Learning to Say “No”

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“No” is a powerful word. And, if it’s so powerful, why do we feel the need to follow it up with so much explanation? I’m learning to just say “No.”

I recently went on a walk with a friend of mine. A mutual acquaintance of ours was passing through town and checked in with both of us right before our walk. I try to respect other people’s time and boundaries, so I asked the friend I was walking with if they would like to invite the mutual connection.

The answer, via text, “No.”

I’m not close enough to know the reasons or have a well established “text conversation tone.”

When I mentioned it later I told them I appreciated the answer without context. Because “no” was all I needed to know. They didn’t need to explain themselves. We both had a laugh.

This got me thinking a bit more on how often so many of us feel the need to explain ourselves to others.

Personal Finance and the Word “No”

As with so many things I write about, I like to tie this back into the world of money.

Personal finance is so personal that we often find ourselves feeling the need to explain or rationalize our thoughts and actions.

How many people think those of us trying to save and achieve financial independence are weird?

How many times have you wanted to say no and but didn’t or felt a bit awkward when you said “No I don’t want to go out to dinner.” Or, “no, I don’t want to take place in the office secret santa gift exchange.”

Am I Educating or Rationalizing?

I really struggle with this.

Oft times, I think I’m educating someone. This may really be the case when it comes to the office secret santa exchange. Yes, I know you think I’m weird, I’m distancing myself from the office crowd and camaraderie and a cheap ass curmudgeon.

But really, I like to be intentional with my spending. I’m trying to develop a more minimalist lifestyle. These junk purchases just encourage more consumerist waste and contribute to the mess we’re making of our environment and so on.

But let’s be honest; turning down the secret santa party is probably not the right set and setting to open minds about consumerism, waste and intentional spending. Diving in right then and there just makes me seem even weirder.

Saying a simple “no” is probably sufficient.

Learning to Respect Boundaries

For myself, I have noticed that in trying to be a little bit more aware of if I am educating or rationalizing and trying to just be ok with saying “no,” I’m also learning to be more respectful of other people’s boundaries.

I generally don’t owe anyone any explanations and they don’t owe me one other.

Since I am approaching people with more respect, it also seems easier for me to say (when I’m interested) “I’d love to hear more about why some other time, if you’re comfortable.”

This is a great branching point to trying to learn more about people, build friendships and show that you are respectful of differences and opinions.

These are skills most of us could learn to build these days.

Learning to be Confident in Your Choices

Learning to exercise the power of “no,” I think, can help you to bring more confidence to your other actions.

The same friend, has some health issues and we were discussing that it might be beneficial for them to wear a mask at work.

Having gone through everything with my son needing to wear a mask in public, and me sometimes wearing one at work (to protect me from the public so I don’t get him sick) I have some experience in this. And, I do get questions about it sometimes.

Of course, their concern was making others at work uncomfortable by them wearing a mask.

I said, look, just think about people doing all kinds of weird things out there. I might be curious, but I am rarely uncomfortable when they are pulling it off with confidence.

If they are confident, I am also much more confident in asking them what they might be doing if I feel the need to ask. Likewise, if they choose not to discuss it, it’s easier to take if they handle it firmly and with the authority that confidence brings.

I likened this, when talking to my friend, to how I have tried to train my employees in the pharmacy:

Pharmacy is a business that comes with having to say “no” a lot. “No that isn’t covered.” “Sorry, we’re out of flu shots.” “No, we can’t fill that prescription right now.” And people get upset!

The best way to handle these situations is with authority and, hopefully, a sincere smile.

Waver, and they will drill down to figure out if you’re lying or otherwise inept. I always feel bad for the new trainees who’ve never worked in a pharmacy before. The way the get drilled and grilled by customers can be hard to watch.

Fake it till you make it, right?

Do You Exercise the Power of “No”?

With so many things being thrown at us these days are you comfortable saying no?

Especially with the endless stream of potential “obligations” that social media lives can seem to impose on us, it can feel like you’re saying no, and needing to explain yourself at every turn.

So think on it. Do you owe an explanation? Is “no” sufficient?

Can you free yourself up and reduce guilt, burdens, time and “obligations” by getting comfortable enough to say “No?”

6 comments

  1. I love then really reframe of talking about this in terms of respecting boundaries – both of others but also your own. And it’s definitely one of those things that takes regular practice to get better at actually saying No, full stop.

  2. I think it is a mark of your confidence. Obviously with some people you do want to let them inside your reasons for no. But it certainly isn’t necessary or helpful to make oversharing your default response.

  3. I love the power of “no” in the situations you describe. I’ve been on both sides of that, but for the most part, I’ll go along with the crowd in “office camaraderie” situations. It definitely has more of a practical social benefit, than being a staunch avoider of “The latte effect”. The thing that gets me is when someone doesn’t want to participate, yet they’re the first person throwing extra dinner rolls in his or her briefcase to take home for later, because they don’t want to “see them go to waste”. Otherwise, No is very empowering.

  4. I think the ability to say “no” is very underrated, even people like Warren Buffett or Charlie Munger have repeatedly said it’s a crucial skill to be able to focus on what you want to achieve.
    At the same time, it’s one of those things that are not easily understood by everyone around you, some people think you’re rude or try to blame-shame you into spending time for them..
    I think it’s good because it lets you weed out the time-vampires in your life

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