“Dude, we’re going to go visit Aunt Mabel.  You know she’s pretty old and won’t be around much longer.  Want to join us?”

Now, maybe you don’t particularly care for Aunt Mabel.  Maybe that prominent moustache that pricks you every time she kisses your cheek creeps you out.  Or maybe the mediciney smell that permeates her home nauseates you.

Or maybe you have other plans.  Things you’d rather do than visit Aunt Mabel.  Like clean up your work room.  Or pick nits off of your dog.  Or just stare at the wall for a while.

There could be a whole host of reasons you don’t want to join the gang who are visiting her.  And maybe none of those reasons are socially acceptable.

So how do you say “no” without coming off looking like you’re a knob?

There’s a website called “Art of Manliness”.  (http://artofmanliness.com)  And no, I haven’t bookmarked it.  I got there from a Facebook link.  I think.    It seems likely that anyone who actually needs to go to a site with that name already has issues that no website could ever cure.

Anyway, they’ve tried to answer the “how to say ‘no'” question.  (If you’re curious, the link is here. )

“Nice guys” they opine, “tend to say ‘yes’ to everyone and everything because they want to be liked.”   (So far, so good.  Yes, that’s probably true)

“In saying ‘yes’ they end up stretching themselves too thin, and can’t possible meet all of their obligations.”  (Nodding)

“They need to stop and reassess, get some backbone and start saying ‘no’ sometimes.”  (Emphatic nod)

“They need to say ‘no’ by giving non-personal non-threatening reasons for why they can’t fulfill others’ wishes”  (ZZZZZZZP!   What?)

NO!!  NO! NO!  NO! NO! NO!

NO!

“You know — like ‘I can’t babysit your dog because, um, it’s family night that night'”

(At this point I’m wondering who wrote this crap)

Here’s what I wrote in response:

“Whenever I sense that the next word I’m going to say after ‘no’ is ‘because’, I end up biting my tongue. ‘Because’ implies that I should have otherwise said ‘yes’. Like it’s a moral imperative.

It’s not.

It’s my right to say ‘no’ and it’s my right to keep my reasons to myself. And people will think what they want to think of me — that’s their right too. The ones I know and love will appreciate that I’m being honest.”

Going back to the hypothetical at the top of this post.

“You guys have a good time with Aunt Mabel.  I’m not going.”

“Well, why aren’t you joining us?”  (Intentional or perhaps unconscious application of guilt.)

“I don’t want to.”  (Rejection of guilt.  Absolutely NO excuses or reasons offered.)

“OK”

Ultimately, instead of trying to answer the question “how do I say ‘no’ without looking like a knob” you have to say “I’m going to say ‘no’.  I may look like a knob to someone but ultimately I don’t give a rat’s ass.”

There will be reactions to your “no” for sure.   Ultimately, you care about those reactions or you don’t.  People who know you will cut you some slack.

People who have preconceived notions of what everyone should do at all times will not.  They will judge you as “inconsiderate” or even think of you as an asshole.   That’s their choice.   Sooner or later, that opinion will come out, and you’ll have gained some valuable advice on the quality of your friendship with them.

I can’t see it as anything other than a win-win.

Comments
  1. carmenlezeth says:

    Hi Wolfie (Uggh, you won’t like my comment too much so I hope your sitting!),

    Interesting post. But not sure I agree.

    I guess this would make more sense to me if I really thought you didn’t care what others thought — but, actuality I think you do. Maybe because you need to vent about it but also because you’re human! At the end of the day, we all care what others think of us. It’s easier to say we don’t need to be liked if people can’t accept us for who we are, but the truth is, we’d rather that people agree with us and like us. We do want to be accepted. It’s part of the human condition. And we do things every day to fit in: shower, small talk, tweet, read the paper, say hello, etc.

    But If I were playing therapist, I’d say, this was more about accepting for YOURSELF that’s its okay to admit you don’t like going to visit Aunt Mabel. That you dislike her, dislike her age, dislike her smell or whatever and that you know you’d rather not have to go. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s a truth and you certainly don’t need validation or justification from anyone else to justify a truth about how you feel. How you feel is REAL and valid all on its own.

    Playing therapist a little further — part of the social stuffage we bring to the table is the ability to be compassionate, understanding, loving and kind. Sometimes, we sacrafice — just a little to bring somone else joy. Maybe, you feel a little bad because you didn’t go after all? Even though all your reasonings are valid and we all understand, even getting some sort of “permission” from the rest of us for missing out on visiting and elderly relative isn’t going to make you feel better. Because in the end, you know you could have sacraficed a bit and gone — and you know she would have appreciated it, or at the very least, you would have known you did a good thing by going.

