These days it is easy to find advice directed at women on how to say, ‘No,’ and the reasons why they sometimes should. Going back a few decades you would never have found an article telling women they should sometimes say the N word. Women were generally expected to agree to requests to help out. If the request came from her husband the wife felt obligated to comply because she had made a vow to ‘honour and obey’.
It can be difficult to say, ‘No’. Sometimes one does refuse and gets caught up in making a long winded apology and a detailed explanation. The request may be to take on extra tasks at work, help a friend or family member or do something socially when you don't want to.
There can be numerous reasons why you want to refuse. You may be overloaded, tired, feeling below par or unsure you are capable of doing the task. Perhaps you were looking forward to doing something else or having some ‘me time’. May be you just don’t want to do it. These can all be valid reasons for refusing.
Many women of my generation and older were brought up to do as we were told or asked. This was especially the case if a senior person was making the request, doubly so if the speaker was also male. In times gone by when the husband was almost always the breadwinner society believed the wife owed it to him to do as he requested or directed.
We often want be seen as agreeable. Perhaps we fear people won’t like us if we don’t say, 'yes.' The need to please others is biologically driven as well as socially.
When a woman feels she is helping and pleasing others, feel good hormones are released. Helping others is a woman’s way of showing love and caring so it can seem she doesn’t care if she refuses a request. It can boost one’s confidence to feel needed or that others are recognising our expertise.
What is so bad about agreeing to every request? Always saying, ‘Yes,’ can
• Lead to being taken for granted
• Make you feel overwhelmed
• Stop you putting energy into personal goals
• Be detrimental to your own work if you are spending too much time helping others with theirs
• Have a negative effect on your health if you are skimping on sleep, rushing meals and not taking time for exercise or relaxation so you can make time to complete all that is asked of you
• Make you feel guilty, resentful and have a negative effect on your relationships
• Stop others from being independent because they know you will rescue them
Research (and observation) shows males find it easier to say, ‘No’. Men are expected to be leaders, speak their minds and assert themselves.
These days it is generally believed women have the right to say, 'No.' The following are a few ways to refuse politely but firmly:
• Make your refusal brief and don’t over apologise.
Say, 'I have too much on my plate on the moment.' You don't have to go into details.
• Say ’I would like to help but I have prior commitments.’ (Yes, getting some exercise, having an early night or taking your children to the cinema counts as a prior commitment.) Only say you would like to help if this is true.
• At work you might say, ‘That’s not my forte (or area of expertise),’ and suggest a more appropriate person to approach.
Sometimes you may want time to consider the request. Here are two possible approaches
• At work if someone approaches you when you are away from your desk you might ask for the details of the request to be written in an email for your consideration. This way you don’t agree when caught on the hop and then have the added problem of being unsure what you agreed to do.
• Say, ‘Now isn’t a suitable time. I am in the middle of something. Does it suit if I ring you back this afternoon?’ You don’t have to explain what that ‘something’ is. It could be fifteen minutes out to have a well deserved break.
Over the years the attitude to a woman saying, ‘No,’ has changed. Whereas it was once discouraged, these days it is considered being assertive. However, for some it can still be difficult to do. I read a ‘joke’comment that feels relevant to this topic, ‘In future I am going to be more assertive; if that’s alright with you…’