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Issues & Implications
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Learning how to say no 


Marc Falardeau | CC BY 2.0

Javier Fiz Pérez - published on 02/07/18

The ability to say no is closely related to self-esteem

All too often, we don’t know how to say no, and we agree to do things that people ask of us when we shouldn’t. Sometimes it’s difficult to refuse, because we are afraid that the other person might be bothered by it, or might criticize us; we might even be worried that saying no will make us feel (or look) like an egoist. It’s important to be aware that the ability to say no is closely related to self-esteem. Consequently, people with low self-esteem and little self-confidence feel nervous when dealing with others and tend to agree to all sorts of requests, regardless of whether or not they should or want to.

Some advice for learning to say no when it is necessary:

Use simple and brief answers. You should communicate firmly and directly—but not without manners. Remember that you are not asking permission to say no. Don’t invent excuses, but give your reasons as clearly as possible.

Lose your fear of what other people might think. Within reasonable limits, you are the one, above all, who should be satisfied with your own conduct, always taking into consideration how best to use your time.

Don’t commit yourself if you can’t follow through. If asked to do something that you don’t feel you are able to do, or which you don’t feel you need or want to do, try suggesting other alternatives, keeping in mind that you don’t have any obligation to commit to something you can’t do.

Remember that saying no isn’t the same thing as rejection. If you refuse a request, that doesn’t mean that you’re rejecting the person who is making the request. You have as much right to say no as they do to ask you for a favor.

Accept discomfort as part of the process. It’s normal for you to get nervous or to feel uncomfortable when you have to say no, specially while you are just starting to get used to it. However, don’t give in to that discomfort by saying yes just to get out of the situation as soon as possible, because that way you are only putting off an undesirable situation until later, without resolving it.

There is a hierarchy to these situations; classify them, taking note of which petitions it’s harder for you to say no to and which are easier for you to turn down. Begin today to be clear with other people about what you can’t or don’t want to do.

It’s also fundamental for the development of our own identity that we be faithful to ourselves regarding what we really want and who we really are. Our own desires and ideals have priority and should take first place. If we try to please everyone all the time, we run the risk of forgetting the most important goals in our life. The common good doesn’t require renouncing our own personal fulfillment. It’s a question of finding a healthy equilibrium, which a bit of life experience and common sense can teach us.

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