You may have run into this already — or you may be afraid of it — but sometimes you will need to say No. We don’t want to disappoint our someone or to negate anything we’ve already done, but here’s a reminder:
NO can actually be a helpful word.
There are Times When No is Best
There are many times when, if we stop to think about it, we are leaning towards saying No, despite seeing a need. We might suspect that a particular task would be difficult for us, or worry about others who need our time, or recognize it will be best for all concerned if we start saying No on occasion.
We may need a reminder: There are perfectly good reasons to choose to say No once in a while.
Skills: Some of us are not skilled in a particular area. You might feel ill-equipped to carry heavy boxes. Perhaps a gloomy scenario kicks in your depression. Your allergies can act up when dusting. Saying Yes to tasks you aren’t up to isn’t going to help your someone and won’t encourage you to bless others.
Personalities: Some of us don’t mesh well with a particular someone. Maybe you suspect you are too young or old, loud or quiet, or have opposite political views. When we are both likely to end up annoyed, saying No may save our relationship.
Unending needs: Our someone may so appreciate our assistance that we end up staying longer or coming more often than we intended, despite other responsibilities at home or at work. Saying Yes too often can lead to a final No, ending all future blessings.
Time: None of us has enough time to do everything, and we surely don’t have time to do everything well. Saying No in lots of cases could help us succeed in the few places where we say Yes.
The best answer can sometimes be a kind but clear “No.”
What happens when we don’t say no?
When we hesitate to say No, we are still communicating something — we are saying a Yes that we didn’t intend, or we are saying something else.
When we keep saying Yes
Sometimes we want to say No but don’t because we feel obligated. We may see a clear need, realize we have just the expertise required, and notice no one else volunteering. In these cases, it is good to think through the long-term results of saying Yes when we should have said No.
Overwhelmed: Sometimes Yeses spiral out of control until we are overwhelmed. Too many Yeses can even overwhelm our already-struggling someone, who may end up trying to accomplish too many tasks at once.
My husband helped an older woman with various tasks. To show appreciation, she would often give Shane things from her kitchen cupboards. Gradually the gifts were weighing down our cupboards as well, requiring us to make extra trips to drop off her gifts at the local food pantry. More importantly, we began to suspect that accepting her gifts gave her an excuse to bring home more and more, increasing her burdens rather than decreasing them. We tried limiting what we accepted, but then she would come up with new items to offer the next time. We all ended up more overwhelmed instead of less.
Finally, I had to stop over and, with thanks but clarity, let her know that from now on, it was going to be No, always No. No exceptions. No matter how great the gift, we would be saying No. Then we had to stick by that, never tempted to accept just this one piece of cake or that almost-full gallon of milk for the kids. She tested the waters a few times over the next years, but generally she took it surprisingly well. Even good things can get out-of-hand.
Burn-out: I’ve known people who loved to bless their local school or their church but ended up completely burned-out, unable to bless anyone for a good long while.
Regrets: Afraid of not being able to say no, we can avoid our someone. We can end up with regrets because we didn’t reach out at all, even for a friendly visit, to avoid feeling pressured and unable to say No.
Moving the burden from them to us: Compassion can lead us to see our someone’s suffering and want to rescue them, saying Yes to everything. Then, instead of relieving a bit of their burden so they are better able to carry their load, we may take on so much that we end up over-burdened and unable to cope, ourselves.
Unhappy anyways: When we are afraid to say No because we don’t want to make someone unhappy, we can make them unhappy anyways.
I knew someone who was always pleasant and literally could never say No. He had a smile and a Yes for everyone. Yet, the reality was that he could only be in one place at a time. If he tried to make everyone happy on a given day, inevitably he would disappoint someone, even if he never actually said No.
When we say Something Else
Sometimes we don’t say No and we don’t really say Yes, either. We find ourselves feeling obligated to once again “give in” halfheartedly, or we use avoidance and procrastination to put off saying No.
Instead of saying a true Yes or a clear No, we settle for…
- a lukewarm Yes,
- a patronizing Yes,
- a begrudging Yes,
- or we avoid the issue by not really answering at all.
Saying No might be more enticing when you look realistically at the other options.
As a caregiver and support person in various situations, of course I would have appreciated a few more Yeses from others. But there were also many occasions where a No would have been incredibly helpful, as I watched loved ones struggle to interpret the not-really-Yes-but-not-really-No answers. Asking me what their son’s vague reply meant or listening to them worry about whether their friend’s lukewarm response meant she didn’t really want to be there, I wished I was in a position to say definitively that the answer had been No this time.
Even when our someone’s mind is muddled or he is alone and overthinking things,
No is a clear answer that allows our someone to move forward.
Philosophizing: Saying no doesn’t mean your someone is beneath you
There are lots of reasons we don’t like to say No — we may want to be liked, or we may care very much about the person’s situation. But also, we may have bad associations with the idea of saying No.
Teachers and bosses say No to us. Drill sergeants say No. We say No to children a lot. I suspect we often hesitate to say No because of these associations. There’s an underlying impression that saying No means we are not being a friend, an equal, a source of blessing.
Saying No feels like a power trip because it means taking responsibility — it is making decisions about which things we will not be able to take care of, rather than allowing things to happen halfheartedly or to just not happen.
But saying No to blessing someone is different than a No from your boss. We can sort responsibility into two categories:
- In the case of a parent or boss or commander, the message is that someone else will not be allowed to do this or have that. The person in authority is taking responsibility for someone else when they say No.
- On the other hand, when saying No about our own actions, the message is that we will not do this or get that. We are taking responsibility for ourselves, making choices about our own time, abilities, and preferences.
So, we are not saying the same kind of No to our someone that our parents said to us.
Saying No on occasion means we are taking responsibility for ourselves and respecting our someone enough to clearly communicate what *we* will do.
However, our choices still affect others. Our decision to say No will impact our someone. And of course always saying No — never saying Yes to even the smallest gesture towards our someone — might imply that we don’t value them. We want to bless our someone with many warm Yeses, but we are also respecting them when we communicate our Nos when that is the best answer.
Saying No is actually treating our someone like an adult, not a child.
Okay, end of philosophizing. On to the practical…
Saying No Doesn’t Mean Doing Nothing
This blog is generally about figuring out how to say Yes more often and bless our someones. And we all need to feel useful and needed and productive, so we probably look forward to saying Yes once in a while, maybe even more often than No.
When we do say No, it doesn’t mean no to everything.
- It may mean narrowing your time frame, letting him know you will only be available during one specific time period each month, and he can choose which tasks he’d like you to do during that time;
- or limiting the range of what you’re willing to do, such as when cooking brings you joy but cleaning isn’t even happening in your own home;
- or asking, “How about this, instead?” Watching a movie together may not work, but you’ll be passing the pharmacy and could pick up a prescription.
And finally, on occasion it’s a good idea to backtrack and revisit the reasons for your No, to check whether those reasons apply any more.
A clear No ensures our time will be spent on the very best blessings.
Blog #19, COMMENT BELOW: Have you found a way to kindly but successfully communicate that your answer was No?