The ability to communicate ‘no’ really reflects that you are in the driver’s seat of your own life, and can give gives you a sense of empowerment. How to do it most effectively?
A study in the Journal of Consumer Research by Professor Patrick and Henrik Hagtvedt found that saying “I don’t” as opposed to “I can’t” allowed participants to extract themselves from unwanted commitments. While “I can’t” sounds like an excuse that’s up for debate, “I don’t” implies you’ve established certain rules for yourself, suggesting conviction and stability and are more effective in getting your point across.
There are a few other ways you can get more comfortable with saying no.
It’s a lot easier to be assertive with a stranger selling you something than it is when, say, your pleading co-worker asks for a ride to the airport. Get comfortable with your assertiveness when it’s easy so you’ll be prepared when there’s more pressure.
It’s easier to say no when you know exactly how to say it, so come up with a few anchor phrases for different situations. “No, I don’t buy from solicitors” for door-to-door salespeople, for example. “No, I don’t go out during the week” for co-workers who want to go on a drinking binge on a Monday night.
When you have these phrases ready, you don’t have to waste time wavering over an excuse. And you start to develop a reflexive behavior of saying no.
Still, sometimes we’re afraid to say no because we fear missing out. We want to take on new opportunities and adventures, so we say yes to everything instead. But all of those yeses can lead to burnout.
It can help to understand your own long-term goals This way, you can say yes to opportunities that most reflect your values. Second, try to build free time in your schedule so there’s room for new, interesting opportunities you might otherwise overlook.
Some worry that your no might seem threatening. Research from Columbia University found that our perceptions of our own assertiveness are often unreliable. In mock negotiations, people who thought they were adequately assertive or even over-assertive were seen by others as under-assertive. So if you feel confrontational, there’s a good chance the other party doesn’t see you that way. It’s about operating at the most optimal level. For most of us, that means living a happier and less stressful life, which is easier to do from the driver’s seat.