Implausible as it may seem, in the middle of the social rut and great pause that is the pandemic, I am actually feeling overbooked in my own home.
In between a rote schedule of breakfast, snack, lunch, snack and more snack followed by dinner, my children yell out request after request. They call out “Moooooom” repeatedly until I respond; the answer is repeatedly no.
Ironically, it’s this simple two-letter word I need to keep in my vocabulary for the demands of the big kid world.
As we age, we lose childhood characteristics like confidence, wanderlust and a no-fear attitude. And, I wonder if losing the ability to say no with reckless abandon serves us.
How do we make the transition from people-pleasing yeses to the no’s of our childhood?
Although I’ve covered the topic in years past, a reminder is in order for our health and well-being. I feel the pandemic is asking more of us than ever before. In addition, we’ve been presented with numerous COVID-19 safety scenarios requiring a definitive response.
For some, no rolls off the tongue easily. For others, paralysis sets in for fear of hurting someone’s feelings.
It is important to recognize limitations, be they related to schedule, strength or interest. You, and those around you, might be better served if you did say no every now and then. By doing so, you’re being honest about the fact that you won’t or can’t do something, rather than saying yes and dropping the ball or feeling embittered.
By reluctantly accommodating a request, you’re shutting the door on creating a much-needed boundary and, thus, more opportunities for yourself. The trick is to weigh the balance between self-preservation and the Golden Rule.
So, how does a person inclined to always say yes bring him or herself to utter the big N-O? With sugar on top, if necessary. No need to fear appearing stern or abrupt. Your response doesn’t need to be backed up by apologies, excuses or little white lies.
Your facial expression, eye contact and tone often convey what you’re feeling. Softening what may be a difficult decline, these cues, when displayed positively, serve as a buffer. The etiquette of no is about making others feel acknowledged without compromising yourself.
William Ury, Ph.D., penned The Power of a Positive No, about the crucial art of delivering it in every area of life. “Avoid avoidance,” says Ury. “A quick no is better than a slow maybe.”
Most people I’ve interviewed feel being direct is best, and a friend wrote, “I see it as respectful to their time and emotional energy.” It also models good behavior for your children. Hearing it leads to creative thinking and deters entitlement.
Speaking of children, there is the school of thought that no should be reserved for serious situations so as not to wear out its effect. For the day-to-day requests redirect with something like this:
“I am not free to do that now but let me know if you still need my help when I am finished.”
“I wonder what that would look like if you tried it without leaving the ground/without making an actual sound.”
“That looks like something for outside.”
“That might work but what if we try it this way.”
When a no is in order, use eye contact and follow it up with an explanation:
“No! You must hold my hand in the parking lot.”
When communicating with peers, channel the confidence of your inner 2-year-old with the tact and wisdom of your adult self. Try these firm yet polite responses the next time you’re asked to take on additional tasks for work, to volunteer, to climb a mountain or to carry the weight of the world:
- “No, thank you.”
- “Thank you for including me/Isn’t that nice of you to ask? However, I’m unavailable.”
- “I appreciate you thinking of me. Please keep me in the loop next time.”
- “No, I can’t meet in person, but is there something you’d like to discuss?”
- “This is just not for me” or “I prefer not to.”
- “I’m currently working on the X and Y file. Which one should I set aside to take on this new task?”
- “That’s a great idea. I can’t commit to taking the lead but I will support you in doing it.”
- “While I have done that in the past, it’s uncomfortable/difficult/exhausting for me.”
- Although I’ve been a long-standing volunteer, I’m sitting this one out. Let’s circle back next year.”
- “Thank you but I must take care of myself/be realistic.”
- “I’m not in a position to do that but I can make a phone call/recommendation.”
- “Unfortunately, I can’t because it’s one of those rare occasions I’ve committed to staying in my pajamas all day.”
Concerned about what comes next? Offer your encouragement and then move on by changing the subject. By not dragging out excuses, you appear firm and confident.
These pandemic years will long be remembered for their uncertainty, upheaval and unprecedented demands. Empowering yourself to say no every once in a while provides a sense of control and builds resilience. Say yes to self-care and self-worth.
Bizia Greene is an etiquette expert and owns the Etiquette School of Santa Fe. Send your comments and conundrums to firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-988-2070.