    Here’s the fact though: At one time or another we’ve all bailed on someone for reasons that didn’t really matter except that we didn’t want to do it. We’ve all done this before and you’re not a bad soul for feeling that way. I would suggest this though: someday we will be old and smelly and creepy — it’s inevitable. Your Aunt was once a teenager, a young woman with hopes and dreams too — no matter how annoying they might have been… So, forgive yourself and let it go…

    We still think the world of you, even though you didn’t go visit her this time. But maybe next time, you’ll make the sacrafice and, who knows? Maybe you’ll have a cool enlightened story to share about the brilliance of who she might have once been? (See, there’s always an upside).

    Peace, love and much joy my Wolfie (don’t hate me too much),

    Carmen

    Like

    • Carmen. *laughing* I don’t hate you for having a different opinion. God, if you were here right now, I’d reach out and hug you. I *like* being challenged. By people I respect, I mean. Like you.

      You said that “we all care what others think of us”, and to a certain extent, I agree with you. We do. I deliberately chose the “no” thing to make a point though, without including the entire context of it. If I say “no” to someone who knows me, then they will also know all of the other facets of me as well, and that “no” will not be the only thing they see.

      There are a great many people out there though that, because they think a certain thing is right, feel down to their core that everyone else should feel exactly the same way. And if they don’t, well then, by God they’re going to judge them for it. Of course, I know this, having been subjected to it. So when you say “no” to them, you’d better have a good reason for it. And if it’s not a good enough reason, well they’re going to argue with you about it.

      “Don’t want to go to Aunt Mabel’s because you have a family outing planned? Well can’t you postpone that outing? It’s *Aunt Mabel* you know – and she’s like a million years old. She could die while you’re having your selfish “outing”. ”

      I’m sure you’ve been on the brunt of that kind of conversation before so you’ll know where I’m coming from.

      It just seems to me that sometimes it’s better just to own your decision, without explanation or apology, and let the chips fall where they will. I really do think that the quality of your relationships come into bold play when this happens, and you see who decides they’re going to judge you and who doesn’t.

      When someone, for example, says “no” to me, I do wonder at their reasoning. But ultimately, I really don’t think it’s my business. And if I know them to be a kind-hearted individual, it doesn’t take away from that observation. I just figure they have something else going on, and leave it at that. And…I admire them for being so honest without trying out different excuses as to why they can’t meet my request. Or someone else’s request. Or (more accurately) someone else’s perceived obligation.

      So we may have to agree to disagree on this one. Or not – I’m still open to challenge. :)

      Like

      • Oh, I don’t think we actually disagree so much… so I can’t challenge you any further. I actually understand completely where you’re coming from. I bet if you used a different example, instead of Aunt Mabel, I wouldn’t have even blinked. Truth is, I want to believe you’d do what you can for an elderly person in your life, regardless of how cumbersome or annoying it might be — not to please other family members but out of respect for her… I think that’s where I was coming from.
        But, on another subject (which I can’t seem to come up with at the moment because it’s so past my bed time), you and I would be right on the same page. . . as always…just as it should be!

        XO,
        Carmen

        Like

        • Yes, I think this has happened before, where I’ve picked a hypothetical situation that turned out to be more of a focus than the original thought. You’re right – I could have used something like telemarketer phone calls. Those are universally unwelcome, and therefore much easier to use as an example. (And how many times have you heard people complain about getting those phone calls and not knowing how to shut them down gracefully? )

          Like

    • I think the example here – visiting an elderly aunt – was too distracting. I need a moment to get past it before I can focus on the point you made about letting “no” stand alone, without excuse.

      First, I want to say that I like what Carmen said about visiting the elderly and making a personal sacrifice to do so. I have a soft spot for elderly people. Okay, the truth is that I collect them. I never notice hairy chins on old aunties or anything like that. Sometimes the assault on nose and ears when I walk into a nursing home hits me hard when I first walk in, but then I get past it because I know there are people there who must live with it every single day of their lives. (Just typing that made me cry.)

      If we don’t die first, and many of us will, we will become old, and our bodies will betray us. I know you plan to live forever. *smiles* And you may well be a spry 90-something but eventually… ANYWAY, I think we have a moral obligation to take care of and love the elderly among us. To make sure that they aren’t left alone. And I think we SHOULD sacrifice for them. This is NOT emotional manipulation, it’s my sharing a heartfelt belief. It’s something I’ve taught my children. When my mom was so ill with MS that she couldn’t move or swallow or speak, I asked them to come with me. When they balked, I gently insisted. I did not manipulate them. She eventually stopped breathing and then she was gone. My children remember her with love and they’re not afraid of sick, dying, or elderly people. They have learned compassion.

