One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced is overcoming my tendency to please the people around me. It’s never been more evident than in how I respond when I’m asked to do something. Whether it’s a work project or a social event, how I respond has often been driven by my fear of rejection. In past years this fear led me to overcommit and under deliver.
You know you have a problem when you feed into the very thing you want to avoid. Although I wanted people to accept me and feel good about me, that need for acceptance led me to react in a way that had the very opposite effect. As I began to pursue health both with myself and in my relationships, I was encouraged to learn how to say no. The problem with that was that I felt as though I was letting the person down which led me to want to explain myself or compensate in some way. The problem still wasn’t solved.
Then I heard someone talking about learning to say no more often. They added a step in that process that changed the way I think about my “no’s”:
Don’t feel obligated to explain my “no.”
You mean I don’t have to give a reason for declining a request or invitation? I can just say no and leave it at that?
I remember the first time I said no and didn’t follow up with an explanation. The silence in the conversation afterward felt awkward. It was all I could do to offer an explanation or some compensation for declining. I think I may have even started to sweat a little bit. Then my friend responded:
“Okay. Well, maybe next time.”
No judgment. No sideways look. No questions.
It’s been freeing to not feel obligated to explain my “no.” I find that I’m more focused on the things that I really need to do. I’m overcommitting less and delivering more.
There are times when the depth of the relationship I have with the person making the request leads me to want to offer more than just a one-word declination. But what I’m finding more often than not is those closest to me trust me enough and offer enough understanding that they accept my “no” and move on.
Next time you are in a position to turn down something, try not offering an explanation and see what happens. I’d love to hear about your experience.