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Why is it so hard to say no?

Welcome to my first coaching blog - I’m hoping to share some useful insights and common themes that I notice through my coaching and first up its that eternal corker - why do some of us find it so hard to say no?



This is a common trait that often comes up when I’m coaching people. Because of course if we’re too busy saying yes (and then doing stuff we don’t want to) we’re being taken away from what we want to do. From our dreams, our actual goals, or even just the mundane like that pile of laundry. People really struggle to say no. And this can be to all sorts of people and situations.


With one client we had quite a lot of fun whilst I tried some increasingly demanding imaginary requests until he would actually say no!


“We have an instinctive need for connection to other people—it’s essential to our survival. We worry that saying no will break these bonds,” says Vanessa Bohns, Ph.D., a professor of organisational behaviour at Cornell University. Specifically, we fear that the other person, will feel rejected or take it as a personal affront. “Saying no stirs up intensely negative emotions—embarrassment and guilt,” says Bohns.


And so we say yes….urgh, we make it easy for ourselves in the short term but it's not really easier because I know how I’m feeling when I do things I don't really want to, I’m feeling resentful, annoyed at myself, ineffective and so on and so on.


Maybe we have told ourselves a story about ourselves - 'I’m someone that you can rely on, I’m a helpful person'. Maybe we find it hard to ask for help so we presume that the person requesting help may be the same, so we don’t want to say no. Maybe we feel responsible for other peoples happiness? My daughter is a brilliant teacher in saying no. She says it all the time, in fact I would say it's a favourite word of hers. I don't think she feels any pressure to people please or to be responsible.


I find the idea of ‘practice’ one of the most useful tools for development for myself but of course it’s different for everyone. So for me I might say how would it be if I practiced saying no for a week? For some reason practising is just seeing how something might be and lessens the commitment, I find practicing a much more fun invitation to trying new behaviours on for size.


And with my clients we’d work to find whatever would work for them.

A powerful question might be “How would it be if you enjoyed saying no?”


“How would it be if you were totally at ease saying no?”


“Could I say no I can’t do that now but do ask me again”


….or how would it be if I paused when someone put me on the spot and after my pause I said a prepared sentence - “oh I’d love to but I’m so busy at the moment, can I think about it and get back to you”


And wouldn’t it be lovely to simply say “no”


I hope you enjoyed my first blog. Do let me know if there’s anything around coaching you’d like to know about.

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