No. Non. Nein. No matter what the language, knowing how to say no is one of the most valuable life skills you can learn…
By Karen Kwan
With the holidays here, everyone’s focus is turning towards merry times. But we all know that this season is also ripe with stress and anxiety, and much of that can come from all of the obligations we feel we have to meet during this busy time (probably even busier this year, to make up for last year’s social desert). That may mean juggling a family dinner on this side of the family, and running to that brunch with friends, and watering your neighbour’s plants while also hosting that cocktail party everyone missed so much that you feel pressured to host it again this year. This overloaded schedule makes the holidays a great time to learn how to say no, because there are so many opportunities to put it into practice, and so that you can save your sanity.
Why is knowing how to say no an important life skill? “Maybe you want to meet the love of your life, or you want to travel. Whatever that dream or vision of yours is, when your time and energy is going in sporadic directions because someone wants to talk on the phone with you and someone else has asked you to watch their pet, it’s challenging,” says Bryn Bamber, a core energetics practitioner based in Toronto. “While it’s not necessarily bad to say yes to these things, [if you take on too much] you won’t have enough energy left over for that vision you have for yourself,” she explains.
Keep in mind, too, that you don’t have to have a grandiose vision. “Your vision might be just to be healthy and at peace,” says Bamber. “And when you learn how to say no, you’re protecting that vision of yours.”
One reason many of us have a hard time saying no? Bamber points to the environments we grew up in (that could be everything from your family dynamic to the school system). “We learned that when you’re a people pleaser, your needs are mostly met. Also, perhaps as a kid, we set healthy boundaries, and that only got us into trouble,” she adds.
Just do it
When turning people down, Bamber says it’s about being firm but gracious. Resist the urge to launch into a rambling explanation as to why you’re saying no. Also, she suggests working up to “bigger” no’s. Start with, say, returning a dish that wasn’t prepared as you ordered to the restaurant kitchen. Remember that being firm and direct is not synonymous with being rude; use tact and be respectful. If it helps, you can even rehearse at home, as Nate did on Ted Lasso when he wanted to score the table by the window.
Another strategy that may make it easier to say no: offer an alternative. Bamber says this is a great tactic that will seem to soften your refusal. “If your mother is always showing up out of the blue and wanting to visit when it’s a bad time, for example, let her know you’re busy, but suggest she come over Tuesday at four o’oclock instead,” she says.
While it may stress you out at first to say no, be comforted by the fact that it’s like a muscle, and the more you exercise your right to say no, the stronger you’ll become at it and the easier it’ll get.
KAREN KWAN is a freelance health, travel and lifestyle writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter at @healthswellness and on Instagram at @healthandswellness.