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?


Unknown said...

Wonderful - I will start using this! Thank you!

Molly MacRae said...

Thanks, Kate! This is great advice and I'm going to try to teach myself to change "can't" to "don't."

Aurian said...

Great advice Kate! It depends on who is asking, I can't say no to my own boss, but I can say no to a coworker when my own work is falling behind. I just tell her, I will help her as soon as I have caught up on my own work, and then I will come to her and get me some files.
But I don't often get pushed to do things I don't want to do, I know I prefer reading ;)

Anonymous said...

My son is a senior this year, I have already told the Boy Scout Troop that I am finished at the end of the year. When marching band ends, my only other obligation is to put up photos of the kids. I have decided that after 13 years of volunteering I am done! I think others need to find out how rewarding it is to work with students. I have experienced working with the scouts since first grade and those boys are the ones my son is the closest to. It's been excititng to watch these young boys grown into manhood and to talk with all of them about how things are going. I guess I am lucky because my son's friends all talk with my about issues and college, it's fun! So starting in December I am starting my "back out" of volunteering, I will be using "I don't", thanks.

Julie Hyzy said...

Wow! This is wonderful advice! I'm going to start putting it into practice immediately! Thanks!

Unknown said...

I used to have a problem saying no but since I've started having so many health problems it made it easier to say no, now saying no to doctors wanting me to go for all these tests to find the best approach to treatments that is a whole different ball game. I'm glad I live in Canada where all these tests are covered by our health care.

Dru said...

Those are great advice. We were always taught if you can't do something, come up with a solution. I do like the "I don't" way of things.