We give constantly: time, energy, knowledge and support. Giving is such an intrinsic element of what we do, that saying “no” can become difficult, if not impossible. Declining to do something for someone can seem to us like refusing to help. But what if that someone is yourself? And think about it for a moment: saying “no” can also achieve a positive outcome. This blog is about the very real power of that little word, and about ways to use it wisely.
Practice makes perfect
If saying “no” is difficult for you, practise. It’s not bonkers, it makes sense! We all know that a reliable strategy to use to perfect something, is to practise it. Do it in front of the mirror and say it like you mean it. Do it while walking, to give yourself more energy to say it. Do it in front of an imaginary person until you feel confident to do it for real.
Use it for time management
Start with using it for yourself. It’s not selfish, it’s realistic. If you’re under too much pressure, you’re unlikely to give your best to anyone: your friends, your students, your colleagues, your family. Give yourself a breather. Say “no” to allow yourself even just a tiny little slice of time for you. Then use that time wisely!
Use it to create opportunity
What do you want? What’s standing in your way? No doesn’t have to mean forever, just not yet. It can also be used to negotiate too: “No, not that way, let’s try it this way.” Become a great negotiator!
Use it when you know it makes sense
When you’ve tried and tried and it’s still there, looming. Be realistic. What difference would it make to say, “No”? This is not about failure, this is about what’s reasonable.
Use the negative to be positive
A non-teaching colleague reminded me of this strategy not so long ago (thanks, Manish) and explained how he often refuses to buy into his own negative beliefs, when they are leading him astray. He makes a good point. It’s all too easy to give in to the little voice that says, “You won’t be able to do that! What makes you think you’ll succeed at that? What if… what if… what if…?” Tell yourself to be quiet (use whatever kind of language works for you!) Deny that negative voice.
Saying no is about first saying yes to yourself, and being sure of what you want. Once you have that confidence, and know what you really want, then the word no becomes much easier to use when you need to, because you will use it with the courage of your convictions.
And for some more detailed thoughts on the matter, and with thanks for the inspiration, here’s your homework!
Ury, W (2008). The Power of a Positive No. London: Hodder and Stoughton. 1-272.