Basically, I wrote that everyone in our culture has a hard time saying no. For a couple of reasons, including:
1. Hardly anyone ever “just says no.” We say, “I would, but…” "If it had been any day but today…” In other words, when people ask for something, you’re probably giving them an explanation/excuse as to why you must say no.
But this gives them a chance to try again. To find a little workaround. “Oh, you’re busy this week? How about next week?” “Oh, the drive is too far? Let’s meet half way!” (And, as I discuss below, saying no the first time makes you more likely to say yes out of guilt the second time.)
So if you want to say no better, JUST SAY NO. Practice different polite but assertive ways of doing it that contain no explanation/workaround, such as,
- “I can’t this time.”
- “Sorry — not today.”
- “That won’t work for me right now, but I’ll get back to you if anything changes.”
- “I really appreciate you thinking of me, but I’ve just got too much on my plate right now.”
2. In a way, saying no is a low-level form of aggression (one of several reasons women tend to have a harder time at it than men). But since people are generally cooperative and social, we overestimate the cost of saying no. (Which is why, generally, if you ask for something, people say yes — even if the reason you give for the ask is complete gibberish. Asking, "Can I cut you in line to use the copier, because I am in a rush?" is just as effective as asking, “Can I cut you in line to use the copier, because I need to use the copier?”)
I repeat: WE ROUTINELY OVERESTIMATE THE COST OF SAYING NO.
Keep this in mind next time someone asks you for something. Saying no isn’t as bad as you think.
3. Be mindful of persuasion techniques that people often use when making an ask. Common ones include:
- Reciprocity. People often give you something before the ask. This is because they know about the powerful psychological inclination to reciprocate.
- Making two asks. When people ask for something and you say no, they increase the odds that when they ask for something else (usually something smaller), you’ll say yes. “Well, if you won’t donate $100, could you at least ____?”
- Anchoring. When someone says, “Most people donate $X,” “Most other parents volunteer Y hours,” they are (consciously or unconsciously) manipulating you into giving them what they want.
- Establishing similarity between asker and askee, e.g., "Cool skateboard! I have a Sector 9 back at home."
- Physical attractiveness.
Pay attention to what people are asking for and how. And don’t let them game you.
4. You have to be a little selfish. In general, I consider myself to be pretty good at saying no. (But then again, all the greats have short memories :P ) This is because I’ve had to. I love playing basketball, but I’m usually the only girl at pickup. So the boys assume I suck and try to tell me what to do, who to guard, etc. I used to try to be diplomatic and polite, but eventually I realized... if I don’t say no, I’m wasting my time. I'm having less fun, guarding worse opponents, playing positions I don’t like and getting fewer passes.
I’ve also done a fair amount of hitchhiking. This is one situation where, if something doesn’t feel right, you HAVE to say no. You might hurt someone’s feelings if you do — but if you don’t, you could DIE.
So think about it that way. Saying yes when you want to say no leads to wasted time -- and can even be fatal. It adds stress to you life. It shortens your life by increasing your blood pressure and suppressing your immune system. It could lead to less sleep, less exercise, and a less healthy diet. And it makes you less happy.
There are things you can never have back. Your time, your health, your virtue, your life. Don’t mess around with those things. It’s fine for people to ask — in their mind, they’re may just be trying to introduce you to a great person or opportunity or cause. And it’s just as fine for you to say no.