Most of you are probably familiar with the situation: You actually wanted to say no to taking on yet another project because you already have more than enough to do – but you ended up saying yes again. A lot of people find it difficult to set boundaries. Why is this? And how can we learn to say no?
The seventh and possibly the most important of my ‘seven pillars of resilience’ (see also: http://www.stressandbalance.ch/en/2016/01/25/new-blog-about-resilience-key-to-your-success/) is to take care of yourself and ensure that you are fit and well, both physically and mentally. In this context, I would like to address a topic that many people find difficult but that is very important for our psychological wellbeing. I am talking about setting boundaries and saying no from time to time.
I suspect that all of us say yes to things that we would rather say no to, with varying degrees of frequency. And how do you feel afterwards? You probably feel bad because you have accepted yet another project although you already have more than enough to do. You may even feel anger towards the person who asked you and be angry with yourself for not having stood up for yourself yet again.
Why do we say yes instead of no?
Why do we do this to ourselves? In her book ‘Nein sagen will gelernt sein – erfolgreich Grenzen setzen‘*[‘You have to learn to say no – how to set boundaries successfully‘], Gabi Pörner attributes this to the following reasons (page 65):
- We don’t want to hurt the other person
- We don’t want to be selfish
- We don’t have the confidence to say no
- We are afraid of doing something wrong
- We think the other person may in fact be right
- We are afraid of losing our partner/our job
- We are afraid of being alone
- We wonder what other people will think if we say no
We don’t want to hurt others or to be hurt ourselves. That is understandable. However, by trying not to hurt others, we may hurt ourselves. That is because we undermine ourselves and no longer take ourselves seriously when we ignore our own needs. I share Gabi Pörner’s view that: “This is all about your inner strength and authority – and about your self-respect, sense of self-worth and self-confidence.”
How can I learn to say no?
You may now be saying: Yes, clearly I would like to say no but it is not that simple. Here are three tips on how to achieve this:
- Start by thinking about what you want to say YES to – in other words, what is important to you at a personal level, in terms of your family and in terms of your career. What are your priorities in life? If you do this, it will become easier to say no.
- You don’t have to immediately say yes or no. Ask for time to think and consider the matter carefully. Then reach a decision – and stick to it.
- When you say no, it doesn’t necessarily have to be curt or even impolite. Gentler but nevertheless clear responses may include saying: “I’ll be pleased to do that for you tomorrow. Right now, I have to go and collect my daughter from nursery.” Or: “If I agree to take on the new project, I would like to give up one of my other areas of responsibility.”
I would like to finish by giving you a good example of how this works: One of my friends has held a top job – one level below the Executive Board – at a well-known company in Switzerland since 1 March 2016. Before she started work at the firm, she was informed that she would have to give a presentation at an offsite meeting for senior management on 17 March. She had the confidence to say that this was not possible because she already had an important private appointment on that date that could not be altered. Did something bad happen as a result? No. The CEO and the 14 other top managers postponed the offsite meeting by one day to accommodate her.
You just need to have the confidence to say no! If you stand up for yourself and ensure that you remain fit and well, that will benefit you – and also your manager and your company, since you will continue to perform well at work. I wish you success in putting this into practice!
* Gabi Pörner: ‘Nein sagen will gelernt sein – erfolgreich Grenzen setzen‘, Allegria-Verlag, 2013 (only available in German)
© Claudia Kraaz