I have a problem with "No"
My name is Nicky and I have a problem with no.
Well, not strictly true, with my children (in certain circumstances that aren't them crying in the supermarket) I’m excellent at it. I can say it loud and clear and with clout. Why is it so hard when another adult asks me for something? Why can’t I say no?
If I’m asked a favour my reflex-like reaction is “of course”, “sure” or occasionally a straight and over enthusiastic, slightly embarrassing “yes!”. This is more often than not the exact opposite of what I want to say. Like a demented marionette my head says one thing and my mouth another. It’s laughable really. I leave the situation shaking my head thinking how did that happen, how and why did I agree to do that?
Not taking a moment to think is not the root but it’s part of the problem. I’m often so quick to alleviate any silence that I rush to respond. In that rush I forget to ask myself the questions –
“Is this ok?”
“Does this really work for me?”
“Realistically, can I do this?”
“Do I have time?”
“Can I be bothered?”
“Will it be a real pain in the arse?”
I recently received an email asking me a favour and was lingering over my response, typing, deleting and retyping. I shared it with Laura who advised me "no Nicky, just say no”. Easier said than done! The email dithering continued until eventually I was happy with my response – short, clear (well, it was as far as I was concerned) and closing the matter. I received an almost immediate response from the asker revealing my round about reply was definitely not a no. As far as they were concerned, I was still fair game. What? Fail. Now I wait. Maybe I should draft a response in advance. Write it, save it and click send when the inevitable re-ask email arrives in my inbox.
"Dear So and So,
No, I can’t help you.
I admire people who can decline a request, turn someone down, apologise sincerely but leaving no room for wavering – who are able to say a clear no.
I’m sure there are plenty of experts who could tell me why. I’m not a selfish person but cannot say wholeheartedly that I am selfless so it’s not that. I was told no as a child and so I understand the boundary. I was able as a teenager to say no to “friends” who wanted me to go a bit beyond my comfort limits. When I started working I was sensible and held my ability to do something well in higher esteem than producing bulk work of poor quality – I said no as and when I had to. Why can’t I do it in social circumstances?
My diagnosis: I don’t like upsetting people. I don’t want to let anyone down. I am a people pleaser. Even when I want to scream “no” I smile and say, “well, I’m sure I could, if you'd like”. My body language obviously doesn’t give me away either so people take at face value my response. Even if the request is on a screen I struggle, the digital distance doesn’t help. I immediately become wracked with guilt and sugar coat email responses or end my texts with unnecessary “xx” whilst still not having achieved my goal to decline.
I don't like hearing No
I’m sensitive. Overly so. I hate hearing no because it feels bad. The problem takes a turn when I have favours to ask of others or jobs to delegate. Take the PTA summer fete for example. Yes, I am chair of the PTA but not like the mean girl one from Bad Moms - I'm definitely more loveable, won't shout in your face and likely to produce shop bought cakes at the cake sale. Anyway, I digress - out of say 30 tasks, I had the bulk on my list. Call it bad management, an inability to delegate or just label me a control freak – it all comes back to the “no” issue. I’m not good at receiving a no either. Rather than risk receiving a no from people who are my friends, I took on the tasks without even asking for help. I project my awkwardness at saying no onto others who are perfectly able and comfortable using the word. By not asking for help I save all of us from the potential difficulty of saying or hearing "no". Whatever the reason, my list is longer than everyone else’s. No is definitely an issue. Don't get me wrong, this is entirely my fault, my friends would be laughing thinking I did this - Nicky you're being ridiculous!
I plan to encourage my children to learn the art of saying no. Not arbitrarily to be difficult but to address whether or not saying yes works for them and whether it will put them in a difficult spot. It’s a skill I don’t have (yet) and it’s one I want my kids to learn. OK, maybe I want them to learn to understand why to say no - frequent and forceful use of the word is not a problem!
While I work it out, if I look like I mean no but say yes - put me straight, please.