Monday, October 7, 2013

The Right Way to Say No

By Kate Collins

Do you have a hard time saying No to people? I’m a natural born helper so I say Yes a lot. In fact, sometimes I say Yes so much that I end up with too much on my plate, which stresses me out. Sound familiar?

So should you "just say no" as the saying goes?  In a word, No! At least not according to research published in the Journal of Consumer Research.  When most people say no, they feel obliged to explain their response and usually begin with “I can’t because…”  But that’s a bad idea,say researchers. Saying “I can’t” indicates that you’re forcing yourself to do something you don’t want to do.

What should you say instead? Try "I don't." This works better because when you say ‘I don’t,’ you’re giving yourself control and power over the situation.

Also saying “I can’t” invites the other person to counter with, “Sure you can. I’ll help.” And then you’re stuck. Not so if you say "I don't."

Heidi Grant Halvorson, the director of the Motivation Science Center at Columbia University, explains why:

“'I don’t' is experienced as a choice, so it feels empowering. It’s an affirmation of your determination and willpower. ‘I can’t’ isn’t a choice. It’s a restriction; it’s being imposed upon you. So thinking ‘I can’t’ undermines your sense of power and personal agency.”

Some examples:

I can’t be on the committee -- becomes  -- I don’t schedule things during family times.

I can’t talk during the day – becomes – I don’t answer the phone until after 5 pm.

I can’t skip my workout – becomes – I don’t skip workouts.

See how empowering and strong that makes you feel?  You can take it a step further and make your response positive:

I can’t talk during the day – becomes – I am only available to talk on the phone after 5 p.m.

I think it makes perfect sense.  In fact, I’m going to put that into practice this week.

Are you a person who can’t say no?  If not, do you have your own technique?