The power (and difficulty) of "no"
Saying "no" when you want/need to say "no" is essential to taking care of yourself and having great relationships.
Costs of not saying "no"
When you don't say "no" when you need to say "no," you can incur one or more of the following costs:
Lack of Now-Next integrity
Lack of Oneself-Others integrity
Feeling resentment towards another
Feeling that the other person owes you something
Lack of authenticity and self-expression
Losing your sense of freedom and flexibility
Losing respect for yourself (feeling bad about yourself)
Not maintaining good boundaries with another
Withdrawing from another; ghosting someone
Losing the respect of others because you cannot be relied upon to take care of yourself
Damaging or losing a relationship because they do not or cannot repay the money (or something else) that you lent to them (because you didn't say "no")
Damaging your own money and/or time buffers
Feeling like a victim
Training the other person to rely on you (or to be rescued by you)
Sacrificing your own health, well being, or life
How to say "no"
Saying "no" often involves addressing two distinct problems: the internal problem (resolving any internal conflict about saying "no") and the external problem (how best to say "no"). The internal problem should be solved first.
The internal problem: the fear of saying "no"
If you are not clear about the fact that your #1 job in life is to take care of yourself (dovetailing that with taking care of others whenever you can), then saying "no" when you need to say "no" will be problematic. Check out Why Did God Put You in Your Body. Also check out Being 100% Responsible and Your #1 Job.
But even after being clear about that, you may still feel frightened to say "no."
They will blame me if I say "no."
They will be disappointed in me if I say "no."
They will withdraw from me or leave me if I say "no."
Others will think I am not a good person if I say "no."
Others will think I am obligated to say "yes."
I will be responsible for what will happen to them if I don't say "yes."
Undoing the fear
Use the undoing fear process with one or more of the following sentences that best describes your fear. Substitute the appropriate person's name for "John."
Holy cats and jeepers creepers, I am so scared that John will blame me if I say "no."
Holy cats and jeepers creepers, I am so scared that John will be disappointed in me if I say "no."
Holy cats and jeepers creepers, I am so scared that John will withdraw from me or leave me if I say "no."
Holy cats and jeepers creepers, I am so scared that others will think I am not a good person if I say "no."
Holy cats and jeepers creepers, I am so scared that others will think I am obligated to say "yes."
Holy cats and jeepers creepers, I am so scared that I will be responsible for what happens to John if I don't say "yes."
Screaming it out with deep breaths, slowly, silly for eleven times.
Recognize that you will be choosing courage to say "no" and honor yourself for that.
The external problem: how best to say "no"
Ensure that you've handled the internal problem first. If you're still feeling defensive or guilty about saying "no," doing it well will be more problematic.
Be careful of white lies (the costs often exceeds the benefits)
White lies may seem an easy way out: "Sorry, I'm busy on Sunday," you say, but you run the risk of incurring others costs. "Well, how about Monday then?" they reply. They may be able to satisfy your false objection. Then you're backed into a corner and end up saying "yes" and/or they begin to discover your dishonesty and lack of courage. By indulging it white lies, you may be avoiding the opportunity to choose courage and to create the best win-win attitudes and ways of being with the people in your life.
Another way to avoid choosing courage
People say "no" by ghosting (disappearing from the conversation). Do you do this? You don't return an email. You don't answer a text. You don't return a phone call. You do this to avoid the fear of their response. And you may feel resentment towards them for making the request of you. Not only does this disrespect yourself, it disrespects the other person and your relationship with them. Yes, maybe you need more time to decide how to respond, but you could let them know that and tell them when you'll get back to them. That's honoring yourself and your relationship.
Sometimes the words are simple
"Thank you for asking. But I think not," in a respectful, non-defensive voice.
If the other person is persistent, you can be persistent too. "Thank you again for asking. But I need to say 'no'." It's called "being a broken record."
Especially in less important relationships, be careful not to provide a lot of explanation for your decision. It gives away your power by inviting them to handle your objection (unless you would like them to).
Other times more conversation/explanation is better
Let me give you an example with myself. Living in China now for 19 years, fairly often a casual friend (I have a lot of friends) will ask me, "Would you please read over my English essay and tell me how it could be improved?"
Unless there is some rare exception in which I think I might enjoy helping someone with their English paper, this is not my preferred activity. So I will respond, "I much appreciate your courage in asking me. I feel honored by your request. A part of me would like to help you out. But generally I don't like doing this sort of thing and I don't know how I could take care of myself if I said, 'yes'. I hope you can understand?"
This response (so far) has been well received and I have been able to maintain a good relationship with the friends who've asked for this type of help.
Or consider a request that might be more problematic:
"Could you lend me some money?"
I lost my best friend because I lent her money
I lost my best friend in New York City in 1968 because I lent her money. She ended up going bankrupt (my money just delayed her bankruptcy a bit). I was able to let it go. But she wasn't. She felt so guilty about not paying me back. Lending money to friends or family is something to be wary about. But how to say "no"?
Can you consider it a gift, if necessary?
Sometimes I will say "yes" if the amount (or value of a lent item) is small enough so that if they are either unable and/or unwilling to pay it back, I can consider it a gift and I'm confident that I can get them to see it that way also. In other words, I accept the risk of that eventuality and I let go of any right to blame them or withdraw from them, if that should occur.
Sometimes I put it in their court
People have asked me to lend them my book on courage. I don't mind lending them the book so much...but I don't like the added "administration cost" of making sure they get it back to me. So I say, "I'm happy to lend you my book. Just lend me $20. When you return the book, I'll give you the $20 back." This way, I don't have to concern myself with keeping track of whether they return the book. If they do, I return their $20. If they don't, then they have essentially bought my book...and that's even more fine with me than if they returned it, right?!
