We all struggle with it. It’s hard. Nobody likes to do it. But, in the end, we probably don’t say “no” enough.
Saying no is one of the most difficult things humans do. It’s uncomfortable. People will get angry with us. We don’t want to disappoint others. They’ll think we aren’t a “team player.” Ultimately, we fear being abandoned and angering the tribe by saying “no” feels like a good way to get kicked out.
Humans are wired for social behavior. Our default setting is “yes.” After all, without a tribe, ancient humans would have died as individuals. Collaboration and sharing was the only path to survival. There was a lot of work to do around the cave.
Today, we have more choices than to either starve or share our wooly mammoth steak. Being a collaborative team player is, more often that not, optional.
Saying no to requests, particularly if those requests come from a friend or family member, can throw us into a tailspin of guilt. Lives have been ruined for want of a simple “no.” That’s the power of socialization.
How many brides have stood at the alter knowing in their heart of hearts that this is a terrible mistake?
“But all the people bought gifts and traveled to this event. Look at all the flowers and listen to the music. They’d be devastated.”
Fast forward TEN YEARS and she’s talking with her best friend admitting that she knew it was a mistake all along. She just didn’t want to make waves.
I receive at least 10 “asks” per week. Thankfully, they’re not marriage proposals. But the sure feel burdensome. These requests range, on a scale of invasiveness, from “will you come to my golf tournament” to “I’ve got a great business opportunity for you.” If I were to say yes to even one of these every week, I’d be broke and suffering from medial epicondylitis (golfer’s elbow) in no time.
It’s fairly easy, at this point in my life, to say no to golf tournaments and investment “opportunities.” Basically, I hate golf and I generally think all business ideas are terrible.
But what about holidays and bar mitzvahs and parties? I’m an introvert and have learned to jealously guard my personal space. Still, it’s hard to say no to a friend.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve received a wedding invitation and buried it under a pile of other papers, hoping it would just disappear. Why is it so hard to just check that “will not be attending” box. After all, the little envelope is pre-addressed and it already has a stamp on it.
Here’s the truth: it’s okay to say no.
In fact, it’s okay to say no a lot. It’s your life and you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. You’re not a child. You have agency and options.
Isn’t it great being an adult?
I’m no expert in saying “no.” I rely on the wisdom of others to guide me. This week, while preparing for our podcast about “Saying No,” I sought out advice from an expert.
Vanessa Van Edwards is an author and founder at Science of People, a blog exploring human behavior. She wrote what I believe is the perfect instruction manual for anyone who has difficulty saying “no.”
I’m going to share just one of Vanessa’s three steps because (a) it’s the most helpful for me and (b) I want you to visit her blog and experience the other two steps first hand.
Don’t Offer An Explanation
You don’t owe anyone a reason for saying “no.” This might take some practice. We feel like we need to have a reason. We don’t.
“I’m honored to have been invited, but I won’t be attending your wedding.”
It sounds like it’s missing something. It feels incomplete. It’s devoid of, of, of… an excuse.
“You mean you’re busy and can’t make it?”
“No. I just won’t be there.”
That’s the basic idea. Season to taste.