Have a look at what you are saying no to and why. You might be surprised at what comes up.

Is saying no something you struggle with? What are your tips for making it easier?

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