Imagine if you were frantically studying for an exam that you had in a couple of hours, and your best friend called you up and asked you to drive a bunch of friends to go get Dunkin. As much as you would love Dunkin, you really need to study for this exam since it’s 50% of your grade and you tell your friend “No.” Your friend immediately freaks out, yells at you for being selfish and says to never talk to them ever again.
Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Your friend would obviously never do that, and if they did then good riddance, you wouldn’t want to talk to them anymore anyways, right…right? Well, if that sounds so ridiculous to you, why do you still have a hard time saying “no?”
Psychology Today tells us that we have a hard time saying “no” because of two main fears; we are afraid of conflict and we are afraid of hurting other people’s feelings. From a young age we have been taught to listen to authority (our parents and teachers) or otherwise face the consequences. These fears have subconsciously stayed with most of us through adulthood and although we aren’t as afraid of being punished for rejecting someone’s wishes, we are afraid of hurting them. You don’t want to disappoint a loved one by telling them you can’t do something they want you to do. Or maybe you just want to fit in, and you feel like if you say “no,” people won’t like you (Barth, 2016). If you’re anything like me, you're a “people-pleaser,” and you need everyone to like you, so you feel like you need to say yes to everyone.
But, as college students, we are extremely busy. We have projects and exams and readings and essays and jobs and social lives and internships and volunteer positions and the list goes on and on. So sometimes, our plates are simply too full, and we have to say “no.”
But what if by saying “no,” we miss out on an amazing opportunity that would have gotten us our dream job, or what if by saying “no” we lose a friend, or what if by saying “no,” someone else gets upset? These are all practical fears, I hear you, I’ve felt them too. But, in this blog post, I am going to suggest some scientifically proven ways to overcome these fears and say “no” when you need to, or even when you just want to.
Let’s say you're in a class with a professor who you really like. You love the material you’re learning, and the professor keeps you extremely engaged throughout the entire class. Because of this, you answer lots of questions in class and do really well on all the tests. The professor seems to take a liking to you, and at the end of one class, you are asked if you would like to join their research team. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Well here’s the problem; the professor needs you to commit 20 hours a week and you simply have too much on your plate right now and you don’t think you could commit to that. But you also don’t want to make this professor think you don’t like the class or miss out on this opportunity! What do you do?
1. Forbes magazine recommends that instead of saying, “no,” you simply say, “Let me think about it.” This gives you time to reevaluate your options and decide whether or not you really do want to say “no.” Maybe this opportunity is just too good, and you need to rearrange your priorities in order to make it work. Or maybe you take the time to think about it, and it is all just too much so you are able to confidently come back and say, "I gave it some thought, and it's not a great time for me to take that on right now. Thanks for thinking of me!" This isn’t a way to avoid saying “no,” but rather a way to give you time to consider all your options and give you a chance to more confidently and comfortably say “no” if you decide you need to (Bruneau, 2016).
2. Separate refusal from rejection (Collingwood, 2020). Realize that you are not rejecting your professor or your friend or your loved one, but rather the task they are asking you to complete. If this person truly cares about you, they will understand. And if not, well maybe that's a sign...
3. Be honest with both the person you're saying “no” to and to yourself (Collingwood, 2020). First be honest with yourself and decide whether or not you truly want to do this task that is being asked of you. Next, if you decide that you don’t want to, be honest in your refusal and explain why you are saying “no.” You could even offer an alternative, like “No, I can’t take on 20 hours of research right now, but how about 10?” or “No, I can’t take you to get Dunkin right now, but after my test we can get Chipotle.” Most reasonable people won’t get upset if you explain to them you are saying “no” for a legitimate reason and even try to work with them to reach a compromise.
Saying “no” is an important skill to learn, and yes, it is a skill because it is definitely something that you have to practice in order to get good at. A good way to practice is start saying “no” in small, unimportant situations like “No, I don’t need a bag,” or “No, I don’t want a free sample” (Collingwood, 2020). Slowly you’ll be comfortable enough saying “no,” that you can say it when it really counts!
Being a “Yes Man,” like Jim Carrey will only end you up with way too much on your plate, in situations you don’t want to be in, and not enough time for the most important person in your life, you. So, say “No.” Say it! (Just not to this blog post, say yes to Seagull Strength)!
Barth, F. Diane. “Why Is It Hard to Say ‘No’ and How Can You Get Better at It?” Psychology Today,Sussex Publishers, 15 Jan. 2016, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-couch/201601/why-is-it-hard-say-no-and-how-can-you-get-better-it.
Bruneau, Megan. “If You Have Trouble Saying 'No,' Then Say This Instead.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 2016, www.forbes.com/sites/
Collingwood, Jane. “Learning To Say No.” Psych Central, 30 July 2020, psychcentral.com/lib/learning-to-say-no/.
A special thank you to all my friends and family who have not only supported me on my journey but have helped along the way. None of this would be possible without them. Remember to take time to appreciate those in your lives!
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