How to Say NO to People

Most of us, even the most independent and confident, are overcome by an overwhelming urge to please others, to fit in and to be liked. In a bid to make others happy, and to be liked and to do the right thing, we thus end up acting in ways we perhaps otherwise wouldn’t. Many of us become ‘yes men’ (and women) and will agree to every little request that someone asks of us, will concur with every opinion that someone expresses and will even go through humiliating or inconvenient acts in order to please others.

The unfortunate irony of all this is that being a yes man or woman doesn’t in fact get you to be liked. In fact in the vast majority of cases it will only make others lose respect for us and abuse our good nature.

If you fall into this category then in order to win back your self respect you need to learn to be able to say no and to stick up for yourself and act like more of an individual. So how do you go about overcoming this urge to agree all the time and instead start saying what you want to say and what you want to mean?

Cognitive Restructuring

First and foremost you need to change your thought patterns and your beliefs regarding your social interactions. This means that you need to understand that agreeing to everything doesn’t in fact make you popular or liked – and that furthermore, being liked as someone who says yes all the time isn’t the same as genuinely being liked for who you are and isn’t something to aspire to.

Getting yourself to actually believe this though is of course easier said than done and means both testing different ways of acting and using positive self talk to reason with yourself.

Address Underlying Insecurities

At the base of it all, you are likely to be experiencing some deep seated insecurities that people are going to leave you. The fear at the back of your mind is that if you say no to someone, they will instantly be so upset that they’ll stop wanting to be your friend and that you will end up ostracized and alone. Often this insecurity stems from past experiences of losing loved ones.

To overcome it you can use cognitive restructuring again – by reminding yourself that most people wouldn’t want to throw away a long friendship over one grievance (would you?) and that people who would do so aren’t really your friends anyway and you’re better off without them. More powerful than this though is simply testing that hypothesis that someone would be that upset. So find a situation where the steaks are relatively low, and the next time someone asks you to do them a favour, or asks you if you agree with a statement, try just saying no to see what the response is. The reality you will soon learn is that no one minds, and that they are in fact more likely to respect you for it. This is then what can give you the confidence to speak your mind more often.

Other ways to build up this confidence and tackle insecurity, are to speak to a professional therapist, or to focus on building lots of fulfilling relationships so you have them to spare, and to practice spending more time alone and being more independent.

Being Honest

When you say no to someone, the one thing you need to do is to ensure that you are honest. The mistake that so many people make when tuning down an invitation, or a request for a favour, is to think that they need to come up with a made up ‘excuse’ as to why they can’t oblige. The reality of the matter is though, that most people would prefer to be told honestly ‘no’ than to be lied to, and most attempts at lying are discovered in the end anyway – because they are often transparent, and because they sometimes come out in the wash when someone drives past our house and sees that our car is in. Furthermore, if you never practice saying ‘no’ straight up, then you will never improve your confidence and your ability to say no more in the future.

Be Polite

While you are being honest and not making excuses, this doesn’t mean you can’t be polite. The thing is that plenty of people say yes to more things than they want to, and often they simply don’t feel like doing something. If you are honest with them, then they will probably recognize how you feel and they will probably respect you for having the guts to just say it.

This doesn’t mean telling someone you find their company boring or that you hate the very idea of what they’re suggesting. Instead you say ‘I’ve just had a tiring week and I’ve been looking forward to relaxing tonight’, or you say ‘I’m sorry but that’s just not my cup of tea’ or you say ‘I’d love to help, but can we rearrange for another time as I’ve had a very rough week myself’. People will appreciate your honesty, and there is nothing that can be contested or disproved.

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