Yesterday morning my daily LinkedIn Pulse email included an article by actress and feminist Lena Dunham entitled ‘Don’t take it personally when I tell you ‘No’. I’m using it on everyone this year’. It was a good article and got me thinking about how I too am a bit of a people pleaser and find it hard to say no.
I jotted down some thoughts in my trusty notebook with a plan to turn it into a post at a later date. Then I spent some time reading blogs and came across this post by The Runaway Palate, which also contemplates why we (some of us anyway) find it so hard to say no.
For my part, I always thought that saying ‘yes’ to requests would mean that people would like me more. They’d see me as helpful and someone who was always there when needed. I also thought saying ‘no’ would make me seem like a mean or selfish person. I thought saying ‘no’ would leave me with no friends and a family that would feel they couldn’t rely on me for anything. And if I did ever pick up the courage to say no, I would counter the benefits by worrying myself sick over whether or not the person I said no to would still like me.
The upshot of this is that I spent (sometimes still do, I’m not 100% good at this yet) a lot of time with people I didn’t particularly like or doing things I didn’t particularly want to do. It would even spill over to my work life where I would always agree to work late or come in early. Eventually (inevitably perhaps) it started to become an expectation that if someone was needed to work overtime I was the ‘go to’ person. For a while this felt good, I was appreciated, my hard work wasn’t going unnoticed. The one time I had to say no to an overtime request was a real wakeup call. My boss was shocked and even angry that I had said ‘no’ to the request. This made me realise that all the ‘yeses’ were being taken for granted.
I must admit that saying no to friends was a lot harder than saying no to work, after all does anyone really and truly enjoy working overtime? I really didn’t like feeling as though I was letting people down. However an ongoing amount of attending events and social occasions that I wasn’t completely happy about attending made me realise I had to try. Initially I would soften the no with an excuse ‘I’ve got things planned with family but I’ll definitely join you next time’ became a favourite. Big mistake. The friends in question would remember that I regretted not being able to go and kindly would invite me along the next time so that I didn’t miss out…
All this only resulted in a lot of stress – trying to fit people in by still saying ‘yes’ more often than I should, and worrying about what I would say if I was re-invited to the ‘next time’ of something I didn’t want to go to. I started to realise that the only person I was letting down was myself. I tried a few variations of a gentle ‘no’. My favourite now is to say ‘thank you for thinking of me, but I’m going to pass as it’s not my sort of thing’ – no one can be offended by this surely? At least, so far I’ve not met anyone who has found this offensive. And if I am genuinely interested in ‘next time’ I’ll happily say so.
So if I say no to you, please don’t take it personally. It’s not a reflection on you, you’re still and amazing person, I still love you and we’re still friends. It’s just that I don’t want to do this particular thing.
Also, saying ‘no’ gives you more free time to say ‘yes’ to things that you really and truly want to do and that’s never a bad thing either!
Disclaimer: People who know me well know that this does not apply when a few alcoholic beverages have been taken. I have a habit of saying ‘I think I’ll leave soon and get an early night’ which really means I’m staying out till closing time and having a fantastic night!!