Many people have trouble with simple two-letter word

April 23, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN


Simple word.

You know what it means.

Do you have trouble saying it?

Many people do.

Why is that?

"I think people have a hard time saying no because they lack a strong sense of self," said Deryl Fleming, director of pastoral care services at Brook Lane Health Services in Hagerstown.


People have a need to please, said Linda Donovan, a licensed clinical social worker in practice in Hagerstown and Frederick, Md. They are reluctant to draw boundaries, to say "enough is enough."

"We want to be liked. We want to be appreciated," said business consultant Paul Kostreski, who teaches professional development courses at Hagers-town Community College's Center for Continuing Education. "Assertiveness for Career and Personal Success" is one of his classes.

To assert is to state positively, to insist on your rights. Saying no can be a positive statement. You can be sensitive and nonthreatening to others while asserting your own rights, Kostreski said.

There are hazards in not being able to say no. You lose value in the workplace; you become mediocre by never refusing, Kostreski said. People see you as an underachiever, a doormat. You risk being pigeonholed - stuck in a job.

Then the never-say-no person will start to resent the person who can and does say no. He becomes frustrated, depressed. He starts to complain, hoping someone will rescue him.

"We have to rescue ourselves," Kostreski said.


Most people know what they want, what they can do. "All they have to do is change the behavior," Donovan said.

Start by saying no. Just no - or another core statement such as "No. I'm not available," or "No, I'm sorry. I can't do that," or, "No, I'm sorry. I won't do that."

You don't have to justify your answer. "Nobody really needs to know your reason," Donovan said. "People will live with it. Nobody falls apart on either side."

Kostreski offered a suggestion that worked for him: Make a list of things you don't like to do.

Gardening and yardwork topped Kostreski's. It took him a couple of years to say it out loud. Like many people, he was afraid of the reaction he'd get to saying no to something he doesn't like to do. By fearing his wife's reaction, by postponing telling her, he had given her control without realizing it - without her wanting it.

When he told his wife - who really likes to garden and work in the yard - her reaction was, "OK. Why didn't you say something?"

The couple worked out the compromise of Kostreski tilling the garden plot every year because the machine is too heavy for his wife to handle.

She takes care of the rest, and both are happy.

People also don't say no because they aren't aware of their own limitations, Fleming said.

In his later life, Fleming finds that he's better at saying no to things he doesn't want to do. It's things he likes to do he has trouble turning down.

Fleming knows people - nurses, social workers, pastors, among them - who get great gratification from helping people - saying yes - in their work. The rewards are so great, they don't realize the toll it takes on them.

Fleming is often greeted with the question "Have you been busy?"

In today's world, there's an addiction to busyness, he said.

People seem to think there's something virtuous about having a full calendar, being perpetually available by means of cell phone and beeper, he said.

"Your personal time is your personal time," Donovan said. "You have a right to say no."

People need to prioritize. Theories of time management include dividing tasks into four categories: urgent and important; urgent and not important; important and not urgent and not urgent, not important, Fleming said. Urgent often gets attention before important - not always the best approach.

Self-care is not urgent, but it's very important, Fleming said.

"Everyone depends on me," he often hears people give as an excuse for not taking care of themselves.

Think of the flight attendant's pre-takeoff instructions: Parents need to put on their own oxygen masks before helping their children with theirs.

If you don't take care of yourself, you won't be able to help others.

Just say no.

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