How NO Is Just As Important As YES

I’ve been a yes woman most of my life. I want everyone to like me. There. I said it. I have this burning need to have people in my life like me. As a result, I’ve spent a great deal of time saying yes, when oftentimes, I’ve really wanted to say no.

I’ve had relationships with men where I’ve said yes dozens of times, when I’ve wanted to shout an emphatic NO! I’ve agreed to things in friendships that have compromised my own wants in order to please my friend; so she’ll continue to like me. I’ve said yes out of guilt when no would have been the more honest answer.

I began to say no a couple of years ago. At first, my “no’s” came with a laundry list of justifications. “No. I can’t do this because I’m not feeling well and I just think it would better if I relaxed tonight. I’m reaaallly sorry.” This also felt funky to me. I felt funny every time I excused or justified myself and my no.

And then a wise friend reminded me that when I justify my no, I actually come off as defensive. And it’s true. A “no” that comes with a reason tells the other person that the only reason I’m saying no is because of this, that and the other. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be saying no. Can you say: Exhausting!!!

Saying no WITHOUT a reason is actually one of the most empowering things we can do. When someone says no without a justification, what they’re doing is OWNING THEIR IMPORTANCE. Think about it. Someone asks me if I can do something for them. I think about it and it really doesn’t jive with me. It doesn’t even matter why it doesn’t jive with me. All I need to know is that it doesn’t. So, I say no, but I say it with an excuse. Here’s the thing about excuses. Everyone knows when they’re being given an excuse. Plain and simple. So I say no and drop the excuse. Sure, it might leave the other person gape-mouthed. But here’s what WILL happen with the “no exchange” without the excuse. The other person will know exactly where they stand in that moment. They’ll know that you’re not going to do something that you really didn’t want to do. They’ll trust that. They’ll trust you.

The other thing that happens when you inject an excuse into your exchange, is you actually open the discussion up for further negotiation. This use to happen all the time with my husband. He’d come home and ask me to go for a walk with him. I might have had a really tiring day with our daughter. I might just not feel like it. So, the old Ann (old meaning last year) would have said, “Oh honey, I’m just so tired….you know, I’ve had a really busy day with Ava and I just feel like I want to relax by myself. Sorry.” I typically ended my justifications with “sorry.” And the most interesting thing would happen. He would try to negotiate with me. ”Are you sure? Maybe you’d feel better if you came out for a walk!” And then I would negotiate back. ”But I’m EXHAUSTED, Scott! I don’t think I could put one leg in front of the other right now! God!!”

Here’s the new Ann.

Scott: Do you want to go for a walk?

Ann: No.

Scott: Okay, see ya in half an hour.

See how simple that was?

When we really accept that we are just as important as every other Tom, Dick and Harry, than we can say no without any hesitation or guilt. And it really comes down to our belief in our own importance. Our own worth.

We teach people how to treat us. We simply cannot expect others to treat us well, just because. We play the biggest role in how others respond to us. So when I’m honest with the people in my life and I have enough respect for myself and for my loved ones to say no when I mean no, than the rules of engagement change. We show others that we matter. It also inspires other people to validate their own importance.

I know that when I’ve said yes, in the past, I’ve either had a shitty time or have grown resentful at what I’ve said yes too. Now that sounds like a good time! In essence, when I’ve said yes, everyone has felt the disingenuous quality of the agreement.

I look at my little Ava, who is 22 months old. One of her first words was “No” and it continues to be one of her favorite words. Despite the fact that she has a great vocabulary and is speaking in full sentences, I don’t think I’ve ever heard her say “yes!” No is so important in the world of a new person because it establishes early boundaries. It allows that little person to have a say in his or her world. We somehow lose this along the way. North Americans are so freaking polite and we’ve somehow put being nice before being honest. Let’s not. Let’s honor ourselves first. When we do that, we honor everybody.

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