The power of saying “no”, and how it could improve your happiness and health

Whether it’s with employees and colleagues or even friends and family, it’s all too easy to become a “yes” person when people come to you with requests.

There are many reasons we end up saying “yes”, even when we don’t really mean it. It could be to:

  • Avoid confrontation – You may be concerned about rejecting a request from fear of it creating conflict or seeming rude.
  • Please someone else – You might think you’re letting someone down by saying “no”, particularly in the workplace.
  • Not miss out – You might not like the idea of missing social events with friends and family or even colleagues – even if you don’t particularly want to go!

Yet actually, saying “no” is not only a totally acceptable thing to do in these situations, but an important one for your wellbeing.

So, find out the true power of saying “no”, how it can support your happiness and health, and a few tips that can help you to confidently answer in the negative.

You can tire yourself out by always saying “yes”

The imminent danger of always saying “yes” to people is that it can tire us out, mentally and emotionally. By always agreeing to help with other tasks or attend social events, you can end up putting your wellbeing at risk to please other people.

As psychotherapist and counselling psychologist, Shaina Vasundhara Bhatia, explains on Health Shots: “You always end up prioritising other’s needs and wants above yours, which in the long run isn’t healthy for you.

“It is arduous emotionally, mentally, and physically.”

Essentially, without having boundaries for when you’re willing to say “no”, whatever the context might be, you could put yourself on the road towards diminished mental health and burnout.

Meanwhile, by learning the power of saying “no” and successfully deploying it, you can protect your mental health and avoid becoming overwhelmed with work or having too many social activities to keep up with.

Saying “no” is a rational and logical response to avoid being overwhelmed

A significant part of the reason that saying “yes” is considered a positive trait and saying “no” a taboo is because of the way we’re socialised.

As quoted on the American Psychological Association website, social psychologist Susan Newman explains: “As young children and teens, we have ‘no’ drummed out of us…We’re taught to do what our parents and what authority figures tell us.”

Newman goes on to explain that we often hold a false belief that saying “no” will lead to other people seeing us as:

  • Selfish
  • Uncaring
  • Lazy
  • Confrontational

But actually, when you stop to think about your behaviour objectively and rationally, it simply isn’t the case that you’ll be seen in this way.

Think about a hypothetical situation in which you might say “no”. It might be at work, being asked to complete a task on top of your responsibilities that you don’t have capacity for. Or, it could be a social instance, such as a friend asking you to do something on a weekend when you’re already committed to another activity.

Now, imagine that you say “no”, apologise, give a brief explanation of why you can’t, and perhaps even suggest an alternative. In these instances, you haven’t been selfish, uncaring, lazy, or confrontational, but quite the opposite.

Also think about how you would feel if the situation were reversed, with you asking the same thing of someone else. Would you find it selfish, uncaring, lazy, or confrontational if a colleague or friend calmly and apologetically said “no”?

Reframing saying “no” in this way can be beneficial, as it’s a reminder that it’s a perfectly acceptable thing to do, and a helpful way to further establish your boundaries.

3 simple tips to learn how to say “no”

Of course, while it theoretically makes sense to say “no”, it can be difficult to do so in reality. Saying “no” is a learned skill, so it might take some practise before you’re confidently and fluently using it.

Fortunately, it’s more than possible to improve. These three simple tips could help you make a start.

1. Be honest with those who are asking something of you

Firstly, try to be honest and direct when others are making requests of you. Rather than putting up a pretence of being able to help or offering false reasons as to why you can’t, simply say “no” at the first opportunity.

If you’re close enough with the person, honestly explaining why and offering a potential solution can be helpful, if not only for calming your fears that you’ve come across as rude or inconsiderate.

2. Take your time before agreeing to requests

One of the major barriers to saying “no” is that it’s easy to agree to something before you’ve had time to think it through. So, a helpful technique to prevent this from happening is to take your time before you agree to a request from someone.

By avoiding the knee-jerk reaction of saying “yes” to come across as helpful, you’ll have time to fully consider whether you want – or are even able – to do what’s being asked of you, and then say “no” if need be.

This can also give you space to rehearse your response, which can be helpful if you’re navigating a complex relationship at work.

3. Accept that you can’t always please everyone

Finally, it’s important to accept that you cannot please everyone all the time. This can be a difficult skill to master, particularly if you are naturally a “people pleaser”.

But of course, it is a simple fact that you won’t always be able to please everyone. And indeed, even if you manage to do so by relaxing your boundaries and pushing yourself, it can come at the cost of your own wellbeing.

So, by understanding and embracing this, it may help you to rationalise why you’re saying “no”, and encourage you to do so more often.

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