Bad habits. We all have them. Behaviours we do that we know on a conscious level don’t serve us. But on a subconscious level absolutely meet our needs. You have the obviously bad ones. The ones that have a recognised negative impact your physical or mental well-being. Habits such as smoking. Drinking that extra glass of wine (or three) every night. Relying on prescription drugs more than you should. Comfort-eating. Going on just one more shopping spree, even though you’re already in serious debt.
Then there are those that are not so obvious. Ones you are either doing without any real awareness of doing them. Or you’re aware of them, but not aware of the impact they are having on your life. And it is the ignorance, on either side, which makes them even more dangerous. Making them silent-killers.
One such habit that is slowly killing you and your career? Not being able to say “no”.
On the surface, being unable to say “no” might not seem like a big deal. However, research has shown that people who can’t say “no” experience significantly higher levels of stress and are more prone to ‘burnout’ than those who can. And it’s the chronic stress that’s the real danger. It’s the stress that will eventually kill you and your career.
The long-term damage of stress has been well-researched and the overwhelming evidence it is a killer is supported by the medical industry worldwide. Chronic diseases such as cancer, heart-disease, diabetes, asthma and Alzheimer’s are significantly higher in patients who have suffered long periods of stress. Other stress-related health conditions such as obesity, digestive issues, a weak immune system and insomnia are also higher in stressed patients. All of which could, in some way, contribute to premature death.
Stress also impacts your behaviour and mood – having a detrimental effect on your relationships. Your partner, children, friends, colleagues and boss are only experiencing a 2nd rate version of you. How long they will tolerate this is up to them. And obviously at work, this could stop your career in its tracks.
Stress also lowers your performance. Meaning you can kiss any dreams of promotion goodbye. And if you’re too busy saying “yes” to everyone else – how little time will you have to focus on your own tasks? It’s your ability to manage your tasks that will determine how successful you are. Not how you manage everyone else’s.
If the idea of saying “no” to someone fills you with dread. If you are a perpetual “yes-sayer” or people-pleaser (hint: except for the parents of young children, you’re the most exhausted person in the room) – don’t worry. Here’s how to learn to say “no” in 3 simple steps:
Step 1 – Understand Your Behaviour – the “why”?
Generally, people who are unable to say “no” are seeking to avoid the perceived pain of saying “no”. The potentially painful outcomes or reactions saying “no” might bring. They tend to focus on the question “What will happen if I say “no”?” rather than “What is the best action for all parties in this situation?”.
Potential Outcomes You’re Avoiding
1) Not being liked
You believe saying “no” might offend or upset someone. Here you are avoiding the pain of potential rejection if that person judges your behaviour harshly – and what that might lead to.
2) The negative self-talk
People who find it hard to say “no”, are quite often trying to avoid the pain of the guilt, shame and critical self-talk that follows after saying “no”.
3) A dramatic reaction
Tantrums can be exhausting and sometimes even embarrassing, particularly in front colleagues, friends or in public. Giving in and saying “OK” allows you to avoid having to deal with the painful shame of the outburst. On a much deeper level, the shame you were unable to prevent or manage the tantrum to begin with. This even applies to when nobody is watching.
4) Damage to your career / reputation at work
If we want to succeed at work, we must all be team-players right? Yes – but not when being a team-player comes at the detriment of your own work and well-being. Believing saying “no” is going to get you fired or damage your reputation is more damaging to your career than saying “no” when you need to.
5) Loss of identity as the ‘helpful’ one
Some people identify themselves as being the ‘helpful’ one. It’s their role – in life and work. They wear it like a badge of honour. At some point they learnt that being helpful got them noticed, recognized and loved. It met their needs.
Suddenly starting to say ‘no’ might result in people no longer seeing you as the helpful one. Meaning a loss of identity to you – and removal of love and attention from them. Here you are avoiding the pain of both the shame and fear that without being the “helpful one” – you won’t be ‘enough’ to be loved or noticed any more. Your identity will be gone – leaving you to face the even more painful question: “Who am I now?”
There is of course the possibility you are saying “yes” because you are expecting something in return. Respect. Recognition. Love. Friendship. Attention. Affection. Loyalty. But giving from a place of expectancy is a very dangerous place to be. You are immediately setting yourself up for disappointment, which could further add to your stress levels later on. Saying “yes” without expecting anything else in return is the only way to say “yes” without it having a negative impact. Which ultimately means you have to work on self-respect, self-recognition and self-love. So you don’t demand it of others to fill that void for you.
Step 2 – Identify the Upsides of Saying “No”
To get more comfortable with saying “no” – you have to change the meaning you give to saying “no”. If saying “no” means you’re “bad” then you will continue to say “yes”. To change your behaviour, you have to start to see how saying “no” once in a while is actually a good thing. And sometimes saying “yes” to yourself is the priority.
