One of the most important skills we can learn that will help us manage and fulfill our priorities is to say "No." Once we get there, it becomes easier and easier, but initially it can be extremely awkward and unpopular with others. Knowing the stages we’ll go through can help us realize that ...One of the most important skills we can learn that will help us manage and fulfill our priorities is to say "No." Once we get there, it becomes easier and easier, but initially it can be extremely awkward and unpopular with others. Knowing the stages we’ll go through can help us realize that what’s happening is natural and that its not just that we can’t seem to do it.
Stage 1: Identifying Opportunities
In this initial stage we have identified our need to learn to say "No" and have made it a goal. What happens is that we start to identify opportunities that have already past where we could have and should have said "No." We may easily be able to relate to this stage. Most of us at one time or another have said to ourselves or someone else "I never should have agreed to do this." It’s that regretful feeling that we didn’t take the chance when we had it. This is an important stage in the process, though, since it instills within us the negative experiences that can result from not having said "No." When enough of those build up, we move on to the next stage.
Stage 2: Backing Up
This next stage of learning and practicing saying "No" is the most difficult. What actually happens is that we continue to say "Yes," but decide later that we really should have said "No." We get up the courage to make it right, go back to the other person and tell them we’ve changed our mind. We may feel uncertain, uncomfortable, embarrassed, unsure of ourselves, and not fully believe that what we’re trying to do is the right thing. Responses from others who let us know that we’ve let them down, we’re going back on your promise, or what will they do now certainly contribute to the discomfort we feel within this stage. We also, however, begin feeling intense moments of relief, self-confidence, and pride in ourselves. This is a stage where we seem to need the most reassurance that we’re on the right track. Bear with it, because it will be well worth it! When these positive experiences begin to have more impact than the discomfort, we move on to the next stage.
Stage 3: Doing the Right Thing at the Right Time
Within this stage, we have arrived at a place where we are able to say no at the right time: immediately. Again, this stage can be somewhat uncomfortable, but much of the discomfort, fear, and lack of confidence from the last stage has minimized dramatically. Because we are human beings who have feelings, we may never completely be rid of some sense of guilt or discomfort, but it will continue to have less and less of an impact on us.
No matter what stage you are in or if you’ve just decided to start learning to say "No," use this information to reassure yourself that you’re not alone, you’re not crazy, and you’re not a bad person because you say "No" to someone. None of us are any good to anyone else unless we do what is right for us first.
Donna Birk is a writer, trainer, coach, and Licensed Social Worker. She founded and operates People Builders, "Where Your Growth Is Our Goal."