Being able to say “No” is important yet many people struggle with it. Somewhere along the line, they came to believe that saying no was a bad thing. Some of the reasons they cite are: “It would ruin our relationship,” “S/he will get upset,” “It’ll hurt my career if I don’t do everything they ask,” or “I don’t want to hurt their feelings.” Everyone who has difficulty saying no has some underlying belief about the negative consequences of saying no. If you have a hard time saying no, when you really want or need to say no, then you might want to look at what you are afraid the consequences will be.
To overcome your fear of saying no, you pretty much have to prove to yourself that your underlying belief is wrong. You have to practice saying no and see that, in reality, it doesn’t end your relationship, hurt someone’s feelings, or ruin your career. It may be pretty uncomfortable for you in the moment, as you practice this new behavior, and it may make you really nervous to do it. But most of the new skills we learn and become good at, for example public speaking or writing, make us really nervous in the beginning. You just have to practice until you get more comfortable with it and better at it. Also, try to see this as just changing a behavior. You’re not out to change your character or personality. You have no need to become a completely different person, in order to say no. Also, realize that learning to say no won’t change you from a kind-hearted person to a mean, overly aggressive person. You’re just changing your behavior. Like someone who hurts his right hand and has to learn to brush his teeth with his left hand. It’s awkward, but doable.
Why is learning to say no so important? Because saying no is telling the truth. When you say yes, but you really want to say no, you are, in effect, lying to someone. You’re pretending to be someone you’re not (someone who goes along with everything,) as opposed to sharing who you really are (someone who actually has an opinion.) Then you end up hiding your feelings, pretending to enjoy, and perhaps even feeling resentful, as if someone forced you to say yes, which then is lying to yourself because no one forced you but you.
Obviously I’m not suggesting that you say no to absolutely everything, especially in your career. You often have to take on extra work in order to learn or be noticed, especially if you’re new to a position. But you know if you’re always the one who gets handed the last minute project just as you are heading out the door because you won’t say no. And, if you want to keep your relationships intact, please just say no, don’t yell it. Other than that, practice away! See how scary and empowering it feels to say no. Prove to yourself that it doesn’t offend people or hurt their feelings. See how fun it is to see the movie you really want to see, go to the restaurant you really want to go to, or work on the project that you really want to work on.