Saturday, July 17, 2010

Saying "No" (Fairly) Gracefully

You have tons on your plate on a regular basis. Your days are packed with running from work to the market to home, where the second shift begins and you're taking care of everyone else around you. Why would you possibly take on more?

Yet, every week you're faced with requests to take on something else. Whether it's a general request sent out to multiple people or it's a specific request for you, these situations often put you in an uncomfortable position. Do you take on the additional task or not?

Of course there are times when it makes sense to say yes. When things are lighter at work or the kids are between sports. When the one organization that you are truly passionate about has a major event. And even under these circumstances, it's important to be aware of what you're agreeing to and what kind of commitment it will mean.

But how about when you're feeling slammed at work and each night the kids have an activity in addition to homework to finish? What is so difficult about saying no? Does it make you selfish? Ungrateful? Not a team player?

Sometimes we agree to do something in an effort to be sure that we are doing our share; to make certain that we're pulling our own weight. It's great to make sure that you're doing your part, but you may end up pulling others' weight as well. Which is okay once in a while, but constantly being the one who picks up the slack eventually leads to exhaustion and resentment.

Sometimes we agree to do things because we don't want to disappoint others. The fact is that people live with some disappointment all the time. They can tolerate it and it often has less impact than you think. It may stick with you for days, but the requestor has most likely moved on and taken the steps necessary to get what they needed.

Sometimes we say yes in order to avoid conflict. Most of the time our fears about how others will respond are out of proportion to their actual reaction. Basically, we build it up in our minds making it worse than it actually turns out to be.

But, there are people in our lives who don't take no graciously. They give us a hard time, pile on the guilt, or badger us with the hope of breaking us down. So, we say yes to avoid dealing with all of that. But, as unpleasant as it is to have to hear all of that for however long we choose to listen, is it really less work to do the task? Wouldn't it actually be simpler to say no, stick to our no, and end the conversation when the other person gets pushy?

And yes, I said how long we choose to listen. We do have some power over how long we allow ourselves to be badgered or harrassed by another person. Enough is enough. You have a right to look out for yourself and to conserve your energy for the people and tasks that mean the most to you.

Yes, it's flattering to be viewed as reliable and competent. But, that does not mean that you owe it to the world to use those qualities at every possible turn. There is such a thing as "too nice."

Always saying yes often leads to feeling overextended, underappreciated, and taken for granted. And a good rule of thumb is to never say yes to a request right away. Give yourself time to really think about what you would be getting yourself into.

Self-care means considering your time and energy as the valuable, limited resources that they are. It means thinking thoroughly about every request and asking yourself why you should say yes. It also means practicing saying no in a firm, respectful manner and staying strong if others do not treat you with the same respect.

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