      Okay, I realize that was aside from the subject of your blog but it’s something I felt compelled to say. I’d have to question the heart of someone who simply said no, without explanation, to a visit with Aunt Mable. It leaves too much room for hurt and misunderstanding. An explanation MIGHT help avoid that. A discussion about WHY you (that’s a universal “you”) don’t want to go, about what you feel, might yield something good.

      Moving on. I generally agree with you about saying no without explanation. I don’t EVER want to feel forced into lying and I hate feeling manipulated. For example, a former pastor’s wife was determined to get me, the volunteer of the century, to add working in the church nursery to my long list of activities. I didn’t want to do it. Why? I just didn’t. I had five small children at home and I was utterly overwhelmed. I needed that hour away, time to decompress from the demands of parenting so many little ones. When I offered that explanation the pastor’s wife said I was being selfish and disobeying the will of God, who has called me to serve in obedience to spiritual authority. THAT DID IT. I was beyond angry. I had said no and offered the truth in explanation. She didn’t respect it and kept pushing at me. I realized then that I didn’t owe her anything. I did NOT work in the nursery and from that point on whenever she “asked” me to do something I didn’t want to do, for whatever reason, I simply smiled and said no. The end. When she would launch into her spiritual authority bullshit, I simply walked away. Of course, it earned me all sorts of condemnation from those with spiritual authority. OH WELL. It was one of the things that led me to leave the church.

      Carmen is right when she says that we all care what people think about us to certain degrees. I used to care more than the average person, I think. In fact, my spiritual authority… um, those that were MOST manipulative and demanding that I meet THEIR standards, used to criticize me for it. Odd that. ANYWAY, I now think I care a lot less than the average person about what others think of me. What’s important is that I’m true to myself. I think you’re very much the same, perhaps more so than I am. You’ve explained yourself when you thought you needed to for the sake of courtesy/friendship, but for the most part you don’t explain yourself and I don’t need you to. It makes it an “easy” friendship for me. And, honestly, so many people are so high maintenance that I just can’t stand it.

      It takes a certain amount of ego strength to hear “no” and not feel hurt or rejected. I look back to times when “no” just about left me undone and I can see how much I’ve grown.

      When I’m running late, I don’t make excuses, I simply apologize for being late. Sometimes people feel helpfully compelled to offer an excuse: “Did you run into heavy traffic? or Was there an accident? or Is everything okay?” I smile no in response. Sometimes that leaves people perplexed and I’m okay with that. I said I was sorry. The end. I’m not going to make up an excuse to placate someone or mitigate my personal responsibility.

      Okay, this comment is FAR too long. It’s a great topic.

      Like

      • If there was a “like” button for this comment UnequivocalKate I would press it right now! I also like this line: “It takes a certain amount of ego strength to hear NO and not feel hurt or rejected.” Oh my! So very true!

        Carmen

        Like

      • Love love LOVE your reply on this!

        Situations like the ones you describe, with the church lady kind of serves as the impetus for the whole blog.

        (“oh. You don’t want to help out at nursery because you have better plans? Maybe you want to go play, perhaps? And who would you play with? Could it be…….oh I don’t know……….SATAN???” *raised eyebrow*) *grin*

        P.S. I think Dana Carvey’s character serves as the quintessential poster child for Manipulative Church People.

        As you know, I’ve been part of that scene as well, and got a bellyful of it. I’ve also experienced it at work sometimes – when people have presumed that the “upbeat guy” probably won’t mind taking on this thing that no one else wants – as well as some family folk as well. I hear you too about the example which was too distracting. As I mentioned to Carmen just now, a better example would have been maybe an unwelcome phone call from a telemarketer. In fact that would have been the perfect one. We can assume the telemarketer is just doing a job and means no ill will, but is trained to push push push even after you’ve said “no”.

        Now, whenever I hear someone tell me a story about how they tried to hang up the phone by telling them they had another appointment, it actually takes everything I have not to jump up and say “why did you feel the need to give them a reason? You don’t owe them!”

        Certainly to those whom we love, a certain reasonable expectation is there for sharing. And to those, explanations are perfectly reasonable.

        Actually I do believe in explanations when you want someone to know you, so that they understand precisely why you do the things you do, or don’t do, and not get wrapped up on a misconception. (And this isn’t about “no”, exactly – it’s about everything). I just don’t believe in cow-towing in any way to emotional manipulation.

