The importance of saying No

Before You Say YesI always was such a Yes Woman. Yes to my parents. Yes to my lovers. Yes to my children. Yes to my bosses.


And guess what? So was everyone else around me. Because my yes-es did not come with conviction and commitment. Oh, I did whatever they asked, but never well. I was too full of resentment, and that always shines through in the end result.

And don’t you find it intriguing that once we learn to speak up for ourselves, we are referred to as cranky and hormonal?

We are our own worst enemies too. Take the expression Release your inner bitch. We say that to each other!

“Really, Jane, you need to learn to release your inner bitch.”

Which suggests that in order to take a stand we have to be nasty and cruel.

I use the expression Release your inner You.

Because that’s what saying No really boils down to. Knowing what is right for you, and saying Yes or No based on that.

Why do we naturally say yes?

At the primal level, we are hard-wired to say yes. Yes, I will respond to the crying baby. Yes, I will keep the hearth fire burning. Yes, I will tend to the sick and the elderly.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

IF the crying baby is yours, not your grand-child handed off to you for the millionth time.

IF cooking is a task you truly don’t mind doing day in day out.

IF the elder care is shared across the siblings.

Won’t bad things happen if I say no?

Well, you might get a very cranky response to your no. This is because the person doing the asking has a need that you are unwilling to fulfill.

And, if the basis of your relationship is always meeting the needs of a person, you may actually lose this person from you life.

But are these truly bad things?

You are not responsible for how another person responds to your no. Reasonable people don’t ask with the preconceived notion that you will say yes. They are asking in case you say yes. And if you say no, they’ll ask someone else. No hard feelings.

And the person that just keeps piling demands on you? Well, it’s pretty one-sided, eh?

How do I say no?

By taking the time to figure out if doing what is asked is right for you. Ask yourself the following:

  • Does it match my values?
  • Do I have the time?
  • Is it a priority right now, or can it wait?

And I simplify it even further to:

  • Will this make me happy?

Isn’t that very selfish?

Seems selfish to base a decision on whether it will make you happy or not. But it’s really not.

Teenager: Mom, can you buy me these designer running shoes?

Happy Mom’s thoughts. No, because my child will never learn to work for those extras in life, and develop a strong work ethic.

Boss: Will you take on this extra project.

Happy Worker’s thoughts: No, because my workload is full, and to take on more would result in poor quality work.

Brother: Will you take Mom to the doctor’s appointment.

Happy Sister’s thoughts: No, because I am already exhausted, and I won’t be able to ask the right questions and ensure the right care for Mom.

So, you see? By saying no, you are actually improving other people’s lives.

They may not see that, but if you were to say yes, they’d sure see the negative impact.

How do I say no?

  1. Do not answer right away! You need time to think about it. That may only take a minute, but it might take a day or so. It’s okay to tell people you will get back to them.
  2. Check and double check with yourself that saying yes is truly right for you.
  3. Do not apologize. There is nothing to be sorry about. If you have done the first two steps, then saying no is the right thing for everyone involved.
  4. Hold your ground. Unreasonable people will try to push and cajole you into a yes. Firmly and politely stick to your no. Do not give excuses. Although, you  can give the facts on why saying no is the right thing to do.

It takes practice saying no. I still find myself wanting to say yes right away. My trick is to actually count to 10 before responding in order to create a deliberate pause.

And every once in awhile, I still slip up and say yes, when I really should have said no. But it’s so rare, I do not beat myself up about it.

And the results? Everyone is happy. Not just me. Everyone knows that when I say no, I have a good reason. And when I say yes, they are getting my full commitment.

Gracefully yours,

~ Eliza

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  1. What I learned from saying no…If you say “no” & someone calls you a bitch & they leave you alone you’re better off anyway. When you saying yes to what you truly enjoy you will attract those people that want to be with you because of YOU not just what you can do for them.

