Politeness and kindness are two of the bedrocks of Southern society. Unfortunately, while being polite and kind are both important virtues, they can also lead to being taken advantage of, occasionally by those we hold nearest and dearest. How can you say no when your best friend needs you to run a quick errand for her because she’s swamped at work? How can you say no when a co-worker needs a little favor that shouldn’t take more than an hour? And how can you say no when your daughter asks you to drive her across town because she needs to pick something up at her friend’s house? The trick to saying no in each of those situations is to simply say no.
If you’re a born people pleaser, saying no can seem almost sacrilegious. But saying yes to everything creates stress, can build resentment, and puts your own needs on the back burner. Saying no, lets you prioritize your own deadlines, needs, and desires, and is an important step on the road to self-care. Learning to say no is one of the most empowering things a person can do. “The ability to communicate ‘no’ really reflects that you are in the driver’s seat of your own life,” said Vanessa M. Patrick, an associate professor of marketing at the C. T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston told The New York Times. “It gives you a sense of empowerment.”
The University of Houston’s Prof. Patrick suggests that people who want to learn how to say no should start by practicing in low-stakes situations, like turning down store credit cards or telling a pushy salesperson that you simply do not wear neon orange sweatpants. Her research also showed that people learning to say no, should start by saying “I don’t” as opposed to “I can’t”. For example, “I don’t wear neon orange,” as opposed to, “I can’t wear that color.” Saying “I don’t” makes it clear that you have boundaries, while the second leaves the conversation open. Once you’ve mastered it in low-stakes situation, try it out when a colleague asks you out for a drink on a Monday night and say, “I don’t drink on work nights.” If you’re worried about coming across as too rude or too assertive, as The Times notes, research from Columbia University reveals that when people perceive themselves as overly assertive, others see them as under-assertive or even meek.
The internet is filled with stories of people documenting how learning to say no dramatically improved their lives at work, at home, and with their friends and family. According to Fortune, saying no at work can keep you focused on your tasks, help you avoid taking on extra work outside of your job description, and gives you the power to do your job on your deadline and ideally do it well. Saying no to after-hours work phone calls or refusing to answer non-emergency emails on the weekends, can help you find a good work-life balance.
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At home, learning to say no not only gives you more free time to do what you need, but can be good for your children. The mental health experts at PsychCentral.com say that it is important for children “to hear no from time to time so that they develop a sense of self-control” and learn important skills for adulthood.
With friends, saying no to a party invitation or a game night or a night on the town or a weekend trip, can seem like a recipe for loneliness, but a good friend will understand your need to stay in occasionally or that you are juggling obligations. Psychology Today suggests having an honest conversation with your friend, telling them what is going on in your life, and setting up a time and place that works for both of you.
Of course, for people who grew up trying to be polite and kind, saying no is easier said than done. Like riding a bike, or making perfect pie crust, learning to say no just takes practice. WikiHow, a how-to website, offers a six-step illustrated guide for learning to say no. It breaks it down into easy steps that anyone—even the most ardent people pleasers—can master. It all starts with taking time before committing to anything and once you’re out of the pressurized situation, you can make up your mind in peace. When someone asks you a favor, your simply say something like, “I’ll think about it!” or Oprah’s favorite, “I’ll take it to Jesus.” No one can argue with that.