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Learn how to say 'no'
Shilpa Shet
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September 03, 2007

Have you ever:
~ Been miserable at a party?
~ Felt like throwing up after a delicious meal?
~ Wanted to hang up on your best friend?
~ Felt like raging away at your partner?

The unpleasantness experienced in each of the above situations could have been avoided, if only you had taken a judgement call and said 'no' to someone:
~ '
No, I don't feel like coming to the party. I'd rather stay home and read a book.'
~ '
No, I'm really full. I don't think I can eat another morsel.'
~ '
No, truly, I have a headache and was lying down. I'll talk to you later.'
~ '
No, I don't want to visit your friends. I'd rather hang out with mine today.'

Saying 'no' at the right time and in the right way can save you the trouble of indulging in activities you'd rather avoid. Brenda D'Souza, a teacher from Mumbai says, "I feel that people should live as they choose -- that's why I never said no to anyone. Everyone around me then started taking me for granted, even the children at school."

Brenda realised she was doing more than her fair share of work -- she was correcting more papers than other teachers, she was toiling endlessly at home and she was running around doing chores for her extended family too.

That's when a friend told her to rationalise. "She told me I have to learn to say 'no' to people," she recollects, "I was losing weight and developing health concerns. I explained to everyone around me that I needed to have some time to myself."

Initially people thought she was being selfish, but soon the thought gave way to concern and eventually acceptance. "Now I am much happier. I do only what is possible. I do not extend myself to keep others around me happy," she asserts.

Most people who have trouble turning down others when they are inclined to do so think that they are being selfish, or displeasing and hurting the opposite party when they say 'no'. Often, however, saying 'no' works better for both the parties in question.

Bhavana Premji* recollects an incident where saying 'no' helped her out of a sticky situation. "I was in college then. There was this friend who liked me. He'd proposed love to me many times but I was not interested in him. I cared very much for him as a friend, however and so I didn't give him a clear reply," she recalls.

One day her parents saw her with this guy. "I explained the situation to my parents. They told me to make up my mind. If I really liked the guy I should say so, or else I should tell him that I wasn't interested in anything beyond friendship. I was really upset. I didn't like him in that way, but I didn't want to say no. I didn't want to hurt him. He was a good friend."

However, Bhavana did say no to him eventually. "He took it very badly. He thought I was just playing hard to get. It took me two years to convince him that I really wasn't interested in him. Eventually, when he got the message he broke down. There was some girl in his class who got friendly with him then. She helped him get over me. Today they are happily married."

Bhavana feels and rightly so, that if she had not said no then, she and her friend would have both ended up unhappy.

Overdoing your 'no's

While there are those who have trouble saying 'no' even once in a while, there are others who tend to overdo them. They get into the habit of turning down everyone who poses them a question. "I have a colleague who says 'no' to everything," says Rekha [Images] Samant from Pune. "He is a very diligent worker, but because of his habit no one wants to team up with him on projects."

Rekha believes that if only her colleague changed his attitude, he would be a very valuable resource to the organisation. "Everyone knows he does good work but because of his constant 'no's people get put off," she explains.

Strike a balance

The correct thing, then, is to be balanced about your 'no's. While a 'no' is very assertive, be cautious of where and how you use it. For some who still are not comfortable saying a direct 'no', here are a few alternatives:

~ 'You need to excuse me. I have to...'
~ 'Let me think about it. However...'
~ 'I'm a little busy at the moment...'
~ '
I would rather decline...'
~ 'I know someone else who can help you...'

Practice saying 'no'

There are situations where you cannot avoid a 'no'. If it is difficult for you to say so, here's what you can do:

~ Before confronting a situation where you know you will have to say 'no', practice saying it in front of a mirror, at least five times. Remember to smile when you do. 
~ Say 'no' to telemarketers without hesitation if you don't require their services.
Say 'no' at least once a day to something you're not agreeable to.

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