No, non, niet, όχι,不, خیر, , ghobe
….in any language, ‘no’ can be one of the hardest words to say.

But there are times when we need to say ‘yes’ to ‘no’.  ‘No’ gives you back control and by so doing it enables you to set boundaries.

This all well and good, but the fact remains that there are many people for whom the thought of saying ‘no’ fills them with dread.  Answer the following questions to establish whether you fall into this category:

  • Do you fear being rejected?
  • Do you put yourself last?
  • Do you find yourself agreeing with something when secretly you disagree?
  • Are you a chameleon willing to change so as to please others?
  • Will you do anything in your power to keep others content?
  • Are you excessively accommodating to friends, families and colleagues?
  • Does the thought of conflict bother you?
  • Have you turned the dial down on other character traits such as assertiveness and toughness?

If the answer to those questions is ‘yes,’ if this describes your personality style to a nicety, then it is not unreasonable to infer that you are a people pleaser par excellence. Imagine if you will a situation where someone asks you do something.

Now imagine saying; no’ firmly but politely. Bring your attention to your body and begin scanning yourself for signs of tension. Is there a reef-knot of tension in your stomach? Do you feel hot? Has your breathing becoming shallower? This is further confirmation that you may find saying ‘no’ daunting.

Oh, No

‘No’ fills some people with fear, some with guilt and some with shame. ‘No’ can mean a loss of face For some saying ‘yes’ is a matter of honour. Of course, I’ll do it. Would you…? By all means. I need this report by tomorrow. Is that feasible? Yes, absolutely. I’ll have it ready for you by yesterday (!)

The inability to say ‘no’ arises partly from a desire to please and partly from fear. Were I say I can’t do something or won’t be something, will I not be letting them and myself down?

Saying ‘no’ might mean you are no longer seen as the helpful one, the nice one, as a paragon of virtue. It might well be that people pleasing has become a key part of your identity since childhood. It is not inconceivable that you have spent the better part of your life defining your sense of self through what others think.

Nature and Nurture

Whence this reluctance to say no?  Doubtless, the answer lies in the vexed question of nature and nurture. The people-pleasing trait is not a gene, but it is true to say that certain propensities can be inherited from one’s parents.

Upbringing too plays its part. Yours may be a family for which sacrifice and putting others first is important and this may have been drilled into you since infancy and there is no gainsaying the fact that the interplay between  one’s inherited temperament environment constantly reshapes personality.

Lumina Learning’s Take

In Lumina Parlance, it is highly likely that you will score high in agreeableness? You will be unwaveringly considerate of others, you will seek harmony at all costs, you be accommodating to a fault. This is not to say that these traits are not valuable. They undoubtedly are. Where problems arise is when, for whatever reason, they are taken to excess. For example, to be empathetic is a desirable and indeed one which many lack, but in times of stress, empathy can quickly lead to your being emotionally stretched to breaking point. We at Lumina Learning call this an overextension.

Saying ‘no’ is important for many reasons, chief among them is that it gives you control over your own destiny. If you are prepared to say ‘no’ when the need arises, if you can say ‘this far and farther,’ you will feel better about yourself, sends a clear message to your colleagues that you are not a ‘push over’ and frees up time to concentrate on what matters.

If, however, your default response is ‘yes’ to everything, then you will feel powerless, a mere plaything of other people’s demands. This in turn will reduce the time you have to your job, exacerbate stress and deal a blow to your mental health. So is ‘no’ important? Yes.


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Lumina Learning is a global network of skilled experts and Practitioners operating in more than 40 countries all over the world.