Chandana Choudhury Barua

I did not find an interesting topic to write for so long.  Then suddenly one of my colleague called me to say that he is in some dilemma but unable to say ‘No’. Recently I have read many articles or quotes about saying ‘No’ to a person, and how it saves you from stress and anxiety. So my take home message to him was practice the art of saying ‘No’ politely or else you will have to please everyone in your life and cannot reclaim your life. Most importantly, listen to your inner voice.  When he hung up, the issue came to my mind again and again. In our life on many occasions we fail to say ‘No’, to a person and suffer later. We want to be good with people but by doing so, our life becomes stressful. So I thought of sharing some tips which I could learn from different sources.

Saying ‘No’ makes us uncomfortable. But if we learn how to say ‘No’, we can reclaim control over our lives.   We believe that we always have to say ‘Yes’ to opportunities. We fear that saying ‘No’ leads us to miss out on money, fun, and other experiences. However, by always saying ‘Yes’, we do not value our time. It interrupts our work and often forces us to push other things aside. We say ‘Yes’ in our personal lives all the time. When friends ask us to go out while we have other things to do, we say ‘Yes’. The stress of saying ‘No’ often makes us say ‘Yes’ automatically. When we say ‘Yes’ reluctantly, we complain or blame ourselves, “why couldn’t I just say ‘No’?”

One of the reasons we find it difficult to say ‘No’ is because we want to conform to other people’s expectations. It is not a crime to say ‘No’. Our friends and family will understand, they will still care about me, even when I cannot fulfil certain social engagements. And if my  friends do not get it, then  it is probably time to find new friends. Starting to say ‘No’ can be awkward. Most people prefer to start with an indirect approach. In our personal life, we can say politely that I have some important jobs to finish, when we start saying ‘No’ more often, it is fine to make excuses so that we avoid saying ‘Yes’. That is the primary goal when we start saying ‘no’.

We are often caught off guard with invitations or requests from people. We feel the pressure to answer those requests immediately. Next time when we are caught off guard, often by phone or in person, we can tell them that I will look at my calendar and get back to them. Alternatively, we can say that we have to discuss it with our spouse or family first before we can answer. When we have mastered saying ‘No’, we stop giving excuses and start to say ‘No’ firmly. Practice makes perfect. Sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying ‘No’. Eventually, they’ll get the message.

It’s a simple fact that we can never be productive if we take on too many commitments – we simply spread ourselves  too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time. That’s why the art of saying ‘No’ can be a game changer for productivity.

When we make it easy for people to grab our time (or money), they will continue to do it. However, if we  set boundaries , they will look for easier targets. Sometimes we feel that we have to say ‘Yes’ to our boss. And if we start saying ‘No’, then we look like we can’t handle the work-at least, that’s the common reasoning. In fact, it’s the opposite, we can explain to our boss that by taking on too many commitments, I am weakening my productivity and jeopardizing the  existing commitments. If  boss insists on taking up the project, show him /her the  task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.

It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “No” to them after the request has been made. If we  know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just inform everyone as soon as they come to the meeting,

In saying “No”, it is best to keep our reason short and simple. If we go into details, we may  run the risk of being talked out of our “No” into an insincere “Yes”. Because we  have said yes so many times, the other party knows exactly what to say and do to turn your “No” into “Yes”. Recognise this manipulative tactic, keep your cool and stand firm in your decision.

Not “maybe” or “possibly”, just plain “No”. In most cases the ambiguity of “No” are always translated into “Yes” by the other party. Say “No” with a gentle smile.

Things get delayed, as we have too much on our plate. We put ourselves in peak stress like rushing, making others wait, ignoring the phone calls, improper finishing, and poor job performances. The tone, body language and the audacity of ‘No’ plays an important role in not hurting the other person. For example, if we say ‘No’ in a harsh manner to our superior, it is  likely to earn his displeasure, i.e., he may block future  opportunities to us.

Finally, saying ‘No’ is not a bad or selfish action. It helps us to concentrate on what is important to us, so that we can get our version of success much faster. Saying ‘No’ will also help everyone around us to develop and solidify the incredibly important habit of self-reliance. It will also help us to avoid the negative feeling of lack of progress, or even the worse feeling that we are not in control of our own life.

(The writer teaches Pharmacology in College of Veterinary Science, Khanapara, Guwahati.)