Some benefits of saying “no” are:
1) You allow yourself the space and time you need to recharge your batteries
When exhausted, our emotional well-being suffers. And when our emotions are all over the place – how does this affect our behaviour? When re-charged we feel better – meaning we make better decisions and take better actions. We have time to figure out what we want instead of always focusing on the needs of others. Our relationships improve. This is not only good for our self-esteem but also our productivity. Remember – a dead battery is of no use to anyone.
2) You can be your authentic self
You enforce emotional interdependency and not codependency – meaning you’re not responsible for how others feel nor governed by how they feel. This gives you the freedom to be yourself.
How others interpret what you say and do is up to them. And if they choose to feel a negative emotion because of that interpretation there’s not a huge amount you can do about it. Of course, this isn’t to say we can go around and say what we want. We still have to be respectful of other people’s boundaries. What this does mean is how we feel isn’t tied to anybody else’s emotions – giving us the space to be who are and not worry so much about how we make others feel.
3) You’re teaching important life lessons to others
a. Demonstrating self-care and setting healthy limits and boundaries shows others how to do the same.
b. Say “no” to someone (particularly those who constantly need help) and you’re actually providing them with an opportunity to learn. To learn self-reliance, independence or perhaps even a new skill (e.g. if they don’t know how to do something) – all adding to their growth and personal development. Saying “yes” means you’re constantly depriving them of a chance to be better.
c. Teaching others they won’t always get what they want in life gives them an opportunity to learn how to deal with disappointment and self-sooth in the future. Critical for a happy and successful life.
These are just some of the upsides to saying “no”. The point being, in many cases, if you don’t say “no” you are actually doing yourself and others a disservice. Saying “yes” all the time deprives you and others of some potentially wonderful opportunities to grow and experience enhanced emotional well-being. Moving into this space will help you to be comfortable with saying “no”.
4) You gain self-respect
Self-respect is fundamental for a happy and successful life. If you say “yes” all the time, you are teaching people you are a “yes man / woman”. “Yes” people are often regarded as having little self-respect. This leads them to often be taken advantage of. Self-respect is a key attribute employers look for in a leader. Start to say “no” and people will realise you’re not a pushover and can stand your ground. This is an attractive quality in and out of the office.
Step 3 – Installing New Habits
The reason you can’t say “no” right now is because you have a particular thought pattern around saying “no”. A habit of giving it a certain meaning.
Let’s take, “If I say “no” that means I am a selfish parent”.
Is that true? What if in saying “yes” you’re actually being a selfish parent? Depriving them of a great learning opportunity just so you can avoid feeling some pain? Of course, I’m playing Devil’s Advocate here. And I am in no way saying you’re a bad parent. I’m simply pointing out that you might have a belief that is not actually serving you. And the idea is to scramble the belief that saying “no” is selfish. Because until you do that, you won’t believe change is good.
What if instead you changed your habit and thought, “When I say “no”, I am being the best parent I can be. Because that will mean I will have time to re-charge my batteries, allowing me to be the best version of myself in front of my kids. Meaning they are learning how to model their behaviour and thoughts from that version of me, rather than the exhausted, stressed version of me?”.
“When I say “no”, I am giving my child an opportunity to learn how to cope with disappointment and self-sooth – giving them a skill that will set them up for life.”
Ask yourself – if I continue to always put others first – what will it cost me in the future? What will happen to my health, relationships, career, life? And then, “What else could I do that will still allow me to meet my needs but in a much healthier, more sustainable way?”
Of course we don’t want to say “no” all the time. Helping and supporting others is important in maintaining good relationships. It’s when constantly saying “yes” becomes a threat to your well-being – e.g. you’re exhausted or flat broke because you’ve lent so many people money – you need to assess your beliefs around saying “no” and start to look at ways to take better care of yourself.
So, from now on, do yourself a favour. Whenever someone asks you to do something, look at the reasons behind why you want to help them. If it’s to avoid pain, then take it as an opportunity for you to learn the art of saying “no”, and do some work on whatever is driving that pain aversion. Get into the habit of looking at your time and energy levels and assessing whether or not you really can help this person – at no risk of potentially harmful repercussions on your side. Explaining your situation and making suggestions on alternative plans, solutions or times can help soften the blow of “no” to others. The key is to make sure when you say “yes”, you are not also saying “no” to yourself. Do that and your mind, body and everyone else in your life will thank you for it.
If you would like to share your experiences or offer advice on how to say “no”, please feel free to comment below.
To find out more about how to say “no”, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.zetayarwood.com
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About the Author
Zeta Yarwood is recognised as a leading Career Coach and NLP Life Coach in Dubai, helping individuals across the world to achieve success in all areas of their lives. With a degree in Psychology and over 10 years’ experience in coaching, management and recruitment – working for multinational companies and award-winning recruitment firms – Zeta is an expert in unlocking human potential. Passionate about helping people discover their strengths, talents and motivation, Zeta lives to inspire others to dream big and create the life and career they really want.