I have a problem: I have a lot of difficulties with saying no. Especially when someone at work asks me to help out with a project or task that I actually don’t have time for. I just can’t find the strength in myself to say no, even when I know that it’s necessary. I think it might have something to do with being afraid that people might not like me anymore, or will think I’m not working hard enough, even though I know that I do. But without over-psychoanalyzing it, what do you think is the best way to say no in these situations at work?
You’re probably right that your agreeableness has something to do with either wanting approval or being afraid of the feelings you anticipate at the thought of causing displeasure to others. But what you might not have noticed is that you have most likely grown to relish being able to say yes, and you don’t want to be deprived of that satisfaction. You see their gratitude, their happy smiles as you agree to do what they want, and you get to bask in the light of approval.
So I suggest you go on a “yes” diet. Share this with your colleagues and mention that you are treating yourself with a piece of chocolate every time you deliver a little “no.” Offer them one, too.
While you are being entertaining, take a sober look at your true commitments—you know they are more meaningful for everyone in the long run than the favors you do. This is a crossroads for you in growing up. Opting for approval over managing your commitments is a childish habit shared by the vast majority of us well into old age.
So fill your pockets with chocolates and cut down on the yeses. You’ll feel so unburdened, you’ll be likely to lose any unwanted pounds you may have taken on through being so agreeable.
My wife is a self-employed cabinet maker. I think her work is fabulous, and many others think so, too. Yet no matter how much others praise her, my wife is never satisfied. While she’s been getting assignments from all over the state, she keeps thinking she’s not good enough. That’s also why she’s being underpaid—she’s afraid to ask a competitive fee. This lack of self-confidence is starting to affect our household income. What can be done to make her realize she’s a skilled, talented cabinet maker whose work is worth an honest price?
Maybe your wife is a perfectionist and wants to be sure she doesn’t overprice pieces that she sees flaws in or that don’t match the standard her highly attuned eye considers ready for market. It’s clear that trying to boost her self-confidence is not the key here, since, as you say, “no matter how much others praise her, my wife is never satisfied.”
So what if you took over the marketing? You ask her to join you in forming a little business, you get photographs taken of her work, and you make the connections. She is the talent, and you are the manager. You don’t let her see how you price the pieces. It doesn’t sound as though she is particularly interested in the business of selling anyway.
Ask her to let you try this, out of love for you, and tell her that in exchange you will stop bothering her about her self-esteem.
Send Roz your questions to editor[at]theoptimist[dot]com, and write Dear Roz in the subject line.
Roz is Rosamund Stone Zander, lead author of The Art of Possibility, and you can ask her any question that is close to your heart or concerns you deeply, whether it is about your relationship to family, friends or co-workers, or your place in the world today, or any puzzling situation or compelling issue. One thing is for sure, you will not get a conventional answer. Because Roz looks at your question afresh through the eyes of creativity and possibility.
This is an excerpt from a longer Dear Roz section that appears in the March/ April issue of The Intelligent Optimist. Sign up for a membership, or download a free copy of our magazine.