I Stopped Being A People Pleaser & Learned To Say No. Here's How It Improved My Life

April 9, 2020

Eco Guilt

For a long time, I was a people-pleaser. I said yes to almost all requests and propositions, not because I wanted to but because I found it too difficult to say no. I felt uncomfortable and sometimes even guilty refusing something. For me it seemed to be much easier to avoid inconvenient situations and simply say yes.

Over the years I got used to this behavior so much that I didn’t think I should change it. That is, until I watched a powerful TedX Talk on Youtube by Kenny Nguyen, called The Art of Saying No. Watching it helped me realize how harmful it can be if I don’t learn to say no.

In his talk, Ngyune explains that in our childhood we learn that the word no means to reject. However, we can also use the power of that word to grow. When we say no, we might turn down big opportunities in the short term, but we gain even bigger opportunities in the long term. I learned that each time I say yes to something, I’m saying no to everything else. Think: when you go on a second date with someone you’re really not that interested in, you might be losing an opportunity to meet someone you really like. (Perhaps your date could also be meeting someone who actually likes him.)

After coming to this conclusion, I did some research and I found a book called The Power of a Positive No by William Ury. This book helped me I start to say no and I grew a lot as a person. Today I would like to share some tips that helped me to stop pleasing people all the time and to say no if it’s necessary.

say no

1. Think about the consequences

When someone asked me to do something I often said yes out of fear of saying no. One thing that helped me is to imagine what will actually happen if I say no. Most cases I realized that the world will still go on if I refuse a request or an offer.

I remember when I first said no to people, I was so surprised at their reaction. Most of the time, they didn’t get upset or mad; they simply accepted my decision. I think you shouldn’t have a close relationship with people who don’t understand or respect your decision. And those who truly care about you will be fine with your decision so there is really no need to worry.

2. Just say it

I used to think I needed a correct explanation to justify my decision to say no. Sometimes I even made up excuses that weren’t true. I needed some time to realize that if I don’t feel like granting a request, that’s all the explanation I need.

I think you don’t need to come up with some concrete reasons to refuse something. Of course you can provide a brief explanation if you feel you need to, but don’t feel compelled. The most important is to be honest and clear. The other often much prefers a clear answer even if it is a no.

According to Willian Ury, we often feel obligated to say yes because we sympathize too much with the other person. But remember that “you can empathize without sympathizing.” This means you don’t need to feel the other person’s pain in order to understand him.

3. Be polite

I used to believe that saying no has to be rude and cold while saying yes is kind and caring. But you can say no in a polite way and still respect the other person. Once you understand that it’s okay to say no, the rest is just learning how to say it politely.

Ury recommends staying calm while rejecting something: “When angry, count to 10. If very angry, 100.” So explain yourself if you feel the need, but don’t choose anger as a tool for that purpose.

4. Decide it later

I used to say yes because I was afraid of regretting the decision to say no. And guess what? I’ve regretted saying yes countless times. Now, I opt to tell the other person that I need some time to think about it and that I’ll give an answer in a few days.

This practice allowed me to take some time and make wiser decisions. But I think you should only use this technique when you really need some time to give a final answer. If you already know that you’ll reject a request you should push yourself to say it right there. Otherwise it leads to procrastinating that puts even more pressure on you.

5. Offer an alternative

This is what Ury means by a positive no. The key to a positive no is to respect both yourself and the other person. Just because you have to refuse a request it doesn’t mean that you don’t care  or you don’t want to find a solution.

I use this practice a lot and I think it really helps me to feel less guilty of saying simply no. For example, a few weeks ago a friend of mine asked me if I want to go out shopping with her. I was quite busy and honestly, I also don’t enjoy shopping that much. Instead of saying just no, I told her that I’m not up for shopping now but offered to spend a lunch break together one day.

Are you getting better at saying no?

Also by Adrienn: 5 Ways To Get Motivated To Dress During the Coronavirus

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Photo: Unsplash; Adrienn Gyetko

Adrienn is an animal right activist based in Hungary. She likes to create healthy and delicious plant-based recipes. She is also passionate about nutrition, fitness and travelling. She practices yoga and meditation. Find out more about her work on her blog and follow her on Instagram @szamocadri.


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