Wednesday, February 01, 2023 | Rajab 9, 1444 H
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How to say ‘no’ and mean it

What better time than June to review one’s New Year’s resolution. It’s the middle of the year and very warm outside and people are either talking about the holiday they've been to or the one they are planning.

One of my New Year resolutions is to say “No” when I don’t and can’t say "Yes". No to people asking for favours or a consultation while I am away on leave. No to students making their deadline and putting pressure on me to review their research presentation the night before their exam.

A junior employee once told me that he is sick and tired of doing jobs for his seniors while they sit and sip coffee and chat. When I suggested he file a complaint, smiled and said he fears retaliation when it’s time for his appraisal.

This story is not uncommon as more young people try to keep their jobs and impress their supervisors regardless of what it could that cost them in terms of time outside working hours that could be spent socialising with others or enjoying a hobby.

When I suggested that employee complain he replied “it’s not worth getting into trouble, let me spend my allocated time in that team and move on.” But little he knows that such an attitude would follow him in other teams.

Saying “No” is not only difficult at the workplace, we often find ourselves in similar situations in our social life as well, not just from friends or workmates but from our own family members, people whom we rely on for support and sometimes approval. Most of the time we are not aware of our tendency to please them or feel it’s our duty to do so, and once you decide to say no they accuse you of being selfish or a snob, or any other form of emotional bullying.

According to a psychologist, saying "No" is all about setting your boundaries. People react to you based on the responses that you give them. When somebody answers your questions, you can gauge their interest in doing something, likes, dislikes, or general attitude.

Contrary to popular belief, most people don’t get subtle hints or gestures especially when communicating through texting or e-mailing where many passive responses and answers are taken literally, compared to face-to-face communication where the other person can sense your reluctance to do what they are asking. Therefore it’s important to stay clear and firm.

Sometimes, you’d like to say "Yes" but the timing is not suitable for you. In that case you may wish to offer an alternative that you’re comfortable with. We often say "Yes" because we are conditioned that saying "No" makes us selfish which is not true when in fact the other person who is asking us to work late or during our holidays is the one being selfish.

Remember it’s not selfish to look after your own values and well-being. Finally, learning to say "No" is not easy so give yourself time to learn how to say it and smart practice.

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