Is there a more powerful, more emotional word in the English language?
Just a tiny word, and one of the first we learn to understand then speak, as babies.
So tiny, in fact, that we often feel it’s necessary to extend it. We couple it with sorry, even when we aren’t sorry at all.
“Sorry, no. I can’t work for free.”
“No, sorry. I can’t completely rewrite the feature with a new, additional interview that involves an 11-hour flight – all without any additional pay.”
“Sorry, no. I can’t travel 200 miles to your gallery to give a talk about my art, without you even offering to cover my expenses.”
“No, sorry. I’m working from home on a tight deadline. I can’t collect your child from school at 10 minutes’ notice.”
I suggest a divorce here. Between no and sorry.
We should just get comfortable with that most uncomfortable of words.
No. That won’t work for me.
No. I’m no longer able to do that for you.
No. I need to be paid for my work.
And nothing else. No excuses, no apologies, no explanations. And most of all, no guilt. Just no.
Because no can be a complete sentence.
It isn’t easy, at first.
But it is a skill, and it gets easier with practice. When we just say no consistently, we start to create some space for ourselves. Time to do what we want or need to do. To rest, and work, and play.
If we create that space, we also make room to say yes sometimes. And when we do, we don’t say it grudgingly, or resentfully. We don’t find ourselves already regretting the word, even as it forms on our lips.
We say yes whole-heartedly, with generosity. We mean it. We know we’ll follow through on it without being the victim, the martyr, the superhero.
While you’re getting to know no, try this: only say yes if it’s a “hell yes!”
No doesn’t always need to be said harshly.
If it’s someone we care about, someone we are close to, or perhaps someone we work with, we can always collaborate with them to find another solution.
No, I can’t do that.
Would it help if I suggest someone else? Would you like to sit down and chat about how you could get what you need? I can’t do it this week, but I could do it next month. I can’t do this new task and finish the other project on time, so which of them do you want to delay?
But if it’s a stranger, a cold caller, or someone who always asks of you but never gives in return? If it’s an unreasonable demand, or a man with a clipboard or a collecting tin accosting you to make a charitable donation you don’t want to make?
Just say no.
Say it calmly, without aggression, whining or drama.
Say it with a smile, if that’s appropriate.
Then simply get on with your day.