How to say ‘no’ to someone you care about

Image: Getty
Image: Getty

Helene Vermaak, director at The Human Edge, says that despite considering all your options and being prepared there will always be a downside to saying ‘no’. 

Typical gatherings we find ourselves wanting to say ‘no’ to include that family dinner you just can’t face, dinner with a friend and her irritating husband, or breakfast with that judgemental group of school mom’s. “It’s never easy to say no, but learning how to, is key for surviving everyday life. You’re just not able to be everywhere or do everything for everyone,” says Vermaak.

There are two options for saying ‘no’ but both come with a downside.  Either option has a mix of positive, negative, short and long-term consequences. “Ultimately you need to choose the option that you are comfortable with,” says Vermaak.

Option 1: The outright NO.

This option is the most direct, straightforward, and potentially damaging of options. By saying ‘no’ this time you may be indirectly declining any future invitations.

The benefit of this response is counterbalanced with the high potential to sever all ties. It’s also hard to do when it comes right down to it, because who really wants to say ‘no’ when that means disappointing someone you care about.

  • To avoid creating an approach of all-or-nothing it is important to take the time to establish and reinforce safety with the person you are letting down.
  • Make sure that she or he understands that you’re not trying to sever all ties, AND that you are just not interested in this particular outing.
  • Establishing your commitment to seek a mutual purpose is key, and the barrier to this will be ultimately the other party trying to convince you that you don’t want to say no.
  • Propose things you would rather do so that you are able to foster the relationship and that she understands that you do want to do this going forward.

Option 2: Only this ONCE!

While this option satisfies the other party, it does mean that you will have to manage your emotions during the outing. This option is also tough because, let’s be honest, this won’t be the only time as often the precedent is set when saying ‘yes’.

  • This approach may work for you as you may think ‘it is only this once.
  • The friendship may be really valuable to you and saying ‘yes’ this time may be necessary to maintain the friendship.

“Before deciding on which option you choose, evaluate the benefits of each so that you don’t opt for the option that has short-term appeal and goes against what you really want in the long-term,” says Vermaak. By asking yourself, ‘what do I really want?’ you will be able to clarify upfront the type of strategy you are looking for, hopefully making your selection process easier. Vermaak concludes that it is important to do this for yourself, your friend and for the relationship.

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