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Many of us have been conditioned to conform to social norms, and we feel guilty if we don’t try to please other people, says Beth Ann Lichti, a Peterborough, Ont., registered professional counsellor. “We worry about missing out on something fun and exciting. We worry that no one will understand if we decline a request or an invitation. Mostly, we worry about being judged as selfish by the people we want to say no to,” she says.
The thing is, sometimes saying no is the best way to maintain healthy personal boundaries, show self-respect, stay true to your values, free up time for the things you want to do and allow yourself space to heal and refresh. “Oftentimes, saying no is the healthiest thing for ourselves,” says Lichti. “And when we take care of ourselves, we have more to offer those we want to spend time with.”
Not sure how to start the opting-out process? These tips can help.
The situation: You’re invited to a family wedding, but you barely know the couple and would prefer to bail.
The solution: Because emotions can run high when it comes to weddings, it’s best to keep your response short, says Lichti. “Something like, ‘I’m honoured to be invited, but a) I’m not available that weekend, or b) I won’t be able to make it’ would suffice. Keep responses simple to reduce followup questions or an attempt to talk you into coming.”
The situation: You’ve been asked to contribute to a work fundraiser for someone you don’t like.
The solution: As above, there’s no need to get into specifics about your reasons for declining the request. “You don’t owe your coworkers an explanation,” says Lichti. “How you choose to spend your money is your business.” A response to the effect of “I don’t feel comfortable contributing to the fundraiser” or “I’m being careful about my spending habits right now” is enough.
The situation: A colleague has asked to meet up after hours, but you’d rather not.
The solution: One of the most important things we can do to take care of ourselves is to allow ourselves the freedom to be choosey and be mindful of with whom we spend our time. Lichti says declining the invitation due to other commitments may be enough, but should the request persist, recognize that it may be coming from a desire to make new friends or get to know coworkers better. “In this case, try offering a clear explanation, such as ‘I value my work relationships, but I don’t feel I have time and energy to dedicate to a new friendship. Thank you for thinking of me, but I would prefer to keep our interactions at work.’ ”
The situation: A friend wants to borrow money and you don’t feel comfortable obliging.
The solution: Mixing friends and money can be problematic. Be blunt by either letting your friend know that it’s your policy never to lend to friends or, if you’ve had bad experiences in the past, that you’ve been burned and will not put yourself in that position again. “Avoid using words like ‘right now’ that can imply a different answer if they ask at a later time. And while it’s fine to sympathize with their situation, don’t apologize for being in the financial circumstance you’re in,” says Litchi.
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