Do You Need to Say 'No' More? Find Out in 4 Questions.

Mastering the art of 'no' puts you in the driver's seat of your own life.

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By Carolyn Sun

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Saying “yes” is truly bred into our culture of embracing life with both arms, seeking opportunities and overachieving.

But we’ve only got 24 hours each day, and entrepreneurs -- and anyone who is driven and success-minded -- aren’t exactly reeling with free time. “The ability to communicate ‘no’ really reflects that you are in the driver’s seat of your own life,” says Vanessa M. Patrick, an associate professor of marketing at the C.T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston. “It gives you a sense of empowerment.”

That empowerment allows you to determine what and who you need to say “no” to so you can prioritize yourself and your goals. If you suspect yourself of people pleasing and think you may be sacrificing your own health and happiness (many of us are guilty of it), the next four questions can help determine where you stand on the “need-to-say-no” spectrum, as well as the next steps to take in your personal development

Related: I Started Saying 'No' to These 6 Things. My Life and My Business Got a Lot Better.

Do you find it hard to say “no” even when you want to?

That’s one sure sign that you’re a people pleaser. Why wouldn’t you be? You want to be nice, you want to make people happy and you want to help others.

The catch is, some people will take as much as they can without any regard for your needs and boundaries. So it is entirely up to you to be considerate toward yourself. If your time and energy is being sapped by saying “yes” to requests -- that includes engaging with people over social media, which is a modern form of “people pleasing” -- then you need to do a hard pivot and literally rehearse saying “no.”

Practice when the stakes are low, Patrick advises. For instance, with a telemarketer who is hard to shake, issue a simple and firm, “Excuse me, I don’t buy subscriptions/internet packages/solar panels from telemarketers. Thank you and bye.” Hang up. Repeat in a different scenario. It’s empowering.

Related: 9 Obstacles You Must Overcome to Make Your First Million

Are you lukewarm about saying “no” with language and body language that leaves open the possibility of a “yes”?

It’s hard to say “no,” so we often say it in a way that doesn’t convey conviction. “I want to, but I can’t.” “Um, I don’t think so.” A pushy or manipulative person can work into the cracks -- and suddenly you find yourself driving your colleague/cousin/roommate to the airport, even though it’s not on your way and throws off your schedule.

To reinforce your no's with conviction, prepare a few ways to say “no” that you can use in different situations, such as when your friends, acquaintances or people at work ask you for time-consuming favors. Try using the phrase,“No, I don’t … “ and finish the sentence with a rule you follow: “No, I don’t babysit on weekdays/edit for free/deal with personal matters during work hours/let myself get behind on deadlines to do favors.”

This method is a more effective way to deter pushy people than using the phrase “I can’t,” Patrick says. But it you find that too hard to remember, just a firm and repeated, “No. I hope you find help,” suffices.

Related: 10 Ways to Motivate Yourself When You're Really Not Feeling It

Do you find yourself often needing approval or to be liked by everyone?

Not being able to say “no” comes from a deep well of fear. We all want approval and to be liked. That’s normal. But the chronic need for it from every source is not realistic, and it also underpins a much larger issue. People pleasing is deeply rooted in a fear of rejection, failure and disappointing others, according to therapist Sherry Pagoto.

The origins for people pleasing are numerous, often rooted in childhood and early experiences, and the consequences for too much “yes” spells disaster: Exhaustion, stress, lost time, lost money, getting behind on your own goals and self-flagellation.  

There’s a John Fogerty song that goes, “You see, you can't please everyone, so you gotta please yourself,” nailing pocket psychology in a heartfelt lyric.

Related: 10 Strategies for Entrepreneurs Dealing With Failure

Do you often find yourself stuck in conversations, situations or relationships that you don’t want to be a part of?

Most of us can say “yes” to this question. We choose politeness or being agreeable over our feelings and needs in social situations. However, ask yourself: How much time, energy, feelings and resources do you want to give out for free so that someone you want to get away from doesn’t feel upset or hurt?

First, try not to get into the situation in the first place. At work, you have a degree of control through scheduling meetings, announcing that you have to leave in a half-hour or answering emails at your own pace. However, if you find yourself roped into a situation or conversation you want to get out of, you can say, “This deserves more time and attention than I have right now, so let’s pick this up at another time.” Then, get out of there. It is entirely possible to maintain your manners when saying “no.”

Or what if you find yourself in a toxic relationship? “Toxic people will keep you off track and make your life unenjoyable,” writes Kimanzi Constable, a consultant. “Purge negativity from your life and business whenever it’s possible.” You can always say, “This relationship deserves more time and attention than I am able to give, so I need to end it.” Of course, toxic people are toxic for a reason. Saying this may not lead to their acceptance of your boundaries. However, remember there is a certain magic in the repetition of the word “no.” Say “no” to requests to come over or meet up, “no” to requests for phone calls and texts and “no” to everything else.

Saying "no" to draining demands in your life can unlock a newfound self-assurance, productivity and accomplishment. 

Each “yes” is worth 1 point. If you scored:

4: You’re a major people pleaser. It’s interfering with you getting what you want out of life. People pleasing comes from a fear of rejection, failure or disappointing others, so it’s time to examine where those fears come from and find a professional guide -- a licensed therapist, social worker or psychologist who is knowledgeable in this area of personal development. Ask people who are good at saying “no” for tips and mentorship, if possible.

2-3: You’re sometimes in the driver’s seat, and sometimes an unwilling passenger in your own car on somebody else’s trip. You likely break your own rules, because you haven’t given yourself the go-ahead to put your needs first and haven’t strongly articulated the rules to yourself. Give yourself permission to put you first, and figure out the areas where your needs are neglected. Need to exercise? Save money? Stop drinking during the workweek? Make the rules that bind you to these behaviors (“I will exercise five days a week at this time and nothing except an emergency in my schedule will interfere”) and then any request that conflicts with your rules must be met with a polite but firm “no.” (There are exceptions to this, of course, but not many.)

0-1: You’re in the driver’s seat of your own life. Keep on driving, and if you see someone struggling with people pleasing, offer your help. You clearly have valuable emotional intelligence that needs to be shared.

Related: Your Personality Can Affect How Much You Get Paid

Carolyn Sun

Carolyn Sun is a freelance writer for Find out more on Twitter and Facebook


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