Round wooden coin with eye detail and word, text "no" printed on it, held in the palm of a woman's hand.

A small word with big power

Did you know one of the hardest words to excel at using is the word 'No'?

'No' is a word that gets many into a lot of trouble as they navigate through life people pleasing and over promising, in an aim to make everyone else happy while their own ambitions, health, career and wellbeing suffer.

Let me walk you through my strategies that make it easier to say 'no' and often you won’t even need to say the word!

But first why do you refrain from using the word No?

When we explore this subject, we discover there are many reasons;

  • Lack of confidence.

  • Fear of letting people down.

  • Fear of not looking like a team player.

  • Fear of backlash.

  • Fear of looking stupid.

  • Fear of being unloved.

  • Fear of losing business.

  • Fear of losing respect.

The reasons are extensive, so ask yourself which ones apply to you?

Usually knowing the reason why doesn’t give you the answers you really want or need. And if you don’t get the right answers, you can’t get the right ways to overcome the issues.

For instance, if you assume that your inability to say no to your boss is connected to the wrong thing, you won’t deal with the underlying issue. Start by exploring how you feel about saying no.

Can you spot environments, communities or circumstances where you don’t like to say no?

Do you notice for instance how you can say no to your partner but not your best friend? 

How does saying no make you feel?

Many hold on to outdated mindsets and beliefs from childhood or the past that taught us that to say no is rude. Or inappropriate to disagree with those in authority.

What are your beliefs around saying No?

When you start to challenge the beliefs and feelings you associate with the word No then you can start to explore how it damages your life.

In my experience whether I’m coaching a boss or a leader, an undergraduate or a charity worker becoming aware of their inability to say no is vital.

The issue for many is that we assume saying No means we are confrontational, and you rarely need to be confrontational to get a great result from saying No and you STILL don’t need to say no.

So next consider what you believe is going to happen when you say no?

Challenge your thought processes. If you follow me on social media or have read my best-selling books then you will know I’m a big advocate for the quality of your thoughts, impacts on the quality of your actions and thus the results you get. To remember this, remember F.E.A.R – Feelings, Emotions, create Actions and Results.

So, what do you think is going to happen?

Play that out in your head. For instance, if you tell your extended family that you don’t want to host a big party as you’ve been overwhelmed with work recently. Do you believe they will be cross with you? Do you assume your siblings will be loved more than you? Do you assume they will host things without you because you couldn’t be “bothered” to host this event? Do you feel they will hold it against you in the future?

When you know the way, you feel about saying no, what stops you from saying no and the beliefs you are holding on to, you then need to create a strong enough desire to change. So, let’s give you some hard hitting facts about not saying no and the damage it does;

Newly qualified scientists found that the inability to say No, led to overworking, less career advancement, poor productivity, mental and physical health issues.

Parents that are unable to say no to their children find that the child can lose a sense of respect in the parents authority and lack the appropriate boundaries to progress safely and happily in life – as a parent of now grown adults I have had no issue in saying no to my children and it’s created a respectful relationship where they honour my needs as much as I honour theirs.

I’ve seen business leaders learn to say no at work and their teens have behaved better as a result too!

The inability to say no can lead to low productivity and the inability to complete your to do list, this creates guilt and over working and can lead to overwhelm and these can drastically alter your earning potential, your health (physical and mental) and even impact on your interest in hobbies and fun away from your tasks.

An inability to say No also shows a lack of emotional intelligence (EQ) as you lose the ability to manage tasks, relationships, performance, learning and leadership. A good level of EQ in studies is connected to good mental health, job performance, and even assists in dealing with the need to be agile and resilient.

By now you’ve got a plethora of reasons to change and are ready to hear how to do it right?

Stop assuming worse case scenarios. It’s a natural human response to assume the worse that our prehistoric ancestors benefited from as it kept us safe from sabre tooth tigers, poisonous berries, and mammoths. So, it has its uses but on this occasion, it’s encouraging you to stay stuck. If you’ve read my book Fight the fear, you will know I encourage you to play the What if game. To explore what you think is going to happen.

When you know the outcomes, you are assuming you can explore how to alter them that leads us on to….

You don’t actually have to say the word to get a positive outcome. Whether I’m coaching a large team, a nervous teen or a business owner it’s amazing how many feel they’ve got to come out of the conversation like the big evil bully if they intend to say no. And you really don’t. Saying no does even need you have to say the word. There’s few occasions where you don’t care about the person you are saying no to. So, let’s explore how you say no with kindness, respectfully and without using it;

A member of staff often asks for help, and you end up doing more of the job than they do! You could respond to their request with something like “This is often an issue for you, how could we ensure it doesn’t happen again?” or “didn’t I help you with this last month? Shall we talk to X (The boss/manager) about some additional training as it may be an issue for others too.” Neither is cruel nor tell them to clear off, but both bats the issue back to the overdemanding colleague.

Your Sister takes for granted your generosity and now you’ve got your hands full you don’t want to upset her, but you do want to gain time for your own demands, needs and hobbies. In your head you assume it will end in tears but there’s ways of saying this and acting that alter the results again without the word, No. Take them to their favourite bar, go for a stroll, take them somewhere that makes them happy and ask them “How do you do it all? I am really struggling to look after the children, my career, the home and still cook a decent meal?” Their answers will be telling whatever they say. If they’ve got it all together, they become aware that you are struggling and if they are struggling too they will become aware that they need to make some space and not be so demanding and if you don’t get a positive result read to the end on how to deal with that!

You lack the confidence to tell your boss that you do too much and want more money. If you aren’t getting more money, then you are not going to do the extra workload that is not even in your contract let alone within reasonable realms of additional tasks. This can be handled in many ways, and it will be key that you understand the personality of your boss. 

  • Are they open to ideas? 

  • Are they authoritarian? 

  • Are they a team player?

  • Do they like to be the boss and encourage that distance between staff and leadership? 

Remember if you see it from their perspective it can help. Many leaders are dumped into these roles with little if any training on how to lead. That will help you handle their response too. 

“It’s interesting you ask me to do these tasks, when we have 20 employees and I assumed I was one of the lowest paid here? Does this mean you have faith in me and that I can expect to move up the career ladder here?” Notice no mention of “Oi, give me more money!” but it’s definitely there.

If in doubt practice things to say with trusted friends or colleagues. Remember to assess if they have a personal stake in the outcome. As that would impact on if they were the right person to discuss this with.

I wrote an article called The Importance List where I asked readers to share how important they felt they were. It is a fascinating tool I use in coaching with teams and individuals as they learn to appreciate that the lower the score the more, they are put upon and taken for granted. It’s not being a people person if everyone else is happy and you are miserable!

Building your confidence will alter the way you view your importance and directly positively impact on how easily you say no.

As you can imagine this is an extensive subject that I could speak for hours on – and put me on a stage and I will! So, if you’d like more ideas and strategies tailored to you or those you love or work with, please feel free to email me or contact me via social media. I love a chat!

And lastly, when saying no goes badly – what do you do then?

Ask yourself;

  • Did you do your best? 

  • Did you come from a place of love and respect and consideration for the other party’s perception? 

If so, you will need to accept in life that with 7.951 billion people on the planet, you aren’t going to like them all and you aren’t going to agree with them all. Do you accept their view and wish to back down? Do you wish to acknowledge their view but accept you stand by your own or do you need to step back from this person? If not physically then metaphorically and mentally so you stay sane in their company. 

And however the first time you say no goes, remember like most things in life by learning from your experiences you can learn to excel.