If you are kind, helpful and struggle to say no, people will always expect you to say yes unless you become more assertive. When you realise you’re giving all your time and energy to things you don’t want to do, it’s a problem.
You can be lovely as long as you have a choice in it. Before any tricky situation, ask yourself, ‘Do I believe I have the right to say no?’ If you do, then put your needs first. Just remember, that doesn’t make you a horrible person.
In your hands
Saying no in the workplace can be difficult, so if someone asks you to help with something or do them a favour, step one is not to make the decision on the spot. Buy some time. Say you need to check your diary and you will get back to them. It gives you a bit of space and helps you consider whether you want to do it rather than just saying yes and being unhappy.
If you’re saying no to someone, use gracious words. Be polite. Say, ‘Thank you very much for asking’ – but you’ll have to pass this time. Stay clear, calm and confident and end on a positive note, such as, ‘Good luck with your project.’ People feel that if they say no it will disappoint others but that’s their emotion, and your responsibility is to look after yourself.
Make sure your body language matches what you’re actually saying. When saying no, many nice people will have their shoulders tensed up with a submissive posture and will be smiling. Ration your smile; it’s lovely but you need to know when to stop too. Practise saying, ‘No’ in front of a mirror in a clear, even tone and not smiling. Don’t fidget, look down or give someone the impression that you’re a pushover or that they can make you feel guilty.
A power pose
There’s some research that suggests if you stand in a ‘Wonder Woman’ pose for two minutes (legs hip-width apart, hands on hips) testosterone – the confidence hormone in your body – rises by up to 20%. So if you’ve got a difficult conversation ahead, just before it go to the loo and stand in the pose. You will feel much more confident. Another useful tool is to think of a role model who is more assertive than you and imagine what she would do or say.
Drop the guilt
It can be a bit more difficult saying no to family, as they have far more emotional holds on you and you can feel more guilt. Remember, your own needs are as important and that doesn’t make you selfish or a bad person. For instance, if your mother calls you for a conversation every evening, just say you’re really busy at work and negotiate having a good conversation twice a week instead. Make it sound like a good deal to them, and have faith that sometimes saying no will improve your relationships.
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Jacqui Marson's new book, The Curse of Lovely: how to break free from the demands of others and learn how to say no was published last month and is available via Amazon.