Learning to say ‘no’ is a big deal to a lot of women. Maybe most women. Maybe some men.
I think it would be a lot easier if we learned to hear no from each other. I don’t mean just hear it, but hear it without bristling visibly. Without our eyes popping in disbelief. Without using our eyebrows to call someone awful or a traitor.
Saying no/hearing no – it’s two sides of the same coin. No. Wait. Better is it’s the chicken and egg, which came first thing. No. Wait again. Maybe it’s neither of those. Forget I even tried an analogy, okay? Okay.
If you can only say ‘no’ when you’re feeling big and assertive, sort of reveling in your own bitchiness, feeling all rock and roll anthem I DON’T CARE, then can we be surprised that you (and the people you say no to) hear a ‘no’ as aggressive, a dazzling shove out of the way? Maybe you’ve set yourself up to hear the same flamboyant rejection when someone says no to you.
And what if we can only say ‘no’ if it’s dripping with apology? We are so, so, so, so sorry, we couldn’t be sorrier. We say ‘no’ so gently, that if we added a little music, we’d have ourselves a lullaby. It all gets worse when that dripping and sing-song sorrow is accompanied by elaborate stories about what’s preventing us from saying ‘yes.’ You know. Little lies.
Yah, we’re pretty good at focusing on our ability to say ‘no,’ even if we haven’t made huge progress. But what if we asked a new question? A better question? What if we asked: how do we make saying ‘no’ a good thing to say, not full of risks and fraught with peril? It’s kind of simple. A three-stepper.
Step 1: Be careful about invitations, offers and requests for help. ** All the things we want to hear ‘yes’ to, be careful with (I know. Preposition. End of sentence. Oh well.)
If you’re just looking to fill spaces or add numbers, if you’re asking so you don’t have to go alone or figure stuff out on your own, then don’t be surprised if people feel a vague insult. Because it is a vague insult. It might even be a pretty concrete insult. (Which kind of leads to the big and assertive ‘no’ mentioned above.)
Step 2, otherwise known as the Important Step: Allow your friend, colleague, co-worker, acquaintance, whatEVER-she-is her freedom from saying yes. Give her room, let her decide without hinting at some penalty. And mean it. Mean that you really, really do value her time, her interests, her schedule, her skills, her right to say no. MEAN IT.
Step 3: Whether she says yes OR no, don’t make it a test of her loyalty. (Oh, yeah. You might have meant it, but now that she’s said yes, beware of loving her more. And if she’s said no, beware of thinking: fine. I won’t ask you again. What the hell?) Don’t hold her hostage. Heads up. That’s your problem.
Three easy steps and here’s what you’ll get in return (well, maybe not immediately, because these things aren’t instantly reciprocal):
1. You’ll give yourself the freedom to say no. An honest no.
2. Even if you get the wide eyed, Picasso-eyebrows YOU TRAITOR expression, you’ll understand it’s what we’ve dumped on each other and you’ll have more sympathy. (Instead of being pissed off.)
3. You and your friend will have mapped a new way of being with each other. Now that you’ve been down this path, it’s easier to go again.
4. You’ll start having people in your life who want to be there and are genuinely present when they are. Giving freedom to someone does that.
Really, I can’t wait for the day we don’t have to worry about saying ‘no’ but want to say yes with honest to god yes-ness. I’m in it with you 1000%!!
(**Except when it’s a crisis or we have an big, immediate need. Then, I’m all for skipping the ‘be careful’ part. It’s just human to help.)