Let me paint a common picture . . .
You’re sitting at your desk, working busily on a project you have to finish when you hear a gentle tap at your office door.
You look up to see Jan’s bright awkwardly smiling face, and she asks, “You got a minute?”
“Sure,” you reply (you really don’t, but did she really want the truth?)
“You know how I’ve been working on that project for Jake? Well, it’s crunch time and it’s due today and I’m kind of in a panic. Nothing has gone right and I have dinner tonight with my future in-laws. I’m kind of freaking out. Could you help me get this done? I wouldn’t ask, but I’m really in a pinch.”
You take a deep breath before you answer.
Saying yes would mean that you have to set aside your project that is due in two days, probably staying at the office late and missing dinner with your family for the second time this week. You want to be seen as a team player and you love helping others out. You think to yourself, “Jan would probably help me in a pinch, right?”
But the tricky thing is . . . you wouldn’t ask.
You already know the outcome if you say yes. Yet you still fear the outcome if you say no. Will she be angry? Will she tell others how you didn’t help her? Will she purposefully sabotage you somewhere down the line when you least expect it?
What do you do?
The unfortunate reality is that most of us in this scenario say yes. We think that we might say no, but all too often when faced with circumstances just like these we say yes, when we really want to say no.
We sacrifice ourselves (and our families) and then minutes – no seconds – later we regret our decision.
And worse yet, we start to resent the person who asked and even begin to avoid them in the future just so that we can’t be put in the position to be asked.
It’s actually incredible, the lengths we begin to go to just to avoid being asked and the internal conflict so many of us have around simply saying no when we actually said yes.
Most of us don’t even recognize that there might be another solution to the problem of being asked to do a dreaded favor. Why?
Well, most of us were probably taught early on – by our parents, society, teachers, friends, etc. – that in order to be a good person and be liked, you had to prioritize doing things for other people over your own needs.
Perhaps you get rewarded early on for a nice gesture. Your grandmother says what a kind thing you did for Suzie and then lavishes you with praise. It feels good to get the attention.
Conversely, when you said no someone might have chastised you as rude. You came to believe that your needs didn’t matter if someone asked you for a favor.
It wasn’t out of malice. Your parents didn’t realize they were teaching you that you (and your needs) didn’t matter. Nor did they probably want that.
Most of us learn to put our needs last as a matter of beliefs we formed when we were little.
And then life just added a nice layer of reinforcement to prove that it’s better to say yes, even when you say no.
So how do you change lifelong patterns of saying yes when you really want to say no?
How do you reclaim and recapture hours of your life back that you would rather give to yourself, your family and your friends?
In reality the answer is simple – it’s putting the solution in practice that’s hard.
The first step is to begin to recognize that we all have a desire to help – and that can be a good thing, but not when it’s to our own detriment.
Most of the time when we say yes (and we mean no), it’s because we want to be liked, be seen as a good person or are afraid of letting others down.
Taking even a moment to p-a-u-s-e before you answer will give you an opportunity to do an internal check to see if you’re motivated by a true desire to help or desperation to be liked.
If the answer is clear that you’re being motivated by your need to be validated or gain approval, then it’s time to see if helping someone else out will cost you in some way that is important to you.
When you start to weigh your drive to be seen as great by Jan against the fact that it will pull you away from your family, it becomes clear that your people pleaser is going to have to take a back seat today because – after all – you’ve already missed one dinner at home this week!
So, you bravely look up from your desk and go to form the words and all of a sudden it feels like you’re frozen!
Why won’t the words come out?
It’s as if you’ve lost all capacity to think!
You panic. You try to buy time. And all you can hear is the word yes forming and you wish you could just run out of your office past Jan instead of giving an answer.
Because most of us haven’t learned how to say NO, this last piece of the puzzle is the hardest.
The critical thing when it comes to reclaiming our own sense of value, time and energy is learning how to say no – simply, without explanation and in a gentle way that remains respectful of both parties.
Admittedly, it’s not easy for those of us who are proud cape-wearing, rescuers to say no.
But when you do begin to say no – little by little – even if you have to practice it at home, what you’re really doing is building that muscle inside of you that might have been neglected since you were a child.
Strengthening that muscle allows us to know what we want, what we need and that the thing we most desire is worth putting ahead of everything else. Even at the risk of being disliked.
“Jan, I’d love to help you out, but I’m not able to since I’m on a crazy deadline myself!
So, the next time someone asks you to do something, and you feel the knee-jerk yes about to come out of your mouth, see if you can take a breath and see if you’re saying yes to avoid conflict, be liked or to not disappoint. If you’re not saying yes from genuine desire, it’s a no.
Join me in my Free Facebook Group, Transform Together and let’s keep the conversation going.
Are you someone who also has a hard time saying “no” when it comes to issues related to money? Maybe it has something to do with your personality – take this short quiz to find out.