For whatever reason, I get this strange feeling of guilt whenever I’m forced to tell someone no.
Nobody likes saying it -- and why would they, when it feels so good to say "yes"? But I feel absolutely terrible.
And when you have trouble telling people "no," problems arise.
Allow me to explain.
Last week, while I was doing some cardio at the gym, I got approached by one of the trainers. It was the day after Thanksgiving, so I suppose he figured it was a good time to recruit new members for his high-intensity interval training class.
After spotting me, he asked if I’d be willing to try a “new workout challenge" and offered me a free demo class.
Surely, I did not need -- or even remotely want -- to try out any new “workout challenge.” I’m a creature of habit, and I’ve been doing the same workout routine for years without a hiccup. But I simply couldn’t bring myself to tell him no. I mean, after hearing him give me his whole fitness spiel, I didn’t want to just dismiss him. That seemed callous.
So I figured, what the hell. I had nothing better to do that day. I decided to give it a whirl.
Well, 45 minutes and a few dry heaves later, I had completed the class... and spent $100 for four more sessions. All because I couldn’t tell this dude no.
I know that I’m this way with my friends, too. Whenever any of my buddies tries to make plans with me, I agree without checking my schedule. When I realize I can't follow through with the plans, I cancel -- and come off looking like a flake.
But I don’t like to think of myself as a flake. I’m just someone who can’t say no. If anything, I'm trying to be polite. I'm trying to be a good guy. But this often backfires.
Although having a hard time saying "no" can lead to many unfavorable -- and expensive -- situations, it usually comes from a place of good intentions.
In a recent article for Wall Street Journal, Elizabeth Bernstein explains the reason why some people are so averse to saying "no": "‘No’ is a rejection.”
When you’re someone who cares about pleasing others, having to reject someone is not a very good feeling.
Dr. Vanessa Bohns, assistant professor of management sciences at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, tells Bernstein, "One of our most fundamental needs is for social connection and a feeling that we belong. Saying 'no' feels threatening to our relationships and that feeling of connectedness."
I can definitely agree with this. At the gym, I was anxious not to seem rude. And whenever any of my friends make an effort to do something -- like watching a basketball game or attending some party -- I feel bad turning down the invite. Even if it’s something I actually don’t want to do.
However, by avoiding the word “no,” I only set myself up to fall short on following up on plans down the road. And I become the flake I didn’t want to be.
According to Bernstein, my fear of hurting my friends' feelings isn’t as serious as I think it is. This is because of something called "harshness bias," which she says is “our tendency to believe others will judge us more severely than they actually do."
While it’s certainly nice to keep the feelings of other people in mind, failing to say "no" will usually do more bad than good. By saying "yes" when someone tries to make plans with you -- only to end up saying "no" later -- you’ll give others the impression that you are flaky or unreliable.
You may not have full intentions of following up on your commitments, but the people to whom you commit probably will -- and they’ll be pissed at you when you inevitably let them down.
It’s important to be comfortable saying "no" or, at the very least, saying something along the lines of “I’ll get back to you,” as Bernstein explains.
People-pleasing is all good until you realize you’re constantly letting down the people you initially intended to please.
It’s important to focus on being someone who’s reliable, not someone who never says "no." If you’re worried that your friends or the people you’re interacting with will look at you any differently after telling them no, you’re either overreacting or better off without them anyway.
But, whatever you do, be careful. There’s a fine line between being overly polite and being flaky.