It's only two little letters, N.O, and it can be one of the hardest thing to say. It can make us feel guilty and lead us to agreeing to things we regret later.
So how can we say no, and feel good about it? And why is this so important for our relationships and health?
Dr Ellen Hendriksen, is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, and the host of the Savvy Psychologist podcasts.
She says humans are biologically wired to get along with the group and to stay in good social standing, which is where the feeling of guilt comes from when we have to turn down someone’s request.
“When we think about what will happen when we say no in our minds, we often jump to the worst case scenario. When we are anxious about something, that is what our brains do.”
Humans also want to be accommodating and it can be rewarding to be helpful, so saying no can come at a person cost, she says. The best way to counteract any anxiety about saying no is to put yourself in the same situation.
“If you asked somebody and they said no, would you fly into a rage, would you fire them? Probably not.”
It is also important to consider the long-term effect of saying no, rather than saying yes at first and then changing your mind later, Dr Hendriksen says.
“It can set healthy limits, it can prevent resentment and it can actually be respectful, so saying no upfront in a polite way and respectful way can save your requester stress in the long run. If you make your no clear without delaying your answer, then that’s more respectful.
“On the other hand if you say maybe or that you’ll think about it or say yes and then back out at the last minute, that is actually worse. So it might feel wrong to say no up front, but in the long run a clear, timely no is more polite and in your requester’s best interest.”
Dr Hendriksen has four suggestions for becoming more confident about saying no.
1. Turn it into a compliment.
“You can say no to the request, but turn it into a compliment to the requester: ‘Thank you so much for thinking of me, that was so lovely of you’ or you could say, ‘I really appreciate that opportunity, how sweet of you to ask me first.’ So you make this nice connection with your requester even though you are turning them down.”
2. Give a subjective reason
“Something that is internal and individual to you that can’t be argued with. So you could blame your taste, your skills or your style. You could say, ‘You know, I’m going to have to say no to MCing that recital, being on stage just isn’t my style’.”
3. Give an objective reason
“On the flip side you could give an objective reason and make the fact that you have to say no the fault of something external to you that you can’t control. You schedule, your workload, your duties or some other objective circumstance.”
4. Use empathy
“Use empathy to connect with somebody and demonstrate that you have heard them because sometimes just knowing that they have been truly heard and understood can make the person feel good, even though you can’t take on whatever they are asking of you, so you can affirm, ‘Wow, you are really working hard at this’, you’re dealing with this really successfully, so therefore they walk away feeling understood with a little compliment, even though you couldn’t take on whatever they are asking of you.”
And if that still doesn’t work and the requester continues to ask, Dr Hendriksen has one last piece of advice.
“There’s a technique called the broken record technique where you simply repeat your answer again and again. You don’t have to be cold, you don’t have to be disrespectful, but don’t let them nudge you from no to well maybe, to well okay just this once, to well fine, because that is going to set you up to be resentful and again that passive aggression… politely, respectfully stick to your guns. Repeat your no and eventually they will get the message.”