Have you ever noticed that truly successful people have little trouble saying “no”? They may do it politely, but they do it and do it often. And they’re on to something – it’s the power of saying NO.
“No” is a control word, a word that has real power. When we use it, we’re in control. When we don’t, we’re open to the control of others.
By saying “no”, we guard our time, our efforts and even our money. When we say “yes”, or even “maybe”, it can mean open season on all three. If you’re a “yes-junkie”—a person who feels compelled to say “yes” to nearly any request for help from nearly anyone—you might be your own worst enemy.
If we’re going to get anywhere in life we need to focus on what it is that we do best. Life is multi-faceted, but we all have two or three things that are especially important, and that’s where being able to say “no” is critical. It’s the little word that when spoken emphatically gives us the space we need to do what we do best.
Learning to say no—and meaning it—frees you up to move on to the next order of business, to that thing that moves you forward in your life. Is it any wonder that successful people master this concept?
Why we’re reluctant to say NO
What are some of the reasons we might find it hard to say “no”?
- We want to please others and saying “yes” usually accomplishes that
- Saying “yes” is easy; saying “no” often opens up a line of questioning
- We don’t like confrontation, and that happens a lot more when we say “no”
- When we’re really thinking “maybe” or “I’ll see”, we instead default to “yes”; after all, we never want to seem indecisive
- Saying “no” might indicate that we aren’t “team players”
- Like a candy bar, “yes” brings a short term high—“no” can bring on a guilt trip
- We learned to hate hearing “no” when we were small children and never outgrew it
- The word “no” has a negative connotation and we don’t want to be negative
- Saying “yes” has become a habit
- We think “I’m a nice person, and nice people say YES!”
It would appear that our reasons for not wanting to say “no” have more to do with psychology and emotion than with reason and logic. And that’s the main purpose for setting up a list that highlights the reasons. It might be easier to get control of our fear of saying no if we can get a handle on the reasons why we do.
The problems we cause by refusing to say NO
Not being able to say “no” has a way of complicating our lives. Not only will the infrequent use of the word take us away from our main goals, but it also has the potential to complicate life by drawing us into situations we have no business being in. Consider the problems we bring on ourselves because we don’t want to say “no”:
We can over-extend ourselves. How many obligations can you juggle in life? The more you say “yes”, the more obligations you take on. Each of us has time and energy for only so much activity, and if we get pulled in too many directions we can quickly become part of the problems in life, not the solutions.
We become distracted. Focus is an underappreciated concept. The more directions we’re pulled in, the less focus we have. The less focus we give to our most important endeavors, the less successful we’ll be.
We set ourselves up to be manipulated by others. If you’re a yes-junkie, then others will always have undo control over your time and efforts. Some people can never do anything on their own while others are perpetually needy. You can’t fix that and helping them will never improve their circumstances. The best thing you can do for them is to cut them off and let them learn to fend for themselves. (More likely, they’ll find other yes-junkies!)
We damage our self-esteem. What usually happens when we say yes to someone is that we give them our time or our efforts. If we say yes to most requests that come across our paths, then we can degrade our own time and effort. In most cases, we’re giving away our resources—time and effort—for free. If we’re virtually giving them away, then they effectively become worthless. When what we have to offer doesn’t have value, we can question our own worth.
We help everyone accomplish their goals, but never accomplish our own. This is the deepest root of the problem. While it may seem noble to help others, that effort can drain our ability to go where we’re heading. If you find that you’re always missing the mark on your goals, the answer may be in your inability to say “no” to enable yourself to concentrate on what it is you truly need to be doing.
The Power of Saying NO
When we learn to say “no”, we begin to free up our time and energy to concentrate on what’s really important.
Let go of the “chief cook and bottle washer syndrome.” Each of us can wear only so many hats in life and still be effective. When we say “no”, we’re getting rid of them, and that’s a good thing. No matter how talented you may be, you can’t do it all. It’s just a delusion, and once its gone life gets more productive.
Change the expectations of those around you. People have a way of coming back again and again to those who help them. Have you ever noticed that people will go to some for help while avoiding others completely? That has to do with expectations—and you want to be in the second group. While it might feel good to be needed, it isn’t terribly productive! If you stop trying to put out the fires in everyone’s lives, they’ll start respecting your time. We all need that.
Ability to concentrate. Each of us has only so much time and energy to live our lives, so it’s important that we spend it on activities that will have the greatest impact. Better to accomplish one or two goals completely than to hit a dozen halfway.
“Nothing can add more power to your life than concentrating all your energies on a limited set of targets”—Nido Qubein
More free time. Accomplishing our goals is important, but so is having time to enjoy life. The more we say “no”, the fewer obligations we have, and the more time we have for everything, including rest and relaxation. There’s a double benefit to this as well: the better rested we are, the more effective we can be at what ever we do. Think of it as an energy multiplier.
Sometimes it seems as if we wander through life in a fog. So much is coming at us so quickly that we feel overwhelmed. It’s not that we can’t handle what’s coming at us—we usually can—we just can’t handle so much at once. One of the best ways to get control of this is by using that tiny but powerful word “no”. It blocks the distractions, intrusions and manufactured obligations that can slow us down and drain the life out of us.
Try saying “no” more frequently and see if you don’t find yourself having more time, energy—and success.
Do you find it hard to say “no”? Do you think it’s interfering with your life in any way?