        In fact, I’ve dropped real life friendships with manipulative types when this has happened, and don’t miss them at all. I remember one of them asking me, in a horrified voice “how can you sleep with yourself?” and I’ve replied “actually, I sleep like a baby”. (I didn’t mean that I was whining and sucking my thumb either) *grin*

        Like

        • I laughed out loud when I read “And who would you play with… … SATAN???” That’s exactly what I felt she was implying and it actually gave me pause. I had to think about whether or not I was “sinning” by saying no to that one request. I quickly realized that she was simply manipulating me and using her position as a pastor’s wife to claim spiritual authority over me.

          I learned a lot from her, albeit they weren’t the lessons she intended. In many ways she was the straw that broke the camel’s back when it came to my rejection of the idea of spiritual authority in the church. Because that particular woman insisted that I always say YES to her but criticized me for not saying NO more often to others, I began to clearly see the manipulation for what it was and I realized that I needed to be able to say NO to anyone, including her, without feeling like a bad person. I was worn out from trying to please and appease everyone and I was weak, too, because I didn’t know how to say NO without over explaining, over apologizing, and feeling guilty. And if I didn’t have an excuse I would make one up to avoid having to own the NO. Like I said before, I can look back to the person I was then and see clearly how much I have grown and that’s a good thing.

          When it comes to telemarketers, I am ruthless. I will cut them off cold as soon as I realize they’re trying to sell me something and say, “I don’t take sales calls,” then I hang up. Usually, they’re still talking when I do. I feel no need to be polite. They’re calling me, using up my cell phone minutes to try to sell me something I don’t want, and they’re trained to manipulate. I don’t feel a moments remorse about cutting them off. The cool thing is that they usually won’t try again because they weren’t even able to get a toe in the door. I like that. :)

          I agree with what you said about giving explanations to someone you want to know you. I had a new friend who just up and disappeared one day. I was honestly flummoxed. Where did he go and why? One day he reappeared again after a long while. I’m not sure but it might have been close to a year. I asked what happened and he told me that he didn’t like to feel bound up by a friendship, like he had to “manage” everything and offer explanations for his comings and goings. OH! As soon as he said it I laughed because I feel the same way BUT I always try to make sure someone knows that about me before I disappear for awhile, and I *am* known for disappearing for bits of time.

          It was a good moment, I think, and has led to an easy friendship. I CRAVE easy friendships. High maintenance, manipulative people don’t have staying power in my world ANYMORE. In the past, I was nearly choked by them because those were the kind of people I drew. I practically had a flashing neon sign on my chest that said, “USE ME!”

          Now, I’m working on not expecting too much from other people. Generally, I DO have the ego strength to hear no and not take it personally, but every now and then I will find myself feeling let down. Sometimes that feeling is legitimate. I believe in sacrificing when someone truly needs help, if they’re not serially in need, and I most definitely am not. I so rarely ever ask anyone for anything that I expect people to know that when I do ask for help I’m desperate. A casual no without explanation at that point, from someone who professes to care about me, hurts.

          It’s complicated. That’s why I said I agree with you in general. Sometimes, if we’re expecting to be manipulated we can mistakenly see it everywhere when it’s not really there. And sometimes in an effort to guard ourselves we can inadvertently hurt people. For the most part, I trust my own heart. If I feel a twinge of guilt I look at it to determine where it comes from. If I need to, I apologize and move on. If I don’t, I let the guilt go and grab my pillow. ;)

          Like

          • I have to add one more thought to everything you said above. That thing about easy friendships. YES!!!

            Remember that gay guy who kept texting me until I changed my phone number? Textbook high maintenance friendship. I mean it got so bad too: if I didn’t text him back right away (or at all), I heard about it. “What? Don’t you like me anymore?” (“I’m really and truly getting there, pal. Trust me. Just say one more needy thing….that’s all…just one….”)

            Yes. I’m done with that nonsense, and now my radar is on “high” for that kind of personality type. Hopefully it won’t misidentify anyone. Wouldn’t want that. :)

            Like

  2. Molly Malone says:

    Hi Wolf!
    Nice going! I am completely useless at saying ‘no’. I’m one of those people who comes out with, “I can’t. Because my dog is sick. And I have to clean my house. And go grocery shopping. And… other stuff.” I’m terrible….!
    xxx

    Like

    • Hey Molly. I’m pretty sure getting out of that habit doesn’t happen overnight. For me anyway, it took a long time, and required lots of practice. I honestly think it starts by evaluating each situation. “Do I really want to do this? What do I really think?” and working from there.

      And now, I can’t stand not being honest with myself and with others. When I started, each situation seems like a horrible risk. I might lose respect.

