Why is it so hard to say No?

no-1513027_640If someone has written a paper on why people find it so hard to say No, then I would like to read it. I have my own theories.

It’s built into your genes that we want to be liked. It’s an instinct, a survival mechanism to keep us safe, we need the support of people around us and they need us and being nice and helpful aids us to achieve this. We want and need to be part of a tribe.  Being a lone wolf is not a key to your survival but wouldn’t it just be great not to need the approval, help and support of other people. Imagine the effect on our ability to prioritise our work if we didn’t feel the need to be nice. What would that have on your ability to say No?

Consider the character played by Martin Clunes in the hit comedy drama Doc Martin. If you are not familiar with it then Doc Martin is very focused on what he needs to achieve. He sees his responsibility is to keep the local community healthy and nothing else. He doesn’t have any other goals. As a result, his manner is abrasive to say the least. His ‘bed side manner’ is non-existent – and in the process, he upsets everyone whilst providing the audience with a great deal of comedic value. He allows nothing to get in his way of achieving his goal. He delivers results.  Because he has single minded clear sightnesses he doesn’t have a problem with saying NO and he says it frequently. NO. He doesn’t defend, explain or apologise just NO. These are techniques that we can all benefit from using.  Well, the ‘don’t defend, explain or apologise’ bit anyway.

But Doc Martin isn’t real and you are. We all have more than one goal. We want to get the job done but other goals, including ones we haven’t thought of as goals, conflict us and one of those is our need to be a part of a tribe, to be liked, to be helpful, to be a part of a team.  The result is that the ‘Doc Martin’ effect of saying NO is something that we do not want in our lives. But more than that we can struggle to say NO in any form, and that in turn leads us to struggle with our ability to prioritise. The result. We don’t do what we need to do to achieve whatever result we are trying to achieve without a great deal of stress, a hideous workload and a lot of extra hours. 

To say No you must be very clear on your goals. All of them. Not just your work goal but also your personal goals.

Write down all your goals in two columns. In one note, all the things you want to achieve or get, and in the other all the things you want to be.

You might have career success as something you want and nice/good person as something you want to be.

Now go down column one item by item and tick off from column two all the items that will get you the things that you want and visa versa. For example, if you want a fast car will that deliver you the goal of being a great parent, a great boss and so on? And if it doesn’t is that what you should be working on? If not prioritise, which one do you want more. And adjust your priorities accordingly.

You must be honest with yourself. If you want to achieve your goals you must prioritise them so that you achieve them.

If you find it difficult to say No because you want to be a nice person more then you want to achieve your goals, it will show again and again in this case in your ability to say No.

So, what is the solution? Can you have both? 

Yes, you can. Saying No isn’t unpleasant if you do it in the right way. You don’t have to bark out Doc Martin style, NO to any request that doesn’t take you where you want to go but that doesn’t mean you have to say Yes.

The first stage of prioritising and saying No is being honest with yourself about what you want and what you are prepared to comprise on to get there. If you want the ‘easy’ route to saying ‘No’ then are you willing to sacrifice your bed side manner? If you are then go ahead just say NO. But if you are not then you must find a way to Say No without doing that.

And that takes time and work but it takes less time than doing all that stuff that doesn’t take you where you want to get to.

Bridget Marchi is a learning and development consultant, executive coach and mediator. With over 25 year’s experience in publishing and online fashion she is passionate about working with people to develop strong foundation skills that will support them through their career. Whilst she has extensive experience of delivering classroom style she now offers online learning options with The Time Management ToolBox and Steps to Success, a self-coaching programme for long term success (click the link to get the early bird offer of just £20 – less than half price). She has also published The Management Jigsaw, a management induction course in a book.