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t’s ironic, isn’t it, that ‘No’ is one of the first words that we learn as babies. Yet as we get older, it seems to be increasingly difficult to spit out those two innocuous little letters. We take on too much at work, we feel obliged to accept every invitation that comes our way and we cave in to our crying kids. And the result? By constantly trying to please others, we’re compromising our own happiness and self-worth. “Women in particular find it difficult to say ‘no’ because we are often taught by our parents and society to be pleasers, to nurture and to take

the role of the co-operative peace keepers,” says Andrea Anstiss, a psychotherapist and Hoffman Process coach. “We are socialised to be ‘nice’ and to put the needs of others, our children and our partners, before ourselves.” Andrea warns that this “disease to please” can reach epic proportions. “What we lose out on is our individuality and our integrity… [leading to] low self-worth, a feeling of being lost and depression.” Turn that on its head, and it’s clear that learning to say ‘no’, cleanly and clearly, can be extremely positive.

Just say


Do you struggle to say ‘no’? Are you more worried about letting others down than prioritising your own needs? You’re certainly not alone, but being a permanent ‘people-pleaser’ is pleasing everyone except yourself Good Taste




“Assertive behaviour – saying ‘no’ when you need or want to – is a positive self-affirmation which also values the other people in your life,” says psychologist and executive coach Kerry Maloney. “It enables a person to act in their own best interests, to stand up for themselves without undue anxiety, to express honest feelings comfortably or to exercise personal rights without denying the rights of others. If we don’t feel that we are capable of saying ‘no’ then we ultimately end up feeling like it is a win-lose outcome – and not in our favour.”

Saying no at work

Does the thought of saying no to your boss bring you out in a cold sweat? Most of us have, at some point, stayed in the office until silly o’clock and sometimes, yes, it has been necessary. But is your boss appreciating or even noticing those long hours? By being constantly obliging, you run the risk of harming not only your own self-esteem and motivation, but also the quality of your work. “In the modern workplace, people who behave submissively are often labelled as ‘nice’, but there is a price that comes with always being nice,” warns Kerry. “If you are constantly forfeiting yourself in the workplace, it results in a poorer performance relationship with your team, colleagues and manager. Eventually you’ll resent these relationships, they will lose respect for you and feel ‘guilty’ for taking advantage of you.” If your standards are slipping over time because you feel bitter, overworked and demotivated, then you need to learn how to say ‘no’. Of course, it depends on how you say it (see panel on page 15), but once you learn the skill, your boss is likely to respect you more for prioritising the quality of your work over the


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quantity of rushed average work. Refusing every request is not advisable, but weighing up what you can do well and what you can’t do without sacrificing your standards or your own happiness is something you need to consider. Remember that for almost all of us (serial workaholics aside), work/life balance is the ultimate goal. Performing well at work and then being able to head home and enjoy time with family and friends is certainly at the top of most people’s priority list. As Kerry says, “Don’t give up being yourself, living a fulfilled life and achieving your career goals in order to please others or worse, to be loved and accepted by them.”

Saying no to your friends and family

You’re seriously strapped for cash but you accept the invitation to that pricey brunch. You’re completely exhausted but you listen to your pal ranting about her work woes. We’ve all done it and regretted it afterwards. Why is it that, rather than explaining our circumstances and saying ‘no’, we go beyond our financial/ physical/emotional means to make things happen? Because we want to avoid confrontation, we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings and we worry about ‘looking bad’. This increased pressure eventually makes us feel irritable, angry and stressed out. “The biggest problem with not saying ‘no’ is that there is an inevitable fall out or sacrifice – cue resentment, comfort-seeking behaviour and low self-esteem after giving in, yet again,” says Jane Storey, a personal and professional coach trained in assertiveness. Saying ‘no’ to a friend can be risky. You may worry about losing them altogether, but there are times when it is necessary to prioritise yourself.

“By being assertive and saying ‘no’, you are learning to say ‘yes’ to yourself and your needs. It is a display of confidence and it shows you are achieving balance in your life”

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If your friends and family truly care, they will understand that you would only say no to something with good reason. They may be relieved that you are finally standing up for yourself, putting yourself first, reducing your stress levels so that you feel calmer and generally happier. “By being assertive and saying ‘no’, you are learning to say ‘yes’ to yourself and your needs,” says personal and professional success coach, Adam Zargar. “It is a display of confidence and shows that you are getting the most important part of a balanced life right. You are the juggler and if you are not ‘well’ then you will drop the balls. When you are feeling good about yourself and hitting your needs, then your emotions are balanced. This will then trickle down to the other important people in your life such as your spouse, children and immediate family.”