      Now, it still seems a bit risky but it seems that others are more resilient than you think, and there’s a kind of liberating sense of yourself when saying “no” without apology.

      Like

  3. You know, there are many times when I’ve said NO, and have come to regret it. One can’t say Yes to everything, it’s impossible, but knowing when to say No … that’s the tough part.

    Good post :)

    Cheers!

    Like

    • Interesting, Randall! I’m curious: what type of situation have you had, where you regretted saying “no”? (Doesn’t have to be an actual thing; you could use a hypothetical example)

      Like

      • Oh … well .. ummmmm .. let me sit here and stare at the fluffy white clouds floating in the blue sky while I think about that. Gonna have to go back a decade, or decades, because I eventually learned to avoid the really bad decisions … tick tick tick … let me think

        Ok, I got one. And there were many.

        So, you may remember I mentioned to you that I was from Orillia, just up the 400/11 an hour from you. Back in the early 90’s the government OK’d a casino to be built there .. Casino Rama. That was big exitement around town and everyone was waiting anxiously for the Opening Night. Of course, only the Who’s Who was going to get invitations, right? It was a big deal!

        My brother-in-law and some of my wifes’ friends got jobs there before opening, and would be there on duty for Opening Night. My wife was very excited for them.

        On the big day, I drove my van back up from Toronto as usual (we had our own freight/courier company) and came down our street. It would have been around 6:00pm. My wife, Charlotte, was out talking to the neighbour, Judy, across the road, so I stopped on the street in front of her house. Judy said “Boy, it sure is your lucky day!” I was puzzled, and said “Oh? Why?” And my wife Charlotte piped up and said “I got two tickets to the Opening Night at the Casino! Do you want to go?”

        What did I say? “No.”

        I know I broke her heart a little. It didn’t dawn on me at the time, but it sunk in later. When I saw all the newspaper and TV reports on the Grand Opening the next day, I instantly knew I had made a mistake. I hate big crowds, so it wasn’t missing the event that I regretted, it was disappointing her that I regret .. and still do to this day, dumbass that I am.

        Like

        • Aaaah. Good example.

          I think I’ve had a few of those too. There has got to be a reason why, whenever someone invites me somewhere today, my first reaction is to say “yes” right off the bat. I’m always worried I’m going to miss out on something.

          Like

  4. Abe's Blog says:

    Wolf. Stop looking at somebody else’s Man Page and make your own! :)

    Like

  5. redriverpak says:

    Great post! I am one of those people that has a heck of a time saying NO to anything… It’s pretty hard to do sometimes

    Like

  6. suzrocks says:

    I’m slow on the reading. Ironically, I was thinking about my weakness in saying no today. I’m totally going to that site. Being nice rarely pays off for me! And if I try to use a lie, it always seems to snowball… lol. When you get your man card back, can I borrow it? XOXO

    Like

    • No. You can’t have it. Last time I leant it to someone I didn’t get it back for a year. Ended up crying at movies and commercials about cats.

      Can’t go through that again. :)

      Word of warning: that site I mentioned? I totally disagree with it. They seem to think you should find a nice excuse when saying no. I say “NAY”. :) No excuses. Just a polite smile.

      And if they keep hassling you after that….well there’s a reason God gave us a middle finger. ;)

      Like

  7. Mikey says:

    *Emphatic nod*

    There’s a couple categories of people I despise. One is the category of wannabe pleasers that say yes to everything, and then actually follow through on nothing. You know the type. They say “sure I’ll be at your party”, and then you roll your eyes to your other friend standing there because you both know they never show up to anything. I would always feel so much better if they’d just say “No”.

    The other category sometimes overlaps the first. They also want to please, but they use deception on the back end to try to give excuses. “Hey, you missed a great party the other night. What happened?” and they go “Oh, I had a flat tire”, or “we had to go visit somebody” or some other lie. Of course, there are people that have real excuses, but some people you can see through their thinly veiled attempt to get out of it.

    Both of these sets of people bring it back to this – tell me the truth. Don’t bullshit me. I can smell it a mile away, and it just makes you stink more.

    Like

    • wolfshades says:

      Yup. I understand why people play games. I just don’t like it. Ugh. Such a waste of time.

      Some people don’t get that it’s OK to say “I just didn’t feel like going”.

      I recently had a date not show up. Honestly if she didn’t want to, or didn’t feel there was chemistry, I would have been absolutely fine with it. You can’t like everyone. But when they don’t give you this info, and you go buy some tickets to a theatre production, it’s just a *tad* troubling. (Of course, this was a first for me. I’m not used to being stood up). :)

      Like

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