The Art of Saying No

My toddler is going through that stage where “no” is the response to everything. Even if I know she wants something, or to do something, she always gives me an enthusiastic “no!” There are times where after I ask her again does she suddenly want exactly what is being offered. I figure it comes with the territory of being a toddler. Too many emotions and thoughts swimming around, so having a do-over on a decision is a perfect opportunity for them.

While I find myself getting more and more annoyed at being told “no” all the time, I am also finding a lesson in it. I often say “yes” to things out of the feeling of obligation, when in reality I just want to say “no, thanks.” This type of situation, where I agree to something when I don’t really want to, just breeds angst and unhappiness.

Not so surprising confession: I am a people-pleaser.

Well, I was.

My days of acquiescing to the wants and desires of those around me are over. Instead of being worried that someone will be upset with me if I don’t go along with their plans, I worry more about the toll it will take on me if I keep saying “yes.” It’s called setting boundaries.

Have I started to be like my toddler, and enthusiastically say “no” to every request? Of course not.

But what I have done is determined if whatever I am presented with is truly something I want, or want to do. If it isn’t, I decline. If it is, I eagerly join in.

Obviously, it isn’t all black and white. I don’t say, “see ya later, suckers!” to less than desirable situations right out of the gate. I also don’t recognize that I’m not feeling it, and then stick around for hours.

For me, the art of saying “no” comes down to a few things:

  • Listening to your gut: there is a stark difference between putting yourself out there and experiencing new things, and doing something you absolutely don’t want to do. Being able to identify the difference when you’re offered an adventure is paramount to keeping true to yourself.
  • Being polite: No one plans to intentionally hurt someone’s feelings, but the way you decline has a direct impact on how your message is received. Some people will worry that your desire not to join them is a reflection of how you feel about the person who invited you. When you pass on an offer, be honest about why you aren’t joining them. It is acceptable to admit when you’re too tired, need a break from other people, or just want to be alone. You don’t need to make up an excuse in an effort to avoid hurt feelings. The truth works just fine.
  • Returning the favor: Every single one of us has been faced with a situation where we just weren’t interested in doing something with other people. I’m the world’s biggest extrovert, and even I need a pass every once in a while. That being said, when it comes time for someone to decline your invitation, graciously accept. You’ve been there, so you understand.

I’d like to say that each person you talk to will understand, but that is totally not the case. You will encounter those that understand, but you will also find those that try to make you feel guilty, or make you feel like you are somehow hurting them. They just don’t know how to handle someone putting up boundaries. But, the more you persist, the more they will learn. You may even be an example to others that need to learn to put out boundaries too!

So, the next time you’re given the opportunity to do something you’re on the fence about, what are you going to do?

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