I was talking with a friend of mine recently about drawing boundaries with friends and loved ones. Saying no to requests that come my way has not traditionally been my strong suit. Whether it was agreeing to host a party I didn’t really have time to plan or helping a friend with a project, I remember through my 20’s that it was always a struggle for me and I often found myself overextended and resentful.
What I finally learned is how good it feels to be honest with people (in a kind way) when I don’t have the bandwidth for something they want my help with. Most of the people in my life have been receptive and understanding when I can’t help with their request, and those few that haven’t been—well let’s say I wasn’t too surprised, and I’ve been able to hold firm and while staying compassionate toward their feelings. This was instrumental in learning the “you can’t please everyone” lesson.
My MO with getting out of doing things before was to make up excuses (that probably didn’t fool anybody) about why I couldn’t help with the event or project in question. I felt uncomfortable that I was being dishonest and it probably made the people in my life uncomfortable, too. Now that I choose to be honest about my ability to help/participate/attend/whatever, I find that my relationships feel more authentic and I’m more at ease around the people I love.
For me, it happened somewhat with age. Which I know isn’t a particularly helpful bit of information for those of you struggling with this. The other good piece of advice I’ve learned to live by is this:
There are generally two different types of people with regards to asking for favors. There are people who really think through their request and only ask something of another person if they believe the other person will not be too inconvenienced and will likely feel comfortable or happy to do the favor, attend the event, etc. (This, by the way, is how I am—I typically won’t ask someone to do something that I wouldn’t do myself, and I think long and hard about whether it’s fair or appropriate for me to ask for help from those I love before I do so.)
The other type of person you generally find in regards to asking for favors is the person who lives by the “if you don’t ask, the answer is always no” theory. These people are more comfortable asking for favors, but generally don’t feel upset when the answer is no, because they ask for favors a lot more frequently and with much less expectation.
People who fall into the first camp are typically the ones who struggle with saying no. We tend to assume everyone is like us, and that we wouldn’t be asked to help with that party if it wasn’t really important to the person who asked. And this is what gets us into trouble. We should actually be doing the opposite. If we assume that people are asking for that favor with the assumption that we might say no (or even likely will say no), then it makes it much easier to do just that—and say no.
Okay so now that we’ve come around to the idea that it’s perfectly fine to say no…how do you do it? Here are some ideas for how to say no in a nice way:
I’m sorry; I have another commitment at that time.
I would like to, but I just have too much on my plate right now.
Thank you for thinking of me, but I can’t.
I wouldn’t be able to really dedicate the time necessary for this.
The last tip I have for saying no is just to do it, and don’t keep talking and making excuses afterward. Say your short and sweet no, then zip it! Don’t let your anxiety (or another person’s attempt to pressure you) turn your no into a yes.
If you're still struggling, you can always just use Phoebe's line:
Is this something you have struggled with in your own life? I’d love to hear how you handle saying no and how people have reacted to you in the comments below!