I’ve learned over the years that one of THE BEST skills to have is the ability to say no - and to stick to it. It’s a skill I am still trying to hone. How often do you find yourself agreeing to do something and, almost even before the words are out of your mouth, regretting it? If you’re anything like me, then it’s pretty much a daily occurrence. So knowing how that quick agreement will inevitably make our life more difficult, why on earth do we continue to do it?
It seems that there are a number of reasons we rush to offer our time and services, despite the inevitable impact it will have on our stress and responsibilities. So which is yours?
The People Pleaser
Probably the most common; we simply can’t bear to see the look of disappointment if we say no. Or thinking that we are somehow responsible for someone else’s enjoyment or plans and that if we say no, it will be ruined forever. Even if the result is the ruination of our own plans or enjoyment. Sometimes we feel simply embarrassed to say ‘no’ as though somehow our reason for refusing to assist is invalid or foolish, even if in reality it is perfectly reasonable. Or we feel obliged to say yes because they have done something to help us in the past, even though this request is totally disproportionate. Hell yeah, I know you picked up my kid from school last week so I can’t really say no when you ask me to carry a suitcase of cocaine to Thailand…. Extreme I know, but you get the drift.
The Strategic Yes
Oh I have fallen for this one soooooo many times. Mainly involving my dad or my former boss. You think saying yes to one thing will finally get them off your back but in fact it just opens the door to a whole heap of new pain. And having said yes once, a little like training a dog or a toddler, they think it’s only a matter of hounding you to the end in order to get their way. And they will continue to do so until they do. When my mum first died, leaving my dad living alone, he would badger me to undertake a specific pointless but time consuming task simply because it was something about which he had had a sweeping idea for 2 minutes.
One example was a new blind for the downstairs loo in his house. There was nothing wrong with the existing one so I carefully side stepped the request every visit on the basis that his essential tasks (food shopping, hospital visits and the like) took up so much time. But he asked about it so often that in the end I thought if I just did it, it would be the end of it. How foolish. It was just the start. Once the current task was completed, there was always another (pointless) task waiting in the wings. A spare kettle in case his current (new) kettle broke. An extra pair of scissors in case these ones went blunt. A pair of jeans because he’d never had any, oh and a spare for when they were in the wash. When he died I found seven pairs of unworn jeans in his wardrobe…
The ‘I’m not workshy’ Yes
You know what it’s like, you’re up to the gills with work tasks, you know that the next week, the next month will be misery on a plate, too much to do and too little time (and that’s before having to homeschool during lockdown). So when your boss asks you to take on a new task you just say no, right?! Of course you don’t. You say that of course, you will do it, frightened that if you don’t you will only be compared unfavourably to everyone else in your team, who seem to create a façade of being able to juggle valiantly all aspects of life and work a 32 hour day, all without breaking a sweat. They would say yes, so you feel that you have to say yes too. As otherwise you just look like a slacker…
The ‘Foot in the Door’ Yes
This yes is appropriated by stealth. So not only is your time stolen, you’ve also been conned into the bargain. This yes is procured via the request to engage in a small task and which you feel you can fit into your already busy day, but somehow manages to morph into a much bigger task through incremental steps. What started out as looking after your friend’s child for 10 mins grows to collecting them from school, looking after them for 2 hours, feeding them their dinner and then driving then to their granny’s house. 73 miles away. Of course, if you’d been asked to do this at the outset you’d have had little hesitation in saying no (if you’d said yes to it all immediately I fear you are beyond help!) but with each small increase you find yourself being sucked into a much more significant task. They key here is having fallen for this once, don’t fall for it again. I have one particular friend who when she starts by saying “would you mind just….” I feel myself groan inwardly as I know that if I don’t say no at once, before I know it, I will be giving up an entire weekend to unblock her drains.
The ‘You Can’t Unsubscribe’ Yes
Beware this yes. You often don’t realise at the time as it does not come accompanied by bold lettered warnings or claxons, but say yes to what you think is a one time, one off specific task is actually signing you up to a lifetime commitment to perform this task until the day you die. And perhaps even beyond that. You agree to attend a weekly meeting on someone’s behalf because they are on holiday and before you know it, you are attending every week and it’s accepted by everyone around you that attendance is your responsibility and always will be. Or the Saturday evening looking after grandkids, with accompanying sleepover, that you thought would make a nice change but is now a regular every weekend without fail feature.
It’s nice to be nice and we all like to help our families, friends and colleagues. But we also need to know our own worth and when to say no to preserve our own mental health and wellbeing – or to avoid a prison sentence!