Some time ago, I embarked on a personal mission to become more assertive. I started practicing the idea that “no” is a complete sentence and my whole life got better for it. Putting your needs first isn’t selfish as long as you find the proper balance. Here’s how you can do it too.
Consider what you’re being asked to do. I’ll admit, at times I’ve said no to people just because I could. It’s important to think first, then respond. “Do you want to grab a coffee?” and “Do you want to babysit my kids?” may elicit different responses. Maybe you’re a caffeine junkie and a macchiato with a friend sounds amazing but you’d rather scoop your eyes out with a rusty spoon than babysit your cousin’s bratty twins. If you’re a person who routinely says yes to everything, considering what you want will be a foreign concept at first. Even if you keep saying yes for a time, at least think how it would’ve felt to say no.
Say yes to things you actually want to do. I know, this is a lesson on saying no, but you can’t have yin without the yang. If you want to go out for coffee or even if you want to babysit (no judgment) then, by all means, say yes! The point of saying no is to find happiness. Depriving yourself of things that make you happy is obviously not the right way.
Stop hemming and hawing. When someone asks something of you, it shouldn’t take you long to know how you want to respond. If you have an automatic guttural response, run with it! Don’t clear your throat and avert eye contact, “Um, yeah, I’ll think about it and get back to you.” Delaying the inevitable serves no purpose.
Say no immediately. As a veteran procrastinator, I struggled with this. I felt if I told people I’d consider their request, I was being polite. In actuality, I was annoying. Nobody likes waiting around for a response. Better to respond quickly and honestly than waste someone’s time, only to then turn them down in the end.
“I can’t” isn’t an assertive sentence. I can’t babysit your kids because I have to study for an exam/work late/already have plans/am packing for a trip… There are a million and one excuses you could use but resist the urge to overexplain. If you don’t want to babysit today and you can’t foresee a time when you’d ever want to, be bold and say no, not “No, I can’t.”
Saying no isn’t rude if you say it correctly. While I don’t advocate using excuses when turning people down, I’m all about BeDazzling your words with kindness. “I appreciate you asking me but I’m going to have to turn you down. Thank you, though.” Notice I didn’t even use the word no.
Keep saying it for as long as it takes to feel natural. If you practice the art of saying no, you’ll eventually cross paths with someone who just can’t accept your response. The number one offender? Family members. Don’t revert to making excuses and for goodness sake, don’t say yes to shut them up! If you’ve tried saying no politely, you may have to start using what I call my ‘mom voice.’ “I’ve already said no and that’s all I have to say.”
Always say no when your happiness is at stake. This may be a bit of a no-brainer but before I practiced saying no, I didn’t realize how many things I said yes to at the expense of my own happiness. People who never say no are often taken advantage of. And while there’s nothing wrong with doing favors for your friends and family, if you always say yes to them, you’re probably saying no to yourself the majority of the time.
You can’t always say no. I’d love to sit here and tell you how I started telling my boss no and how she respected me more for it, but that’s just not the truth. There are always going to be some people you’ll have to appease with a smiling yes even if you want to throw a tantrum and scream, “No, no, no!” If your work demands are out of hand, that’s one thing, but if your workload is consistent with the contract you signed when hired, you’ve already said yes to your employer. It’s in everyone’s best interest to keep nodding along.
Don’t doubt yourself just because other people don’t get it. People don’t like being told no, that much is true. While your family may try to guilt-trip you into saying yes, other people simply may not understand your new stance. When I started this endeavor to be a happier, more assertive woman, it wasn’t alway met with approval. A friend of mine told me, “I don’t like who you’re becoming. I miss the old you.” This hurt my feelings and I really did consider if what I was doing was the right thing. My friend didn’t like who I was becoming because I used to bend over backward for her. I never told her no. I never spoke up for myself. Of course she missed that person! The person I am now has more self-respect, confidence, and is just freakin’ happy. RIP old me.
Enjoy your free time. It’s pretty amazing what happens to your schedule when you start turning down the things that make you unhappy. You’ll finally experience what it is like to have some time to yourself. Sure, you may spend the first few free nights watching cat videos on YouTube, but hey, as I’ve heard Sheryl Crow sing a billion times, “If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad.”
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