The two-letter word which is so difficult to say sometimes is “No.” We often worry that if we say no, we will risk our relationship with the other person. It would embarrass the other person and may make them perceive us as cold, unhelpful, or arrogant.

While there can be many reasons why people struggle to say “No,” here are some key ones:

  1. Societal Models: Saying No is difficult because as humans, we, unfortunately, relate agreement to affection and likeability. When we say No, other people may relate that denial to rejection. The fear that people may perceive that you are rejecting them rather than their idea or request compounds the inability to say No.
  2. Roles & Self-Perception – We all play many roles in our lives. Our perception of each of these roles creates a set of expectations within us. These expectations influence our behavior significantly. Let’s look at an example. Let’s say you hold a perception of a good manager as, “A good manager should always take care of his/her team members.” You may find it difficult to say No to your team members when they come to you asking for leaves. Similarly, a “loving” mother may find it difficult to say No to her child’s demands.  
  3. Previous Conditioning – We imbibe a lot of our behaviors from our parents as well as key figures in our lives. Our personalities get shaped in the formative years by observing them. Many people find it difficult to respond assertively because they end up modeling similar behaviors of their parents or role models. Such learned behaviors can be modified through consistent practice and reinforcement.
  4. Low Self-Confidence – Lack of self-worth or low self-esteem can impact a person’s ability to hold ground. The fear of a backlash can lead to an individual give in to the demands of the other party too easily. The individual may find it much safer to just toe the line rather than say no and create a confrontational situation.

When someone approaches you, their inherent expectation is that of a “Yes” as an answer. Saying “No” instead is like swimming against the tide. It is difficult and requires more effort. But, with practice, you can learn to say No when needed.  The key is to display empathy to the person as well as their idea or request. Also, rather than simply stating a “No”, share your reason or logic for saying so. This can help in managing the consequences better and not make the other person feel rejected.

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