How To Say No And Still Be Kind

How To Say No and Still Be Kind

Do you struggle to say no? A lot of the time people find it hard to say no because they feel guilty. They worry that they're not being kind or that they're rejecting the other person.

But it's perfectly possible to get better at saying no and still be kind.

The following story is a case study from my much-loved book How Kind People Get Tough.

Max, 54

Max, a self-employed web developer, absolutely loved his work. However, he would often end up working long hours, fixing issues on people’s websites—and all too often for a ridiculously low fee.

The problem was that whenever someone asked Max for a discount he just couldn’t bring himself to say no because he felt guilty. The more he gave his services for such little recompense, the more people would recommend him to their friends. All this pressure on his time and his finances had led to Max becoming increasingly stressed.

How To Say No Without Feeling Guilty

I wondered what lay behind Max’s struggle with saying no. When I asked him, he told me that he didn’t want to be unkind. He thought that if he insisted on people paying the full fees for his services, he might come across as mean.

Max’s need to be kind was a misguided type of kindness. Ultimately, he wasn’t being kind to anyone, because running his business into the ground would eventually lead to him not being able to help anyone. Clearly, Max had some limiting beliefs about money and self-worth.

You Learnt not to say no in your childhood

As we explored this, Max told me that when he was nine years old, his father walked out, leaving him and his mother with no financial support. His mother was under a great deal of stress; she didn’t handle money very well, and so Max did odd jobs to help contribute. Every day he cleaned cars, walked people’s dogs, did paper rounds—anything to bring money into the household.

Whenever young Max tried to say no to his mother’s requests for him to do extra work, she’d get upset and accuse him of not caring about her. Max recalled many times when he was exhausted by all the chores, on top of school.

Up until our sessions, Max hadn’t seen the link between how life had been way back in his childhood, and how he thought about his business today. He saw now that he’d grown up with some very unhelpful ideas about how earning money and self-worth went together. 

It was a lightbulb moment. Max began to consider the possibility that he no longer had to listen to that anxious little boy within, who’d been so worried about being seen as uncaring.

Recognise When You're Coming From 'Child'

Like Max, many people struggle with saying no because of the experiences they had in their early childhood. If always saying yes meant that Mummy, or the teacher, wouldn’t be cross with you—well, that was a good thing. So it became a learnt habit.

So we get stuck in this habit and in later years pop back into child mode whenever we feel confronted by having to say no to something we don't want.

Remember that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with popping into child—we all do it, often several times a day. However, when you get into one of those ‘I want to say no but I keep saying yes—aaagh!‘ situations, it’s very empowering to notice that you’re coming from your worried inner child’s perspective.

A great way to break this habit is to recognise when you’re coming from your child self. You'll know this because you'll feel upset, worried, anxious, maybe guitly. Soothe that little child within by saying kind words to yourself.

Then remind yourself that in the grown-up world, it’s perfectly okay for adults to say no to each other. Its not unkind. In fact in the bigger picture it's usually the kinder thing to do because it makes things better for everybody in the long run. 

And if, when you say no to someone, they have a little tantrum, that’s because they themselves have likely popped into their own child self. There’s no point in getting into an argument—just give them a bit of time to calm down and come to terms with your ‘no’ and peace will be restored.

Courage To Be You!

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