Consider making a counteroffer
Recently, I had a friend who ended up in the hospital with a serious operation. He asked me (along with some others, I think) to help him with the hospital bills. I said that I wasn't able to contribute to him in that way, but I would be happy and honored to offer him a life coaching session as a way of contribution. He accepted and we were both happy.
Or maybe they will turn your "no" into a "yes"
If you don't have the money...
You may have a convincing excuse that you don't have the money. So you might say, "Thank you for your courage in asking me. I would really like to lend you the money, but I just don't have it to lend. I hope you understand." Be careful on this type of excuse though. If later you have the money and they ask you again for a loan, you may be backed into a corner if the reason you gave earlier ("I don't have it") was a convenient excuse, and not the main reason for not wanting to lend them the money.
If you just need to say "no"
First, show respect to them for their request. Ask them more about it so they can feel that you are not rejecting them out of hand (when they later find out that you are saying "no"). Tell them that you appreciate their courage in asking you. Ask them about why they need the money. Ask them about their plan to pay you back, should you lend them the money.
Then, if you're still clear you need to say "no," reply something like this. "I can tell that you've considered your request carefully. A part of me would like very much to help you out. But so far, unless you can tell me something I'm not understanding yet, I'm not seeing a way to say "yes" to you and still take care of myself and take care of our relationship, all at the same time. Although I know I can't guarantee that you'll feel this way, I hope that you won't take this to mean that you're not a (very) important person in my life. Because you are! There may be some other way to help you out?"
Saying "no" to even more problematic requests
Let me tell you about a difficult situation in which I successfully said "no."
About seven years ago (as of January, 2020 now), my Chinese girlfriend and I had been together for almost three years. We loved each other deeply. From the beginning of our romantic relationship, I established the policy of seeing each other roughly once a week.
She said to me, "I want to see you twice a week." Immediately, I knew I needed to be careful in my response. If I said simply "no," she'd likely say/feel, "You don't really love me enough. If you did, you'd want to see me all the time." So I replied, "Okay...let's talk about that when we're together this coming Sunday."
On Sunday, after greeting and holding and kissing, we sat down on the sofa. I asked her, "Please tell me all the reasons you feel it would be better if we saw each other twice a week instead of once a week." I listened. I repeated back some of what she said to make sure I understood (and that she could tell I was really listening). At several points, I had the urge to say, "Yes, but..." I held my tongue. I kept asking, "Okay, and what's another reason?" Twenty-five minutes later, she said she had told me all the reasons.
"Okay, may I share with you my concerns about what may happen if we start seeing each other twice a week?" I asked. She replied, "Of course." Now that I've fully listened to her, she is happy to listen to me.
"We've had an amazing relationship for almost three years now. Every time I see you, I'm so excited...I've been getting hungry for you all week long...being with you each time is almost like being with you the first time, again and again. I still feel electricity in my body when you touch me or I touch you. In my entire life, I've never maintained such passion and love for a woman for as long as I have with you. In all my other relationships (including two wives), the passion never lasted longer than six months. And I am clear it was because we saw each other more and more often from the beginning. Perhaps there are other men who are not like me, but I know enough about myself to be very concerned that, if we started seeing each other more often than once a week, my passion for you would start to disappear. Maybe not right away, but step by step. And it would mean nothing about how much I love you or how great you are. So it's actually because you're so special that I'm deeply concerned about losing my passion for you. If that happened, I wouldn't like it and I don't think you'd like it either. What are your thoughts and feelings about what I am sharing?"
I thought there would be more conversation. She said, "I agree with you. We'll keep it at once a week." It's now seven years later (still at once a week...or sometimes even less often). Our passion and love is stronger than ever.
The above story is an example of the Partnership Conversation in action. The Partnership Conversation is immensely powerful in helping to resolve almost any conflict (or potential conflict) with another. Yet, at the beginning, it can occur as if you're giving up power. The context and approach of the conversation is this, "Okay, we seem to have some issue here. Let's not think of it as my problem or your problem...let's put the problem over there. Let's be partners in sharing openly and finding a way for you to be happy and me to be happy regarding our situation, okay?" This partnership approach sidesteps both the blame-blame or withdrawal approaches that most of us default to in dealing with conflicts or potential conflicts. But, because it can feel as if you're giving up power to authentically enter into the Partnership Conversation, it's often a choice of courage to do so. Honor yourself for that courage.
Honor yourself for choosing the courage to say "no"
Check out the four steps of choosing courage and include those as part of the process of saying "no" (assuming you were choosing some courage).
P.S. an fun idea for getting to a yes/no
Occasionally, I'll meet a new person here China who'd like to visit with me. We'll set a date to meet on Tuesday evening. Earlier in the day on Tuesday, they let me know that they need to reschedule because of blah, blah. I say, "Okay, no problem." I already accepted the risk that this might happen. So we schedule a new time for Thursday evening. Then the same thing happens on Thursday, with a new excuse. Up until this second time, I've been willing to accept the risk that that they might cancel or want to reschedule. But now they want to reschedule again. I reply, "Yes, I'd still like to visit with you and get to know you better. But now I'm nervous. You've canceled twice. I'm not sure I'm willing to risk it a third time. But I have an idea, if you're willing to play a game with me. Let's reschedule under the following conditions: If for any reason, I cancel, I will pay you 100rmb (about $15). If for any reason, you cancel, you'll pay me 100rmb. What do you think? Can we play this game?" For about 90% of the people they were willing to play the game...and the never canceled the third time. For the other 10% who were unwilling to play the game, I said, "I'm sorry, but the risk seems too big for me. I wish you the best."