Years ago, I had gone to my relatives’ place. One day, my aunt prepared sandwiches for me which I gladly ate. After finishing my food like an obedient child that I was, I went to see my (then) favourite cousin and playmate. The moment I entered her house, her mom grabbed my hand, made me sit down on a couch and disappeared into the kitchen. She came out with two plates of idli-chutney (a common staple food in India) for me and my cousin, handed me a plate and said, “Here, have this. I have made this specially for you.” The ‘good child’ within me rose and took the plate from her.
Well, I did manage to finish the food without vomiting it out even though I remember having some stomach problem later. Looking back, I realise that I could have saved myself a hell lot of trouble by saying the magical word: No.
The problem of being unable to say ‘no’ – it seems – has stuck with me more closely than my own shadow ever has! Believe me when I say this, it has caused me woes related to more than just my stomach. Some of them are not even funny. Being unable to say ‘no’ is a big problem that, I’m sure, a lot of people face. Bigger problem: Often, being unable to say ‘no’ is considered similar to being unable to take a stand. I don’t know if I totally agree with that. But what I can surely vouch for, is the fact that the people who are unable to say ‘no’ are definitely not weak.
Prodding further, it makes wonder what causes this behaviour. Well, I’m no doctor that I can identify a problem and then hunt for its cause and then solutions. But hey, it’s no rocket science that every thing (or a problem, in this case) has a reason behind it. Speaking from my own experience, I believe that we are usually unable to say ‘no’ because –
- We are afraid of hurting or being rude to others. Trust me, I’ve been a sucker for guilt trips too.
- We feel obligated. Sometimes, maybe it’s peer pressure, or the sheer fear of confrontation or the fear of displeasing someone (and getting in their bad books) makes us say a reluctant ‘yes’.
- We don’t want to burn down the bridges. Here, we think that the people might take the ‘no’ straight to their heart and hold a grudge against us that may result in our losing out on opportunities in the future.
If you think hard, you will notice that these reasons often lead us to saying the half-hearted “yes”. Even if you half-heartedly agree to do something, you will either like it or pay its price. More often than not, it’s the latter. Believe me, I hold a PhD in this (just kidding!). A common thing that I noticed in all of the aforementioned reasons is:
Often, in the urge to please, not hurt, or fit in, we end up ignoring the most important person in our lives – us.
This reminds me of another incident and a classic instance of my stupidity. While I was preparing for my exams during my second year of college, my friend (for whom I used to harbour feelings) had been feeling down and used to message or call me very often. Obviously I didn’t mind chatting with him day and night to uplift his spirits. But the problem was that I had my semester exams banging at my door. I’ve been a studious first (or second) bencher all my academic life. Of course, all these “comfort-him-sessions” had its consequence. Oh, what a great lesson it taught me! I cried so hard because I flunked in a paper (and got very low percentage), and vowed to never put a guy before my career. And what a douche he turned out to be!
Saw the mistake? I put him before myself. I am not preaching narcissism but I actually feel that we owe ourselves that we put ourselves first, understand where to put our foot down and say ‘no’. Hell, even the cabin crew – during the in-flight safety demonstration – advise us to don the life jackets first before helping anyone else. Yeah, there has to be a fine balance between the yes and no otherwise people will start taking you for granted.
So yeah, say ‘no’ we must. But how? Now that’s an art difficult but not impossible to master. There are a few habits, if followed, can make our lives easier:
- Best tactic: Say ‘no’ firmly. It will sting the other person a bit but the politeness will save your ass.
- If you’re so keen on being the good Samaritan or have no other option (really?) but to say ‘yes’, prioritise. I hope you will learn from the mistake I had made during my college.
- Direct them to someone else instead of saying an outright ‘no’. But please make sure that the person is kept in the loop.
- Last and my least favourite resort: lie. There are very few things which I despise a lot. Lying (or being lied to) is one of them and is closely followed by the words “Hmm” and “K”. But when it’s absolutely necessary, you can create situations and avoid the drama.
I know that it’s easier said than done. But sometimes, you gotta do what you gotta do.