A common theme in my life lately has been the fact that I’ve started saying “No” a lot more often.
“No” has been popping up in my professional life, manifesting itself as the choice to turn down work or projects. It’s also been arising in my personal life, by way of saying “No” to certain friendships I can no longer accommodate or situations that I do not wish to entertain.
And yet, so many of us are afraid to say the word—and equally, as many of us resent hearing it. Perhaps it’s because we associate the word “no” with rejection. We worry that saying “No” will upset others—and assume that when we’re told “no” that we’re being punished or judged.
But “no” isn’t a bad word at all—it’s just that its meaning can sometimes be misunderstood.
So to help clear things up, here is a list of what that no does mean (other than rejection) and a list of things it certainly does not.
What “No” Means
"I don’t have the time or energy to take on this project."
We’re no good to anyone if we’re so burnt out that we can’t even think straight. It’s important to work hard but we mustn’t work so hard that we hinder our ability to even do our work.
We create what we fear so it’s important to keep a solid work/life balance in order to ensure that the work we actually do is done well.
Listen: Psychiatrist Judith Martin explains the best way to say no to your family. Post continues...
"This just isn’t aligned with where I’m currently at in my life."
We can’t be everything for everyone at all times. Perhaps we’ve got some heavy emotional stuff to trudge through or maybe we’re simply not feeling it. Regardless, we don’t owe anyone an excuse for saying "No" to something. We’re responsible for what we bring into and out of our lives.
"I’m satisfied with my current situation and do not wish to accommodate yours."
People often think they’re doing us a favour by offering a project but oftentimes, we also do them a favour by accepting it.
Think about it: If we don’t need the money/stress/work, we don’t have to take it—even if the other person thinks we should.
It's as simple as that. I can risk rejection from you in order to respect myself. "No" is not a form of rejection, but a lot of people continue to operate as though it is.
What’s the quickest way to find out if someone has a boundary issue? Set one. Even if the person we’re dealing with reacts poorly to being told "no," that doesn’t mean we have to acquiesce in order to avoid conflict.
"I am putting myself first."
Saying "No" is a powerful way to set our own personal boundaries in order to protect our time, energy and space.
If accepting a request puts our sanity and well-being at risk, then we’re doing it for the wrong reasons. It’s important to surround ourselves with people, tasks, and environments that add value to our lives, as best and as often as we possibly can.
What "No" Doesn't Mean
When we say “No, I don’t want to talk to you anymore,” we’re not saying, “Please text me 10 more times and then email me to make sure I got your texts.” Anyone who can’t accept the word "no" needs to check their ego at the door and return focus back to their own lives.
And anyone who plays “hard to get” as an adult is emotionally immature and lacks clear assertive communication skills.
"I’ll change my mind."
Saying "No" doesn’t imply that we are seeking someone to jump through hoops to convince us of their perspective or justify their behaviour. It's also not asking others to wait awhile and try again later, as though our opinion and ability to speak for ourselves is seasonal.
"My decision is up for negotiation or debate."
Turning down a request is not a battle for control. It’s not about being “right” or “wrong.” If we do not feel as though we want to pursue a job/relationship/situation, we owe no justification for why. Someone else cannot tell us that we’re wrong for feeling something because they’re not in our head. "No" is a final answer.
"I’m being childish, ungrateful or rude."
When we say "No" it’s a personal choice and likely has very little to do with the person we’re saying "No" to. When we spend time sugar-coating how we feel in efforts to minimise conflict, we’re not doing ourselves or our efforts any justice.
We can be mature and remain grateful for the opportunity while still denying the request.
When we apologise for being unable to accommodate someone else, we send the message that we’re doing something wrong, suggesting that we wish we didn’t have to say "No."
This thinking dilutes our capacity for standing our ground and owning how we feel. It also implies that the person’s feelings ought to be hurt, which is simply not true. We do not owe anyone an apology or explanation when we establish a boundary and say "No."
When we get clear on the importance of saying "No," we’re able to disentangle ourselves from the negative connotations we’ve ascribed to its meaning.
Although in theory, always saying “Yes” sounds altruistic and productive, in practice it leads to the opposite outcome. For instance, we know that multitasking creates a degradation of quality in our work compared to single-tasking.
But what we don’t talk about is the fact that people-pleasing isn’t actually a true desire to support others as it’s at the expense of our own well-being. In fact, people-pleasing, when boiled down, is nothing but a toxic cycle of behaviour by which we strive to gain validation, identity and acceptance through acts of service.
So say "No" and say it often.
Because when you can’t say "No" to anything, you limit your ability to say "Yes" to what really matters to you.