Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Your Thoughts on Saying No

Special ChipperMuse Exclusive:
I polled my Facebook friends recently to ask them two questions: (1) Do you find it easy or hard to say no? (2) Do you think it's easier/harder to say no depending on your gender?

Those who responded had some great thoughts to share. Here in a nutshell are the responses, and my thoughts on what everyone had to say. Thank you to all who participated and gave me something to write about.

The Findings:

Men and women are both willing to discuss this subject.
14 people responded to the question. Of the responders, 5 (36%) were male, and 9 (64%) were female. This response ratio fits with what I'd expect based on our culture... Women are somewhat more likely to share their thoughts on subjects like this than men. I feel good that we got a good one-third of responses from men to help keep the poll analysis fair. (Ah, thank goodness for statistics, which I studied in college and barely remember. Who would have thought I'd use it in real life?)

Some of us seem to have no trouble saying no.
Four people said they don't have a problem saying no. A little less than one-third of us. One of these individuals mentioned that it comes down to being a people pleaser. She noted that saying no brings with it a risk of displeasing others. They don't feel "warm and fuzzy" when she tells them no. I have another friend who has said the same thing to me. Saying no can definitely upset others, especially those who don't like to hear the word no. I have come to realize that if a person can't respect me when I say no, then they don't respect me at all. That's their problem, not mine. I find it hard to deal with the emotions I face when I upset someone, even though I know it's their problem and not mine. But close to 30% of us have learned already not to let that be a problem for them. Good for you!

Age and experience can help us learn to say no.
I suggested that it becomes easier to say no (and also to say yes at the right times) as I get older. For me, the combination of learning and practice has helped me get better at something I was not initially good at doing. 6 people agreed that growing older helps you to say no. That's 50% of us. So there's some truth in that observation. I suspect that as we get older, we often feel less of a need to prove ourselves or gain things from other people, and as a result, it becomes easier to be ourselves and let the you-know-what hit the fan if it needs to. That's very freeing for many of us. It's one of the things I like best about getting older. (Or as I like to put it, getting better. I'm getting better with age, like a fine wine.)

Spirituality can make it easier to say no. As can self-awareness.
One person specifically mentioned listening to spiritual teaching as a way to learn to say no. As a Christian myself, I can point out that even God says in the Bible, "Let your yes be yes and your no be no." One of the most beautiful expressions of the idea that when we say yes or no, it should be from our heart and we should mean it and be able to commit to it.

Those of us who responded that getting older makes it easier to say no... We're also saying that we're developing a better sense of what we're doing and why we're doing it. And at least one person mentioned that as she has grown older and has begun to work on saying no, she has also tried to pass that lesson on to her daughters.

Being busy can make it easier to say no. Valuing ourselves is important.
Another observation I made was that I find it easier to say no when I think in terms of what I can do with my time. Two other people also observed that their time is precious, and that helps them to say no. It seems to me there are two ways to look at this response. One is that being busy gives us a convenient reason to say no. It's not a "No, I don't want to" but rather a "No, I can't." That relieves the burden of guilt that those of us who have trouble saying no feel when we say no.

But I also think that the more we value how we spend our time, the more we value ourselves. Saying my time is precious is like saying I'm precious and I appreciate my value. And because I appreciate my own worth, I can say no with strength when I need to. This is a harder attitude to arrive at, especially for those of us who are people pleasers. But it's a worthwhile attitude to develop. Interestingly, none of us specifically talked about how we view ourselves. Yet I think that how we look at ourselves (and how we look at each other) is vital to learning to set boundaries appropriately. I may have to write about that more at a later date.

We're definitely influenced by culture, life experience, and personality. Perhaps more so than gender.
Two people felt strongly that culture (specifically American culture) lends itself to teaching women to be people pleasers, and thus women are more likely to have trouble saying no. One person observed that it's not gender alone, but gender in relation to cultural context that drives our ability to say no. I tend to agree with that, as it seems to make sense. I simply don't have enough experience dealing with other cultures to feel I can speak for any other group but Americans.

One of the most interesting responses I got was from a male friend who pointed out the mixed messages he receives from our culture. He observed that it is hard for him to say no in general...a personality trait. But the expecations he faces in our culture make it even harder for him to say no. He is expected to say no in certain situations and to say yes in others. In a sense, to "be a man," my friend has to say no to his children (setting boundaries) while saying yes to them (loving them), while saying no to bad business deals but saying yes to opportunites to make money so he can provide for his family. And so on. As he put it, "Those facts tug at my desire not to disappoint, and I hang in the middle of the web, struggling."

I believe that sentence phrases the problem better than anything I could have written. A big struggle for all of us as human beings is finding the balance between being generous with others and taking care of ourselves. I'd say that a mature person wants to do both of those things. And I'd even say that skewing too far to either side...either being far too generous or far too selfish...are marks of immaturity, or at least areas in our lives that need some growth. I say this because I really believe that maximum health for us lies in the middle...a good balance of generosity and enlightened self-interest, as Ben Franklin might say.

But achieving that balance is hard. And it is equally hard to maintain, as my friend pointed out. There are so many people and so many needs that pull on us. Saying no, setting boundaries, and being true to ourselves while also loving other people require constant effort.

In summary:
It seems that we all agree setting boundaries and saying no is a challenge at times. For some of us, it's easier than others. It's not strictly gender-related, but very much culturally influenced. There are prices to pay when we set boundaries, but in general I think we all realize it's valuable to do so. Many of us are learning to say no, which is a good thing.

Thanks for sharing, everyone. This has been a great conversation, and I've enjoyed what you all had to say. I wish you all many happy experiences saying no and setting boundaries in healthy ways!

Copyright (c) 2010 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

  1. In addition to the cultural/gender conditioning, you could also factor in regional culture. Southern women like me are more heavily conditioned to be people pleasers than, say, New Yorkers or West Coasters, in my experience. Church culture encourages a submissive nature that can bleed over into this, as well. I think generations (generally speaking) have become increasingly conditioned to prioritize themselves, although I think perhaps less so in rural areas than metropolitan areas. And my last stir of the pot...being in a position with more clout allows more freedom to say no with less fear of repercussions.

    I meant to respond on FB, but I didn't say "no" enough to carve out the time! =) Working for multiple departments can do that for ya...


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