Every unassertive person wishes they could say no, or at least say no without feeling overwhelmed with guilt, anger, fear.
For such a short word, it has a lot of power over us.
It’s really hard to say no for a lot of reasons – reasons that unassertive people believe are true usually with very little evidence. Here are a few we’ve heard over the years.
I won’t be liked. If people rely on you for all sorts of things, saying no might put their noses out of joint, they might become resentful and they won’t like you anymore. There is probably a small likelihood of that happening, but the reality is that saying no may pose an inconvenience to someone but it is unlikely to cause a breach of a friendship unless that friendship was based on pretty dodgy ground in the first place.
I could lose my job. Obviously, saying no too often could indeed put you in a precarious position at work. Then you’d get a reputation for being difficult, uncooperative and bolshie. However, the chances of being sacked because you can’t always do everything other people want when they want you to is highly unlikely.
People expect me to say yes. Of course they do! People are used to you saying yes so if you say no it will probably come as a bit of a surprise. Every time you say yes the picture gets reinforced that you are always available, always at others’ beck and call, always accommodating. No need to look elsewhere if you’re the compliant one. Take it form me and my own personal experience, if you say no a couple of times, people will find someone else to take up the slack.
I’ll feel guilty. Guilt is a complete and total waste of time. It does nothing, changes nothing and you go around weighed down by it. Isn’t it interesting that you might feel guilty for putting yourself first for a change? What also happens is that unassertive people often yearn for someone to let them off the hook by saying, “Don’t worry, it’s fine, I’ll get someone else to help out this time.” When that doesn’t happen, the guilt gets even bigger and resentment can creep in.
'They' might get angry. Yup, they might. 'They' might also give you a hard time, try to play on your guilt, try to bully you, etc. Or they might not. They might simply accept your no. The point is that the fear of how other people might react is what keeps many people from saying no.
Most unassertive people have a hard time saying no because it's most likely when they were a lot younger saying no might have been a humiliating experience, or they did get yelled at or bullied or made to feel inadequate or ungenerous.
Most people only need a few humiliating or belittling experiences to begin to alter their natural behaviour to become more compliant; they take on the message that it's not ok to say no, so they learn not to.
We at Impact Factory have created a gentle and supportive one or two day Assertiveness programme to help you learn how to say no without causing offence, upset in others or additional guilt in you.
The Art of Saying No is just a click away.
By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory