So often I hear my friends’ say that they have been recruited to yet another committee at school; despite the fact that they are already spread too thin with work, parenting, and household responsibilities. When I ask why they have taken on the extra tasks they will typically say that they simply couldn’t say “no.” I am personally acquainted with this specific problem because I too have suffered from this inability to take a pass, to disappoint someone, to just say, “sorry, but no.”
I consider myself in recovery from this disorder but every now and then I do relapse and find myself taking on too much, or struggling to delegate a task. It took me years of late nights playing catch up because of over committing to finally learn to draw the line. In fact, now sometimes I even get carried away with my “no” response and feel the need to make myself really clear. This is in part because when you are someone that rarely says “no” to things, people come to expect a “yes” and when they hear something different they brush it off and return later with the same requests.
A definitive "no" carries a lot of weight and can cause collateral damage according to William Ury, director of the Global Negotiations Project at Harvard University and author of “The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes.”
Ury believes that saying no creates a power differentiation and can interfere with relationship building. It is hard to feel like the bad guy.
Ury suggests that putting your “no” in between two “yeses” is a way to stand your ground but maintain the relationship, if in fact it is a relationship worth maintaining. As a negotiation specialist he teaches people to lead with the positives. Suppose you are asked to be on yet another committee at school by a dear friend who wants to share the load with you. You might say, “you are so good at organization and I truly admire your commitment to the school” (The Yes.) “I am really sorry, but I am not going to be able to be on this committee with you this year because I am just too swamped” (The No.) “Even though we won’t get to hang out at committee meetings I would love to make a date to have coffee with you soon so we can catch up” (The Yes.) Even if you have the ability to turn someone down this is a good suggestion to lessen the blow.
I think learning to say “no” is an ability that increases with age. It certainly has for me. But there is no doubt that it is a skill that is worth embracing. With the increasing demands of most people’s daily lives, I completely agree with William Ury’s statement that, “to say yes to the right things, you have to say no to a lot of other things.”
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