    I’m going to check out the books you’ve suggested & I’d like to suggest one more: Beauty Bites Beast – Awakening the Warrior within Women & Girls by Ellen Snortland

    Great post today!

    • @Canadian Army Wife – exactly. I am now surrounded by people who want to be with me, because of me, not what I can do for them. The links are to articles, but I am definitely going to check out Beauty Bites Beast. Thanks for the recommendation.

  2. I am working on this so hard…I went to a meeting the other night and did 5 jobs at the meeting because everyone else said NO….I can home with 2 more big tasks because the woman in charge moved and did not even start the tasks….I spent a whole week in anger about it….I am going to complete these two tasks and then drop out of the group,

    I went to the meeting to say NO to working on the State Convention and NO to raising more money and to offer to write a grant application for a student with a desperate need…they said NO to the woman I was proposing ..

    I think I am throwing pearls before swine….and not gaining any friends out of the deal…

    I rescued this group once…now I am done.

    There is a discussion about knowing when you start into memopause on today? I referred them here

    • @Patricia – ah yes, the rescuer syndrome. We believe in a project, so we end up doing it all to move the project along because nobody else is willing to do anything. Often a tough decision to drop out of a project you believe in, but chances are there’s a similar one with more active participants. And thank you for the referral!

  3. I second Canadian Army Wife’s book recommendation. It’s a self defense gold mine for women.

    I sometimes see situations where I want to run in, impose better efficiency, and save the day, but I hold myself back because I’m still maxed with other things in my life. I often say No with a silent F-word in front to remind myself that a Yes can easily lead to overload. (It makes the No a bit more powerful, too.) Nobody likes a passive-aggressive relationship where the Yes-woman’s or Yes-man’s anger ends up sabotaging things.

    • @Lori – I had to ponder the F- No before responding, because my initial reaction was that this was aggressive (even if silent). But then I realized I do the same, only it’s Hell No. And I replied the tone of voice in my head and realized it wasn’t aggressive at all. It’s more of an amused tone. As in, “it would be absolutely ridiculous for me to say Yes to this”. :-)

  4. No! I’m not saying yes when I should say no. Except for the odd occasion, I’ve never had a problem saying no when I don’t want to do something. And my no’s are pretty clear and final.

    • @XUP – like I’m surprised *chuckle*. You make a good point about the no’s being clear and FINAL. While I was making the transition from Yes-Woman to No-Woman, the Takers would badger me until I broke down and said Yes. Now they know that my No’s mean No, and they don’t bother.

  5. This is an issue that applies to both genders. There are a lot of us “Yes-Men” out there too. (myself included).

    I’m such a push-over. I’m always trying to please everyone. As a result, I often get suckered into doing something I don’t want to. Both at work, or at home. Then I kick myself for allowing myself to be suckered in.

    It’s something I have to constantly work on. But I’m getting better at it.

    Like when I told my boss “NO” to coming in to work on weekends (when it wasn’t absolutely necessary).

    • @Friar – fair enough! This is not a situation unique to women. And I think work is a very good example where men are concerned. Take all those Nortel-ers who kept saying yes to 18 hour days for decades because they thought it would keep them in ‘good standing’ with the company. Guess they were wishing they’d said no more often now, and enjoyed life along the way, eh?

  6. Eliza,

    Very good important… So many times my mom, ( A good guilt driven Italian catholic woman) doesn’t get it when I say…I’m sorry mom, that just isn’t going to work for me, I have other committments that are going to have come first.”

    She says…OHHH! Getting you to change your mind is impossible!

    And that isn’t true, its just that I got tired of being the carpet on the floor with footprints on my back. It takes practice, but it isn’t impossible. I suggest practicing in a mirror. A lot…ahead of time…and smile. IT’s hard to beat a smile!

    • @Wendi – I love the imagery of the carpet with the footprints. I could see it. And a smile does go along way. It’s totally non-confrontational. It’s says “I’m saying no, because that’s what is right for me, not because I am trying to spite you.”


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