We’re all adults—let’s talk for a minute. I’ve had several friends lament to me this week that they’ve gotten stuck in precarious positions because they simply could not say no. (e.g. someone wants to borrow money or wants you to wear a strapless bridesmaid gown—or both.)
No—by and large—works. But you have to say it. Out loud. The “N” sound and “O” sound need to come out of your mouth in celebration of one another—in that order. (Otherwise you’re saying “ON!” which 1) doesn’t work, 2) doesn’t make sense and 3) confirms you’re verbally uncoordinated.)
Fact: If someone prefaces an ask with, “Now, I know you’ll probably say no …” or “You’re more than welcome to say no, but …” that’s a red flag, people. That is also the perfect out. You blurt out “NO!” before they even finish their ask. No harm. No foul. You know they were going to request you babysit their hellacious demon toddler anyway, right? A pre-emptive no means you struck first—like an anticipatory pit viper.
Scrub: “Can I come over?” You: “No.”
Healthy person: “Do you want to go jogging tomorrow morning?” You: “No.”
Healthier person: “Let’s go try that vegan restaurant!” You: “No.”
No means just that—no. And there’s no need to offer up a half-assed explanation to quantify your denial either. It makes you sound like a blithering idiot. “No, I can’t make it to your child’s recital because I have a final the next morning and I need to study for it. I’m already almost failing the class. So, I really need to stay at home and hunker down with the syllabus. Also, I just had a mole removed on my face—which is probably benign but might not be. My family has a history of …”
NO ONE CARES.
It’s ironic I’ve flip-flopped so hard on this. Eight years ago, I nearly died from a stroke. After I recovered, I vowed not to say no to one damn thing anyone asked of me for an entire year. I went skydiving. I traveled abroad extensively. I took cooking classes. I hiked. It was the best year of my life because I did a bunch of oddball excursions that were outside my comfort zone. Things I wanted/needed/deserved to try. Even better? Not one thing was a time-suck. And nobody took advantage of the situation.
Remember that. If someone is trying to take advantage of you or your infinite kindness, saying “no” is the perfect foil. (And perfect remedy.) No apologies. No second-guessing. No trying to desperately get out of something later. Life is short—and it’s getting shorter by the second. Do you really want to decorate for a friend of a friend’s kid’s bat mitzvah? I mean …
Oh, and if someone says, “I’m not taking no for an answer!”—you’ll need to break out the heavy artillery. (Yes, I’m talking to the person who asked me to be on the board of Feed The Children … or Save The Whales … or Feed The Children To The Whales Society.) I’ve learned a jaunty, “No! And don’t ask me again, f*ckface!” is often the solution to that potential problem.
The only time no doesn’t work? It’s in an improv class. (I also took a few of those after my stroke, come to think of it.) Tina Fey once famously said, “Say yes. You’ll figure it out afterwards.” She’s right—unless you’re being asked to watch a Lifetime Movie about a cat with cancer.
One time I asked my friend Tracey to be my plus-one at an event. He said (and I quote), “No, I don’t want to go to your stupid party.” It was at that exact nanosecond that I realized I didn’t want to go to my stupid party either. We ended up going out for good-bad Chinese food instead. It was bliss.
In conclusion, your ability to decline insipid requests will not happen overnight, but it will happen. Baby steps. Try it. Sprinkle it in to casual conversation. No regrets. No hesitation. No take-backsides.
Remember—you can do anything, just not everything. Take back your time.
Just. Say. No.