If you follow ‘Very British Problems’ on Facebook or Twitter you might have seen (thanks for the RT Ms Bournon!) a list of typically British euphemisms or, as they put it, ‘Phrases that mean nothing will happen’: Leave it with me / I’ll have a word / I’ll see what I can find / Consider it done / I’ll make some calls / I’ll think about it / Certainly a possibility / Let’s come back to that / Good idea / Maybe / It’s on my list / Might see you down there / I’ll look into it.
Amusing though this list is, I think it’s actually a comment on how difficult we often find it to say ‘no’ to things. In many cases not saying ‘no’ can become a major source of stress and anxiety in our lives. We place the satisfaction of others ahead of ours. We stop living our own lives to live theirs.
Why do we do this? Sometimes we simply want to be helpful, but more often we say ‘ yes’ to avoid confrontation or because we think it will make the other person like us more; or we fear we’ll be rejected if we say ‘no’, or we believe we will miss out on opportunities in the future. Other times, we say ‘yes’ because we feel guilty. And this tendency to try to please everyone all the time is made manifestly worse by our ever-connected social and digital lives – all it takes is one beep, ding, ping, alert, or ringtone to bring us yet another request that we feel we need to say ‘yes’ to. So, while clearly we can’t say ‘no’ to everything, learning to say ‘no’ to things that we don’t believe are right or want to do or that we know will distract us or leave us making Very British excuses, is a very powerful skill.
Try these:
• Be very clear about your commitments, knowing yourself and acting with integrity. Sort out your priorities and personal interests.
• Value your time. Saying ‘no’ to some things allows you to say ‘yes’ to other things that are more interesting for you. If you show people you value your work, time and priorities, they will respect you.
• If a friendship changes after a refusal, it wasn’t a sincere friendship. Don’t let people blackmail you.
• When you are saying ‘no’ to someone, be polite but firm. Show that you respect their feelings and opinions. Establish realistic limits from the beginning.
• Don’t make excuses or the situation will be repeated constantly. You don’t even have to explain anything. You are the owner of your time.
• Before agreeing to something, consider the implications. How long it will take? How will it affect your studies, family or personal life? What other projects are going to be sacrificed?
Learning to say ‘no’ is one of the greatest things you can do for yourself. It will reduce workload and anxiety levels, and it will find you time to do what you really care about.