Saying Yes to Saying No

I believe that America here at the turn of the millennium is going to be remembered in history as a nation of gluttons. Whether it is with our calendars, our budgets, our relationships, or our palates, we can’t get enough. Just about every celebrity I can think of is known for being or doing the most something. Who is known for being the most well-rounded? Most of us try to grow our self-esteem by owning or doing more and more things, not doing a few of the better things better.

What situations do you find it most difficult to say no?

Whining, demanding children or grandchildren? Spoiled teens and young adults in your family? Adult loved ones with behavioral or chemical addictions? Your main squeeze that you’re afraid of turning off or losing altogether? Your parents or authority figures whose frowning disapproval you can’t stand to risk? Your chronically down-in-the-dumps friend who has a talent for becoming a victim? Your church or charitable organization that needs to get a job done? A party-animal or shopaholic friend who’s inviting you to have some fun? A status symbol you suddenly find on sale? A stray cat on the side of the road?

When should you say no, and how can you explain it if asked? 

1. When you believe no one could possibly do what you’re being asked as well as you can do it. The problem here is you’re probably too vain, narrow-minded and workaholic, and folks could easily take advantage of you for this stuff, resent you for it, or both. Just say, "I want to see how somebody else would do it this time. It’s somebody else’s turn—let’s see some other ways it can be done." Or, "I don’t want to make it any easier for the people who created this problem to avoid taking more responsibility for solving it."

2. When you can’t decide what you’ll give up to make the time to do it. "My calendar is full right now, and I don’t see anything I can give up to make room for this."

3. When you’re having trouble honoring the commitments you’ve already made. "I’m so overcommitted I’m doing a poor job of several things, and I wouldn’t want that to happen here."

4. When you couldn’t do it well enough to satisfy yourself and those in charge. "The best I could do at this time would neither please you, me, nor the people I’d have to answer to."

5. When your family isn’t behind it. "This isn’t something my family could get very excited about or involved in, and I don’t need anything else to take me further away from them at this time."

6. When you haven’t been respectfully asked. Don’t reward people who tell, expect, guilt, or pressure you into things, like dropping something into your lap at the last minute. "I might have considered it if I had been asked and given some time, but I don’t do my best work under pressure, especially pressure I haven’t created. It’s not good for my immune system either."

7. Here’s the best reason of all to say no, because it is often a dashboard warning light, a sign that indicates one or more of the situations above: When your heart isn’t in it. "I don’t know why, but I just can’t find a passion for doing this. I’d rather wait and say yes to something I can put my heart into." This is reason enough to say no in my book, as long as my calendar is as it should be, pretty full of things I DO have my heart in, including a healthy balance of work, rest and play.

This gets us back to where we started. Doing fewer things allows us to do them better. Taking on too much erodes the quality of our performance, and with it, our reputation and self-esteem. Maybe it’s time you took a second look at saying yes to saying no. Often the times it’s hardest to say no are actually the times you and others most need you to do it.

Dr. Paul Schmidt is a psychologist life coach you can reach at [email protected], (502) 633-2860.


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Dr. Paul F. Schmidt