This is part of my series on How To Be A Good Person.
A reader wrote, “Dear Stewie, my neighbor invited me to go camping with his family. I hate camping. I want to sleep in my own bed and not on the hard and cold ground. I don’t want bugs crawling in my mouth. How do I say No?”
Saying No is difficult. You worry about hurting others and losing their approval. As a result, I imagine you agree to numerous things you don’t want to do and resent it later.
What you want is a way to “feel ok” about saying No. While there’s no panacea, I do have a seven strategies that will help.
1. Remember that saying No is uncomfortable for everyone
Each of us hesitates to decline an invitation because we care about others. We want to say Yes and please them. But this desire is taken too far when we agree to things that we don’t want to do, e.g., going camping.
It feels uncomfortable to say No, but it’s better than going and feeling miserable. Follow Brené Brown’s advice and “choose discomfort over resentment.”
2. Turn the tables
Imagine you invite your neighbor to your upcoming Dungeons & Dragons night, but they don’t like D&D (or anything fantasy-related). Would you be irate if they politely declined? Would you flip over tables and chairs? Of course not! You’re a reasonable person. You might feel a tinge of disappointment, but you’d get over it. Furthermore, you’d prefer they say No instead of showing up and being miserable the whole time.
Similarly, you should trust that your neighbor won’t freak out if you say No. Trust them to behave like a reasonable adult.
3. You’re responsible for your time
You have to live with the consequences of every decision, and therefore you must decide how to spend your time. Likewise, your neighbor decides how to spend their time. As such, it’s absolutely ok to say No to recreation that’s not to your liking.
Read Boundaries Made Simple.
4. Stop seeking others’ approval
You will forever be getting sucked into unpleasant activities until you cease craving others’ approval. Stop approval-seeking, and your life will get simpler and brighter.
Now, this is easier said than done. Here are two exercises that help me:
- Imagine that you have just 24 hours to live. Would you go camping? No. Would you worry about your neighbor’s opinion? Not a chance! You’d ignore that and spend time doing what you wanted to do. You’d be free from worrying about what others think (or what you think they think about you).
- Imagine your neighbor dislikes you. Are you ok? Materially, do you still have food, shelter, and medical care? Yes. Do the people closest to you still love you? Of course! So why trouble yourself with your neighbor’s opinion?
5. Find a role model
I have a friend I’ll call Mickey, and he is really good at diplomatically saying No to stuff. So, when I have a hard time saying “No,” I ask myself, “How would Mickey handle this? What would Mickey say?” And in most cases, this gives me good ideas on how to graciously say No.
You need a Mickey you can look to.
6. What is your neighbor after?
Was this just a friendly invitation? Or are they looking to be friends? If it’s the latter—and you want to be friends with them—look for other ways to spend time with them.
7. Make sure you actually say No
If you decline the invitation by saying, “Yah, maybe next time,” with a smile, your neighbor will hear, “I should invite them in the future.” Don’t do this. Instead, say, “Thank you, but camping isn’t really my thing.” This politely declines the invitation and closes the door to futures invites.
And, ultimately, that’s what you want—a way to decline invitations without feeling like a horrible person. You want to say No and not get ensnared in things you don’t want to do.
Just remember that saying No is uncomfortable for everyone, but turning the tables can help. Also, limit approval-seeking, and you’ll be well on your way to establishing healthy boundaries and feeling ok with saying No.
- Boundaries Made Simple
- The Courage to be Disliked by Fumitake Koga and Ichiro Kishimi
- The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown