How to Say “No” to People

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How hard is it to say no to people? In a series of delightfully twisted experiments conducted by a Yale University psychologist during the 1960s, test subjects were asked to repeatedly administer increasingly powerful shocks to strangers in another room. The strangers were heard to be pounding on the wall, screaming in pain, and begging mercy due to heart conditions. Nevertheless, 65 percent of participants kept administering the shocks simply because an authority figure in on the ruse told them they had to.

The same thing happens (to varying degrees) in our everyday lives; people are afraid to say no, and so do things they don’t want to do. The good news is you can grow a pair by heeding these words of wisdom on how to say no to people from social psychologist Susan Newman, PhD, author of The Book of No: 250 Ways to Say It — and Mean It.

• REMEMBER THAT SAYING “YES” IS YOUR CHOICE
Unless you’re an aspiring starlet or a politician, you don’t need to worry trying to please everyone all of the time. “It’s deeply ingrained in both men and women to be there when someone needs them — even when that person doesn’t really need them,” Newman says. “But there’s always a choice, and if you say no, you’ll be available to say ‘yes’ to things you’d rather do. If you can get that in your head, saying no become much easier.”

• REMEMBER THAT SAYING “NO” DOESN’T MAKE YOU A JERK
Many people believe that saying no makes them a bad person. That’s not true. “Once you refuse to help the person build a bookcase or pick up their car, the person asking isn’t thinking about you anymore; they’re moving on to find somebody else to help them out,” Newman reminds us. If it’s a matter of life and death, that’s a different story. You can still say no, but don’t expect a Christmas card.

BE FIRM
Being polite is great, but your time is valuable and genuinely being too busy to help someone is nothing to be sorry about. When you do say no, let the person know you wish you could help, but that your decision is final.