Q8: How Do I Say NO Without Offending?

On the day I started writing this book, one of my dearest and oldest friends wrote to me. I am lucky to call her my friend and she is a very wise woman. This summer we’d had occasion to support each other through making a difficult decision. She went one way, I went the other. To my eyes, this makes her the better person.

We’d both been invited to do something that neither of us particularly wanted to do. I’d consulted my friend about what she intended to do. She intended to do The Right Thing. I’d done what I wanted to do and taken the consequences, namely perhaps disappointing a couple of other people I care very much about in order not to upset myself. Tough choice. Rock and a hard place. I put myself first which is what I feel able to do when it comes right down to the wire and the choice is me or you. And I can only do it in my own favour when there are just those two stark choices. I have to choose me, all other things being vaguely equal. I can cite exceptions that prove the rule.

My friend wrote after the event “The older I get, the less inclined I am to do things I don’t want to do” and I replied as follows.

“Being able to ask for our own needs to be met, and being OK about putting ourselves and those needs first, is something I teach my clients every day and something I have been learning to be OK with since I was 37 and, if you remember, on this occasion I still asked for your advice before I made my mind up!

In my work, we often call it “nice girl hand-wringing”. It’s where something makes us feel uncomfortable and we wring our hands but we do it anyway because we’ve been brought up to be a Nice Girl (or Boy). Decades of social and familial conditioning. But doing that, being a Nice Girl, makes us feel bad, often worse than bad; it is painful, it is like self-harming. So we do it at our own sometimes considerable cost.

One of the things I wrote in a tribute letter to my brother on the occasion of his recent 60th birthday was about this. It is something I learned from him and just one of a whole long list of things I love and appreciate about him.

You say things like “Do what you’ve got to do, Jude” even when it would suit you slightly (or even a lot) better if I did something else entirely.

On this occasion, I did what I had to do even though it might have suited others if I had done something else entirely. I wish I could say I am without bad feelings about it. I am not. I should have done “the right thing”. But I didn’t want to, so I didn’t. No doubt some would call that selfish, I accept that. It’s part of my cost. It’s even fair to a certain extent.

Today I am starting to write my book and shall start with this very topic: Nice Girl Hand-Wringing.”

Do you recognise yourself in this behaviour? Are you a Nice Girl or Boy who always does what’s expected of you? Does it hurt? Well, stop it immediately! I know you aren’t going to be able to stop people-pleasing behaviour overnight, I know you’ve been doing it as long as me and my friend.

I know you want to stop and I know it gets between you and running the sort of business you want. I know your friends and family and clients are putting upon you for all sorts of things you don’t want to do and yet you are doing them anyway.

And you don’t know how to get out of doing them, because you’ve always done them, and some of them are expected of you. And a few may remain so, especially if you are a parent to your own children and the dutiful daughter of parents still alive.

Warning! Once you start to say no, people won’t like it. But they WILL get used to it. You will empower them to start doing these things for themselves instead if they need doing at all. You’ll be amazed by how the world shifts around you once you stop being so accommodating and put upon.

Those that don’t like it will drift off and find some other sucker to fill their needs. Trust me, they will. I call those people “successful”. It’s a weird definition by which I mean they are successful at getting their needs met, mostly at the expense of others. You will read me reiterating this point in this book because I really believe it is worth underlining.

Let’s give them, the drifter-offers, the benefit of the doubt and say they are unaware they are doing it. Yeah, right. At some level they know, but still… I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt. I’m a Nice Girl, remember?

When I’d done enough therapy and raised myself up to my full height and started to say no, this is how I saw it.

I was the driver of a Volvo estate car (bear with, this is a metaphor, I’ve never driven a Volvo estate except once, in Richmond Park, in the early Seventies and it didn’t go well!) and it had one of those tow bars on the back and, behind me, weighing me down and slowing me down big time too was a very large and heavy caravan stuffed with a large number of passengers, standing room only and hanging out of every window and off the roof, a bit like an Indian train.

One day, I simply unhooked the caravan, all those carriages on the train. The people who really cared about me got into the Volvo and came with me, taking their turn at driving and giving to me and doing useful stuff for all of us on the team, like bringing the road trip mix tape, sharing snacks and map-reading.

I simply waved at those in the caravan as we accelerated away and they stayed where they were for a while, considering their options before they simply got out and found another cosy home where someone else took care of them and their freaky needs.

Passengers. Relying on you. In a burdensome way. Let them go and free yourself.

Can you sense the relief already? I know you can. Go on, I dare you, unhook the caravan, say no, stop wringing your hands. You can do this. Don’t save up all the hurt until you explode, just start to get your own needs met first whenever that’s reasonable (most of the time). Not at all cost by any means, but first equal with everyone else’s.

Do write and let me know how it goes!

  • Who will you release and why?
  • How will life be better?

Your Biz Your Way

If you have enjoyed reading my words here, you might also enjoy my book - Your Biz Your Way: Learning to Trust Yourself. Relax! You've Got This. Get a chunky free sample and/or buy the book here Read My Book

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