You know those lessons you have to learn again and again in life? One of my recurring lessons is about how to graciously but firmly say "No" to things that make me feel heavy, uncomfortable, or unsure of myself.
Since I've had to revisit this issue many times and am in yet another cycle of learning it, albeit at a deeper level, I thought I'd share a quick 'n dirty cheat sheet on how to authentically and clearly say "No." Or, if it pleases you, "No, thank you."
Step 1: Take every opportunity you can to get clearer and clearer about what does and doesn't work for you in life. Notice what feels easy and what feels like a total slog. Notice what feels good and what doesn't feel good.
Step 2: When confronted with a choice, feel it out. When you think about saying "yes," how does your body feel? Are you tense? Are you clenching your jaw? When you think about saying "no," do you feel free and calm? Your body is a compass - use it.
Step 3: If steps one and two have made clear to you that you need to say "no," then you would be well-advised to say it. Say "No." or "No!!!" or "No, thank you." or "Thanks, but no." Say it in whatever way fits for you, but say it clearly and succinctly - even if it's just in your head at first. Start getting comfortable with acknowledging and accepting your "no" response and, when it's time, say it out loud.
Step 4: Stop yourself from going on and on about why you have to say "no." Here's an example of what not to do: "Hi Harry, thank you so much for your offer to give me this opportunity. Unfortunately, I have to water my plants this weekend, and we're having visitors in town, and I have a medical appointment, and I don't have the bandwidth, and....."
Instead, you can just say "Hi Harry, thanks for considering me! This isn't something I can take on right now, but I hope you'll keep me in mind for the future. Best of luck."
Now, I know people don't like it when we just say "no," and depending on your relationship with someone, you may want to give some reasoning behind your "no." But do it from a place of self-respect and personal power, not a need to please and justify your every decision.
Step 5: Move on to "yes." Don't wallow in did-I-do-the-wrong-thing-by-saying-no-land. Dive into something you really want to say "yes" to instead of spending energy on analyzing what you just did. Try to trust that you drew the boundaries you needed to.
Those are the steps that have worked for me, and I hope you'll call them to mind if you're ever feeling stuck between choices or pushed into something that doesn't fit for you.
In today's world, with its massive amounts of information, activities, obligations, and demands, I think many of us need to say "no" more often than we're comfortable with.
Fortunately, with some practice and a lot of courage, it can be a quick, easy, and graceful action instead of one mired in doubt, guilt, and fear.
If you're in Portland and are feeling the need to say "no" to some toxic work dynamics, I hope you'll consider joining me for a class on June 27th!