The Empowerment of Saying No
When I was younger I had a regular interaction with a person who was very quick to get very angry about many things. They would fly off the handle for the smallest slight. It's taken me years to thoroughly internalize that not everyone is like this. Most people are not like this. But being a people pleaser, I would usually avoid ever doing anything around friends, family, teachers, dates, or now clients that I thought they might not like.
This belief persisted for so long perhaps because I have rarely interacted with angry people because I tried really hard to avoid conflict. But I've been increasingly realizing that by avoiding conflict I often make the inevitable confrontation worse by allowing it to stew and fester and grow.
I've been reading a lot of books lately on interpersonal relationship skills, and one idea that stood out to me was that if you get into the habit of making the choice to say yes or no based solely on whether you want to and not how you think the other will respond, things become way easier for both parties in the relationship. The other person knows that if you say yes, you actually mean yes, and if you say no, you really mean no. There's no guesswork with the other person's wrong interpretation of yes actually meaning no or no actually meaning yes causing hurt feelings or resentment. Saying yes or no just because you are afraid of the response isn't really fair to the other person.
In the last week I've said no to two new freelance clients that were not going to be good fits, and turned down a second date with someone who I could not see a future relationship with. This is actually a huge step up for me. In the past I might have taken on both of those clients and started a relationship with that person and then eventually either gotten frustrated and resentful or broke off the engagement much later and when it would have been much harder to do so.
I don't take any delight in disappointing people, but I have felt much more empowered this week than usual. I feel in control of my own life for once.
I feel good about the clients I currently have, and was able to refer both of those leads to other people who will hopefully be an even better fit.
And it certainly doesn't feel good to reject or be rejected in dating, but I'm doing no favors for someone to hold back on feelings I don't want to express just to avoid "hurting their feelings." Instead of "hurting their feelings" now I would have definitely hurt their feelings later. I am not proud to admit that I know from experience.
It's taken a long time to get to this point. I'm 30 now and only recently getting somewhat competent at this. But learning to say no has substantially increased the quality of my own life and perhaps the lives of some around me. And one of the most important steps was just realizing that I was doing this.
And interestingly, none of the three people I turned down this week flew off into a violent rage. Two of them said they appreciated me being upfront. One responded that they respected my decision and thanked me for the time I'd already spent. A few "best wishes" were even given.
I was actually kind of surprised. None of them flew off the handle. None of them swore at me or insulted me. Why? Perhaps because everyone involved in these exchanges were mature adults and that's how civilized adults behave? It was kind of freeing to realize that though.
Saying no does not at all have to be unkind. In each of these situations I didn't point any fingers, blame anyone, or take parting shots. Just upfront honesty.
And you know, maybe someone who I say no to eventually will fly off into a rage. But I that says more about them than me, and it's been freeing to see that most people will be gracious.
I continue to laugh at how similar freelancing and dating are. If you want to level up in either, putting time into learning more about either will help in both. The principles of marketing apply to attracting dates. The principle of open communication applies as much to client interaction as it does talking to a spouse.
I first sent this article as a letter to my mailing list. New letters go out each week!
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