The Key to Saying “No.”

Why do some women find it difficult to say no? It is not a very strenuous word to pronounce, nor is it long or complex. Yet, many people, especially women, find themselves responding and agreeing to things they do not wish to engage in, thinking no, no, no – only to blurt out “yes.” This predicament can be stressful, emotionally draining, time consuming, and dangerous depending on the context. Women in my workplace ranging in ages from 19 to 50 all have stories regarding situations like this, usually spoken with a laugh as though their experiences are commonplace. Many that manage to utter the word “no” have become skilled with the quick craft of excuse making, creating reasons that seem to justify the response. Why has this become a practice among some women? This issue is apparent in countless situations for a number of reasons, and this article examines some strategies to put the word “no” into use. The three vital essentials to mastering this art: be honest, be confident, be firm. 


What was the situation?


My boss asked if I could take on more at work, without a raise. 

My friend wanted me to do their school assignment. 

My friends wanted me to go to a party when I was exhausted from work. 

A guy asked me out. 

He wanted me to leave the bars with him.

He just wanted to make out.

It was a free drink. 

They asked for my number/Snapchat/Instagram.

He wanted me to spend the night.  


Why say yes?


Why on Earth do those two pesky letters sit in the back of our throats until we start to gag? 


Many people fear that refusal and rejection will hurt an individual’s feelings, or make themselves appear rude and selfish. The perception that people may dislike you is not often a subtle burden to bare. Some people can admit that they are people pleasers, or the less appealing description, pushovers. They are motivated by helping others and putting themselves into situations where they must juggle their own priorities along with the priorities of others. Or, at times, throw their own priorities out the window. Saying no would be met with the instant growth of guilt, pangs of wrongdoing in the gut, stress and tension multiplying in the mind. So someone may do the homework assignment for a friend, drive them to the airport, lend them the money, attend the parties instead of sleeping or studying. Looking through the scope at the workplace, there are women who feel as though they simply must do more than their male counterparts to breakeven, or to be recognized and respected, in order to advance.  

Maybe some women don’t say “no” because the consequences could be worse. Will whomever you reject become hostile or defensive? Will the situation become too awkward for you to bare?  There are men in this world who may not take no for an answer, who will persist at the party until they get what they want, until you leave in their Uber. During those times when there is not enough confidence to voice the verbal no, women may try to use their body language in an attempt to send the messages for them - which can be unclear, overlooked, or ignored. 

In different instances, the power of reciprocity may reign so powerful one cannot overcome it. That is, one may feel they owe someone in return for something they have done for them. LADIES, just because someone has done you a favor (e.g., bought you a drink, paid for a meal, sober-cabbed), or they have simply engaged in a friendly conversation, you do not owe them anything in return. This can be difficult to unlearn. If there is anything that you feel the need to share with another, it should be honesty. That’s it. 

Are these tendencies and pressures socially constructed and influenced? Do some women feel the need to be attuned to the emotions of others as it is more acceptable for women to do so than for men? Are some women trying to protect the fragile masculinity of those around them? Outdated, social norms that were once expected of women can still impact the behaviors and interactions we have today. We can question the influence of traditional, binary gender norms: what it means to be masculine or femine, how those socially constructed norms have changed. Women may be perceived as weak, easily manipulatable, as some men mansplain and talk over them. Women are also challenged by the members of their own gender as well, through the reinforcement of behaviors and degradation of fellow women peers. Recognizing what works to silence others can give way to opportunities for change. 


The benefits of saying “No.”


It is time to overuse the word “no,” for all people. It is easier than you may think. First, be honest with yourself, and although it is not a requirement, you can always share that honesty with those who are asking something of you. You should not have to convince yourself to accept or agree to participate in something. If it feels wrong, trust your gut, your heart, your brain, your liver - really any organ. Remember that your personal reasoning, even if you simply have no interest in the situation or request, validates your decision. 

When saying no, be confident with the delivery. Be confident with your decision, and with your ability to decide in the first place. Although there are concerns, insecurities, and potential consequences to come with any choice, stand tall and trust in yourself to decide what is right for you. Remain firm with your decision. Many people may re-approach and persist, attempt to persuade or convince, pressure or manipulate. During these times, do not waver, do not apologize - do not give in. Plant your feet and stay grounded. This is necessary when setting boundaries and maintaining your own well-being. 

Learning how to put these tools into practice can be a step toward liberation from unnecessary stress, regret, tension, and resentment. These skills may allow you to protect yourself from wasted time as well. Some may view you as selfish for saying no. I call it self-preservation. Stop saying yes when your answer is “no.” 


Go on, practice. Say it - and again, and again, and once more.