Years ago, the day after I'd moved house, a neighbour came up to me and said, "We're having a street meeting."
I was still unpacking, I was tired, and so I said something casual about maybe looking in.
He replied, "Oh, but I already told them you'd come." And then he added, "All the ladies are bringing something. You can cook something from your country."
One of the greatest challenges we face socially, is saying no. It can be quite difficult, especially if you're dealing with people you don't know well.
Many of us are worried about saying no because we wonder "what people might think". We worry that they'll think we're disagreeable, difficult or selfish. It's especially hard if you're female, or in a place that puts a lot of value on conforming.
There are several ways to address this. My favourite, is to get some perspective. That's where you tell your story in the third person, describing just the events as if it's happened to other people. Then, give the fictional you advice.
Like with the story I just told. Telling it in the third person, that story would go like this:
Mia has just moved house. She's exhausted.
John comes round and says, "We're having a party!"
Mia replies, "Thanks. I'm too tired to go out, but I hope you have a good time."
John says, "But I said you'd come. Oh, and you should bring food, too."
QUESTION: what advice would you give to Mia?
Put this way, we'd be likely to tell Mia to skip the party and forget about it. Because John is being inconsiderate.
Perspective works because we tend to give very good practical advice to others, whereas we're often much too hard on ourselves. With perspective, you take away some of the personal elements; it helps you see clearly.
Once you've gained your perspective, you practice - or model, as we say in the trade.
What you do is write down what you think they will say, and your ideal answer. Then you run through it. The idea is that you get to practice in a safe space, and anticipate some of the issues that might crop up.
With saying no in the type of scenario I just described, you might be faced with responses like:
"But it won't be the same if you're not there!"
"We're depending on you to bring the cake/stew/whatever."
"Everyone is expecting you!"
"If you don't go, you'll ruin it!"
If you're faced with this live, that kind of pressure heaps up - because of that need to be nice and agreeable. However, if you get perspective and model, you'll see it for what it is: emotional blackmail.
When you get that kind of response, you may be tempted to argue or justify. Don't do that! Stick to what matters: you were asked, you declined - and that's the end of it. Do not get drawn in to discussion. Just say, "No."
You can also use some non-defensive and assertive language. These are expressions that will help you cut down on arguments and that will help you draw personal boundaries. Here's a list.
Practice non-defensive responding phrases:
Oh, I see.
I'm sorry you feel that way THEN STOP TALKING
Thank you for your opinion. I'll take that on board. THEN STOP TALKING
I'm sorry you're hurt/upset/disappointed THEN STOP TALKING
I'm sorry you don't approve. THEN STOP TALKING
You're certainly entitled to your opinion THEN STOP TALKING
Let's do this some other time, when you're calmer. THEN STOP TALKING
Let me think about that. THEN STOP TALKING
Add in assertive phrases:
That is very hurtful
I don't appreciate it when you call me INSERT PHRASE HERE
When you speak that way, you hurt me
You agreed to hear me out.
Name calling and screaming won't get us anywhere.
It's not okay for you to talk to me that way.
I won't talk to you when you are yelling at me.
I won't stay if you speak to me this way
I won't stay when you are scaring me.
TOP TIP: if the person is abusive or threatening, WALK AWAY!
Saying no can be difficult, but doing so will cut your stress load. So, have a go, and if you are looking for professional help, send me an email. The first 20 minutes are free.
PS, I told my neighbour, "Absolutely not." And when he spluttered about having committed me already, I countered with, "They'll be fine when you bring along the dish you promised."
He's been very polite ever since.
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