How to say ‘No’

Victoria Herrera
Saying 'Yes' to everything means saying 'No' to yourself and to your life

KNOW YOUR LIMITS. There comes a point where helping out ends where you need to live your life

SINGAPORE – Last Sunday, I arrived from a business trip to Australia, and I was drained.

I got sick during my trip, and not only did I have to work, but also had to adjust to the cold, winter weather that my humid upbringing was not used to.

I was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted.

When I got back to Singapore, my e-mail and phone messages started pouring in with people asking me for help in other assignments. Finally, I had to step back and say something I’m quite not used to saying: No. 

I can’t do everything, even if I wanted to.

I know; this example is not the worst example to ever hit cyberspace.

Other people have way too much on their plate, and they seem to handle their schedule quite well.

(I can hear someone say, “Well Vicky, toughen up! Maybe your time management sucks!” But let’s leave time management for another article.)

Being a ‘Yes’ person 

What this experience taught me, and what I wanted to bring up in this column, was that most of us have a need to say, “Yes!,” for fear or not being liked, accepted, or approved of.

At the end of the day, you miss out on your priorities that you need to fulfill in your own life because you are helping everyone else with theirs.

Incessantly saying, “Yes” in this case is the need to keep stretching yourself, even when you know you’ve hit your limits.

It’s disregarding your priorities because you don’t want to feel like you’ve disappointed someone. You think, “Maybe they’ll get mad at me.” Or, “I always do this for them.” 

It’s coming home late at night, wanting to cry, but you don’t have time because you have to fulfill a task that someone else asked you to do — and you didn’t really need to do it in the first place!

It’s the feeling of always needing to please someone else…feeling empty because you gave everything you had and you still feel like it’s not good enough. 

I’ve definitely felt like this at one point or another in my career. At a young age, we were taught to help those in need.

While we do approve the acts of service given from one individual to another, we also need to know when it’s time to draw the line.

If unchecked, we fall victim to relationships with emotionally needy spouses, user-friendly associates, and people who steal your energy.

Set your boundaries

How much are you willing to do for others?

Now think, what you need to get done for yourself first?

It’s important to know your immediate goals and priorities.

If you feel like people are asking things from you that are not in line with your current priorities, it’s okay to decline their requests. 

This isn’t selfish, because if you give out all your energy for the non-important requests in your life, you will have no more energy for the important ones.

(Example, giving all your energy to lazy co-workers when you don’t have time to spend with your kids when you get home.) 

Knowing your priorities helps you establish your boundaries so people do not step all over you to do things you don’t need to do.

You are not a doormat. Become aware of your boundaries and where you are willing to draw the line.

It’s time to pay attention to your own life first. 

Helping others become independent

Sometimes, always giving a helping hand to others can create a dependent relationship with you.

Maybe they will always need you to do things for them, or they will need your consultation on things.

Or people will always come to you, expecting you to solve their latest life/love/work problem. (As if you don’t have your own set, right?)

Figure out if there are ways to help them. Maybe you can refer them to resources they can learn from, or to books you’ve read, or connect them to other people who you feel can help them better.

Think of the fish metaphor: don’t just give them fish, but teach ‘em how to do the fishing. 

Letting others to demand your time/effort/attention when you know they are capable of solving it themselves doesn’t help them.

Saying “No,” even though at first you feel like you’re letting them down, may be beneficial for them in the long run.

Always helping out doesn’t empower them to think or act for themselves. 

You can think, “Wow, I love feeling needed and important.” But it’s actually because you have an inner desire to feel valued.

If you can find other ways to increase your sense of self-worth without becoming a doormat, then you can move forward to creating healthier relationships with those around you. 

Remember, this is not a one answer fits all type of advice. It’s still good to evaluate each case.

You should evaluate if this person who needs your help can really do it by himself. And still keep leading them to ways where they can act independently.

It’s how you say it

It’s not bad to say “No.” The best way to soften this decline is to improve how you package it. It’s all in the way you communicate, not just the message. 

Let’s face it, receiving a no may feel like you’re being rejected. No one likes to feel rejected!

That’s why it’s good to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and say it in a way that doesn’t feel rude and insensitive.

Emphasize that while you cannot do this task, you are not rejecting the person. 

Maybe you do want to do the task, but it’s just not possible for you to extend more of your personal energy at this time. (That’s why you can also offer to help them by referring them to other people, books, etc.)

Maybe you can get back to them at a later time. Or maybe it’s not this task you want to work on, but you can always be kept in mind for another one in the future. 

If you feel like the person needs an explanation, feel free to explain to the extent of what you’re comfortable with.

You don’t need to overly explain or overly apologize. That may just sound like you’re lying or being defensive.

If you don’t want to give an explanation, just say simply, “No, it’s not something I can attend to at this moment,” and move on.

It’s simple, as long as you communicate it in a polite, firm, and respectful way.

Build your confidence in saying “No” by also practicing it beforehand. You want to be ready just in case you get ambushed with requests. 

At the end of the day, it’s really about respecting your personal boundaries.

It’s by putting the focus back on you to gain control of your time and attention again.

It’s restoring your sense of personal value. By disregarding the non-essentials, you learn that saying ‘No’ to others really means saying ‘Yes’ to yourself.

Photo from Shutterstock

Victoria Herrera is a TV and event host, model, and writer. In 2011, she released her first book, ‘Unscripted,’ based on inspiring conversations from her previous radio show. Last year, she hosted ‘Runway TV Asia,’ where she interviewed international fashion designers and celebrities. Shuttling between Manila and Singapore, she continues to explore the world of creativity, design, and fashion as a contributor for several publications.

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.