Thursday, March 13, 2014

Why is it so hard to say no?

A firmly voiced opinion by Mary Jane Maffini

Why is that plaintive cry so often heard? It's so hard to say no.

After all these years, why do I still find it hard to peer over the towering inbox that sometimes defines my life and utter a firm but polite 'sorry, but I can't' to the latest request?  

I know that a lot of women also have this problem.  I imagine some non-women have it too. I think we are used to helping people and want to.  The trouble is, many of us feel guilty if we can't.   It's hard to learn to be selective and to choose how we spend our time.

We choose to say no to cats

This week,  I was fuming because I gave up some needed evening  "down time" to do a project on someone else’s ‘urgent’ timetable only to have it double and triple in time needed. But deep down, I know I could have saved myself and my blood pressure if I’d just said no. It was up to me to safeguard my personal time.

Over the years, I’ve tried a number of ways to refuse requests. Some are very gentle fibs: “Oh I’d just love to, but I am having my appendix out on (insert date here).  

Others are quite effective:  “I can’t but let me give you some names of people who might be able to.” (Sorry for you, my friends, but, yes, I will throw you under the bus if I need to deflect a request.) 

I have learned to say that I have a deadline that prevents it or that my calendar is full or that I am already overcommitted.  You’d think that would do the trick.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting turning your back on your friends and family when they need a hand or rejecting every new idea that comes along. We all need to help others and try new things.

But there are some people with their own agendas who just can’t take no for an answer. They didn't get where they are today by accepting our weaselly rejections.

Not too long ago, I had to turn down a friend’s request because I had too many commitments. Instead of simply saying, “I understand’, she gave me an earful because it was high time I learned to say no.

Of course, I had  just said no. To her.  And that’s another thing I’ve learned: the people who tend to inform you that you need to learn to say no, never mean say no to them. 

In the end, we have to make our own choices of where to put our time and effort.  For me, that's a tough lesson to learn. 

But we never say no to treats or new outfits!

And so my lovelies, shall we form a support group right here and now? Feel free to say no to that, but if you want to you can post a comment with advice or a story about making a big fat NO! count in your life.

I’d love to hear about it.  Yes, I would.


Susan L. @ Full Happy Muffin and Mama said...

I hear ya on this one. Except I tend to take it one step further and accidentally volunteer. I've stopped doing so, especially at work, because in two instances I was unable to find out when something happened, and one major event was on my birthday, and one was on my anniversary. Yesterday, though, someone asked if I would proof a paper for them, and I agreed to it thinking it was a 7-9 page proof to find out it will be more than 25. Hmmm. But I have a feeling that I would have this horrible feeling of guilt if I had said no. Sign me up for that support group!

Dr. Mary Kennedy said...

A great blog! I think women have a particularly hard time saying no. Here are a couple of things that I've found to be useful. First, get the word "no" out right away. Once it's out there, you can decide on the next step. You shouldn't really have to explain yourself, but you can say something general like "I just can't take on one more thing right now." (the danger of explaining is that that the person making the request will insist that you DO have enough time, or it won't take that long, or that they will help you, etc etc.)Secondly, keep an index card next to the phone with your "absolute yes" list on it. Pick three or four projects that you are passionate about, your "must-do" list. If the request doesn't fit in with any of them, then it is an automatic "no." There's no easy answer, I'm afraid but I've found these two techniques helpful. Good luck! The more you practice this, the easier it will be!

Mary Jane Maffini said...

Welcome, Susan! And thanks for your contribution. I loved hearing about the accidental volunteering that bites back.

We're in your corner here in the support group. Proofreading 25 pages? Yikes.



Mary Jane Maffini said...

Mary, that is splendid advice. And it's the first time I've heard either of those useful tip. I have met many people who like to evaluate your reason for the no.

Once, it was an appointment with a dental specialist, with a months long wait for an opening. My bossiest acquaintance (former friend, since demoted) said: "You'll just have to reschedule that!" Happy to say, I stuck to my gun.

I am off to make up that index card, right now!



Grandma Cootie said...

Great blog and good tips above. For me, it is important to remember that the only person who needs to hear why I am saying no is me. It's okay and not rude to just say, "Sorry, I won't be able to do that." My mother was such a stickler for manners that both my sister and I will say, "I'm sorry, excuse me" if someone bumps into us. But you don't have to get approval for your no. However, I have better luck with this with telemarketers or people coming to the door than with friends who push. Or with things I really want to do or am good at, even if I shouldn't take on that commitment right now. Working on it. Kind of like when people ask those personal questions they shouldn't, it's really okay to just say, "I don't really care to share that."

I definitely need to joint the support group!

Mary Jane Maffini said...

You are very welcome, Grandma Cootie ( I so love your nom) . And thanks for bringing your insights with you. I love your story of 'I'm sorry, excuse me." That's a very Canadian thing, too. I once absentmindedly walked into a parking meter and found myself saying. "Oh so sorry!" It was too good to waste so I put it in a book.

Hugs. MJ

Grandma Cootie said...

Meant to mention that my sister is also a Mary Jane, an MJ. Sally Ann and Mary Jane, we certainly were the only ones in school ;-)

Denise Rodgers said...

When I went off to college (1973! makes me feel ancient), my dad's words of wisdom were that it's always easier to say "yes" than "no." Of course I was certain he was taking about sex in his very non-direct way (and he probably was). But I did remember those words and it's helped me as I've worked in a home office most of my adult life, making me an easy target for people who assume that if you're home, you're not working. ( I guess they imagine that you're doing things like watching TV and eating bon-bons---or responding to random blogs). These days I'm much better at saying no and giving limits to what I can and can't do for others. It helps to add what you "can" do before you say what you will not.

That said, my dad has been very ill for two years and ironically often takes up much of my treasured 9-5pm time. He'd be horrified if he knew it; thankfully, he doesn't.

Mary Jane Maffini said...

And Mary Jane is slang for common mostly illegal recreational drug. I am always caught by the spam filters. Say hi to your MJ, SA!

Mary Jane Maffini said...

Thank you for this, Denise. Of course, I think you are just a kid!
You are right about working at home and being a sitting duck. On the other hand, we need to know when to say yes, and how lovely that you can be there for your dad, even though it must be very tough. XO

Unknown said...

Excuse me, please.....I'm Canadian!! lol How polite are Canadians?? My husband's heard me burp in my sleep and promptly excuse myself!!

As to saying "no"......Sometimes it comes down to self-preservation. If you've set aside an evening or a weekend for yourself, consider it a 'done-deal', like a cheque you've written. Put it in your Daytimer in red ink... It works!