I had recently a very new experience. In June 2021 I put together a group of volunteers in the Neighbourhood Mothers project whose responsibility was to design and coordinate Neighbourhood Mothers’ campaign to stop violence against women later the same year. Group had originally consisted of 9 members but after the enthusiastic beginnings, we ended with 4 who actually did the job. This was not the problem, because in a way, with any task, it’s often like that. What I missed the most was simple: “No, sorry, I can’t continue with this project.”
There are many reasons why saying no is so difficult. Especially for women. Most of us were taught to be nice, polite, don’t get into conflict, so we have developed bad feelings after saying no. As children, we were taught to obey authorities and to do what parents or teachers wanted from us. If we acted in another way, we were at the risk of punishment. The fear of losing love and attention from the significant adults might have been very intense. And of course, every child from the bottom of the heart wants to please the loved ones. In our minds, saying no contradicts it.
We think, that saying no will be a disappointment for people, or that we can end up in conflicts. Saying no might of course hurt someone, but as we need to learn how to say no, we also have to learn how to deal with refusal. Both can be done in a way that people don’t feel bad.
If you allowed yourself to say no, you will probably have much more time (and energy) to focus on things, that are really important for you. You will be in better charge of your life and the choices you make. Saying no can bring into your life more self-confidence and actually also respect from others. Even if saying yes might be seen as something to be liked for, the opposite is true. Other people can just misuse you and lose respect towards you for although friendly, but submissive behaviour.
By saying no in situations, that are uncomfortable or pressuring or simply because of the lack of time, you actually prioritize yourself and not others. And you are the most important one. Take good care of yourself. Saying occasionally no is good for your mental health.
And there is another dimension of saying no. Coming back to the beginning of my post, people also deserve to know if they can count and rely on you. It feels very bad if emails, messages or calls are being ignored. Believe me, no communication is the worst! Saying no, when you already know, that you can’t participate is the minimum you can do. So please, everyone, let’s learn how to say no in the new year 🙂
There are different ways how to do it and cause the minimum of harm. Like: “Thank you for thinking about me, but I can’t.”, or “Unfortunately, it is bad timing for me.”, or “This is super interesting for me, but I can work on it in 3 months from now…”
PS: Just for the record, is also absolutely OK, just say simple NO and not explain anything. Everything depends on the situation and how other people treat you.