Saying no to your kids

Your children mean the world to you, and it is tempting to do anything to keep them happy. After all, if they’re happy, you’re happy, right? Well, yes, but for many parents, ‘giving in’ is easier than seeing their child hurt or upset, and they are more than willing to sacrifice their authority for some short term peace and quiet. We all do it. How many times have you capitulated to junior’s whining “just five more minutes mum!” request for TV time, only for him to be staring at the screen an hour later, homework untouched. As a parent, you feel frustrated and angry that you didn’t assert your authority or stick to your limits. Saying ‘no’ will result in tears and manipulation, tantrums and resentment, but it’s important to remember that, in moderation, these are normal, temporary and necessary evils in a long-term parenting strategy. Kids will need to cope when people tell them ‘no’ in the adult world, so they should start hearing it – and reacting to it – now. In the long-term they’ll thank you for it.


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How to say no – and mean it! Learning to say ‘no’ isn’t a walk in the park. It takes time, practise, conscious effort and even a change in mind set. But the benefits are huge. By saying ‘no’, you’re actually saying ‘yes’ to things that are more important to you. It’s all about balance and prioritising


It’s all talk Your language plays a huge part in saying ‘no’. Say ‘no’ to prioritising the wrong things by changing the way you say them. For example, instead of saying “I have to check my emails tonight”, say “I choose to check my emails tonight.” Go on, try it for a week. It will remind you that you are choosing to make these decisions, that you are in control. Whether you decide to check your emails or leave them until the morning is irrelevant. The point is that you have made that decision and should feel happy with making it.


A no is a no, yes? There are a variety of ways to say ‘no’, and not all include actually saying the word itself. “Once you have decided what you really want and have to say ‘no’, you need to know how,” says Jane. She recommends using a technique known as the ‘feedback sandwich’. “The feedback sandwich has three parts, two positive statements (the bread) and the middle negative statement (the filling),” she says. It can look like this: ‘I realise you’ve been looking

forward to coming to stay for a long time and we would love to see you, but I have work commitments. Can we rearrange for later in the year when I’m less busy?’


Shades of no Jane believes there are three ways to say ‘no’: A total no (‘I can’t/won’t be able to do this’); a partial no (‘I can’t do this today’) and a partial yes (‘Yes, you’re welcome to come over, but I have work to catch up on so you’ll have to keep yourself busy.’) If you’re unable to help someone because it’s simply not possible but still feel guilty, point them in the right direction e.g. ‘I can’t help you but I can suggest these websites that may have more info’. ‘Jessica has done a similar project so she might be able to help you out with this’. So, you’re providing an almost ‘useful’ no.


Thinking time Listen to that little voice inside when someone makes a request. What is your immediate response? A definite ‘no’ or a muted ‘maybe’? “Sometimes we’re not sure ourselves,” says Jane, “so before you say ‘yes’, employ some

stalling tactics; ask for more information or say ‘I’ll let you know tomorrow’.” This gives you time to weigh up your values and the sacrifices you will make. “If it’s a ‘no’, remember that you are not rejecting the person, you are rejecting the request,” she adds.


Simple, strong & effective Sometimes it is best not to dither and just come out and say ‘No. I am sorry, but that does not work for me.’ “This phrase is honest, straight-up and liberating,” says Andrea. “It honours yourself and your boundaries and reflects that you also value and respect the other person. It takes responsibility for your needs and also acknowledges theirs.”


Practise makes perfect If you’re a chronic people-pleaser, saying ‘no’ is going to require effort. “Practise saying ‘no’ confidently and calmly in the mirror,” suggests Adam. “Say at least one ‘no’ a day to a request and replace it with something you actually want to do.”


Thrash it out In her workshops, Andrea often gets clients to practise shouting with really high energy: saying ‘no’ from their belly, not just their throat. “I also use a plastic bat or racket and pillows and encourage clients to engage their body and bash the pillow as they speak. This is an incredibly powerful and energising experience in helping us to fully express our ‘no’, and gives us an opportunity to feel how it is to really stand up for ourselves.”


Help, I need somebody! If you’ve found yourself stuck in a ‘no’ rut, don’t panic. Many people benefit from help with assertiveness, selfesteem and organising their priorities. See our panel for useful expert contacts. The experts: Andrea Anstiss Kerry Maloney Jane Storey, Adam Zargar,

Say it from the heart

Andrea is co-running a workshop this October specifically geared to helping people say ‘no’. For those of us who struggle to set healthy boundaries and end up feeling angry and resentful, this workshop will teach you how to create boundaries from the heart, allowing you to say ‘no’ while respecting yourself and others. Friday October 17th, 9am-5.30pm, Dhs1,000.; 050 856 6912 Good Taste


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