How to Say "No"
Updated: May 10, 2019
One of the most difficult things to navigate in social settings is how to gracefully say, “No.” Whether it’s an invitation to a party you don’t want to attend, a date with someone you’re not interested in, a request from someone to help with a task you’d rather avoid, or any other situation where you really don’t want to say,“Yes,” we often feel stymied because we don’t know how to decline comfortably.
For many women, saying “No” goes against longstanding and slowly changing social norms to please other people, even at our own expense. Because of the expectation that women will acquiesce, saying “No” can risk retaliation, mistreatment, and even violence. For women and men in work situations, complex power dynamics can come into play in a variety of ways.
With Nonviolent Communication (NVC), it’s valuable to look at the underlying need beneath the actual request. For most of us, underneath the obvious ask is our need to be valued, to have companionship, to be cared for and supported.
Saying ‘Yes’ to Underlying Needs
I can say, “No” to an invitation or a favor request from someone and still say, “Yes” to being aware of and respecting their underlying needs.
Next time someone asks you to do something you don’t want to do, ask yourself, “In addition to the actual request, what else might this person be needing?” If the request is for help with a chore, maybe the need underneath the request is to feel supported through a transition, or for fairness and equity.
If the request is to participate in something the other person sees as enjoyable and you don’t, perhaps the person is looking to meet their needs for companionship, fun, and comfort by going somewhere with another person, instead of alone. Ask yourself how else you may be able to meet or acknowledge these needs without engaging in the unwanted activity.
Taking a moment to touch in with someone else’s needs honors them, while still offering the choice to say “No,” and it creates some room for acceptance, or an opportunity for more dialogue.