Emotional Intelligence Series: Saying No

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Many people find “no” the most difficult word in the English language to say face‑to‑face.  It is a very important word for several reasons, but the main one is that it empowers us to say “yes” to things that really matter to us.  Let’s explore what might go wrong if I don’t say no:

  • I might agree to things I don’t feel comfortable doing
  • I won’t have time to spend on things that are really important to me
  • I will end up feeling resentful towards the person I said “yes” to
  • I will feel disempowered
  • I allow people to over-step my boundaries
  • I may be perceived as being dishonest because what I say and how I feel are incongruent

When can I say “No”?

I need to ask myself four questions:

  1. “Have I got the time?”
  2. “Have I got the energy?”
  3. “Have I got the capability to meet the request?”
  4. “Do I really want to do it?”

If the answer is “NO” to any of the above questions then there is a cause for saying “NO” to the request. Saying yes in these circumstances becomes problematic because deep down you want to say “NO”, but instead you end up with a begrudging “OK, I’ll do it”.

One way we sometimes get ourselves out of using a direct “no” is by telling a white lie to get out of flatly declining.

For example, a colleague asks you to go along to a spin class after work with her. You really don’t like spin, but because your colleague has been to a boxing class with you once before, you feel bad flatly declining. Instead, you construct a response involving a white lie like this:

“Oh I would’ve loved to come with you, but I need to stay back at work today and finish off this report that my manager has asked me for.”

This approach becomes problematic for the following reasons:

  • You now have to stay back at work so your colleague doesn’t catch you out lying
  • You are likely to be asked again in the near future to go along to a spin class, so will be faced with the same dilemma
  • You have not communicated in an honest way, which ends up causing you to experience feelings of guilt anyway (the very emotion you were trying to avoid)
  • This type of communicating doesn’t allow for honest relationships to grow

Helpful Hints for Saying “No”

  • Demonstrate assertive body language and eye contact to be congruent with your verbal message
  • Be direct: avoid lengthy explanations and half-truths.
  • Avoid being overly apologetic. Using statements such as “I’m sorry” and “I feel very badly ….”, may provide the other person with the opportunity to try to manipulate you.
  • Remember you are saying “No” to the request, not the person.
  • You have the right not to give reasons for your refusal or to answer any questions if you don’t want to.
  • You have the right to take some time to think and then say “No”.
  • Saying “No” is a learned skill, and as such requires practice.


Creative Ways to Say “No”

  1. Thank you, then “No”: Thank the person for the request then say “NO” e.g. “Thank you for thinking of me, but I’m unavailable”.
  2. Reflective listening, then “No”: Reflect the content of the request and then state your “NO”. For example, “I understand that you want to have next Saturday night off, but I do not want to change shifts”.
  3. The explained “No”: The person says “NO” and gives a very concise, clear explanation of his reason. The reason needs to be sincere and not an excuse, e.g. “No, thanks anyway, I don’t enjoy spin class”.
  4. The raincheck “No”: The person says “NO” to this particular request, but suggests that he be asked again at another time. For example, “No thanks, I can’t go for a drink tonight, but I’m free most nights next week if you are still interested in having a drink with me”.
  5. The “No” sandwich: The first layer is a statement acknowledging what the other person wants you to do (positive layer). The second layer or the meat of the sandwich is your refusal of their request (negative layer). The third layer is something you will do or can do to ease the sting of your refusal. For example, “I understand that you have an important date on Saturday and need a babysitter. Even though I can’t help this time, I’ll be happy to baby sit for you in the future if I’m free”.
  6. The broken record “No”: t take no for an answer.  uses a one sentence refusal statement and repeated like a broken record regardless of what the other person says.
  7. Your natural “No”: Many people develop their own individual ways of turning down invitations or stating refusals.

What are some things that stop you from saying “no”? Is this a skill you have developed over time? Which of the “no” ideas seem to be easiest to express for you?If you would like some personalised assistance with developing your emotional intelligence, send me an email: psyched4success@hotmail.com

About psyched4success

"Psyched4Success" encapsulates the 4 foundations for Successful living: Heart - Emotions and Relationships Mind - Psychology and Thinking Body - Physical Health, Movement and Nutrition Spirit - Personal Essence, Values, Goals and Motivation I am a Psychologist with a passion for Holistic Health and Wellness, determined to inspire personal transformation in these foundational areas for success. When i am not working as a Psychologist, Corporate Trainer, and University Tutor, i love spending countless hours in the kitchen creating nutritious organic meals, inspired by a whole foods philosophy, free of gluten, sugar and dairy. I intend to share my creations with you here, as well as my journey from adrenal fatigue to health through my own personal, health, nutrition and lifestyle transformations. I am based in Sydney, Australia, but am an intrepid soul who sets an intention to visit a new destination each year.
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