Has this ever happened to you…You come home from a long day at the hospital, tired and ready to unwind when you see that you’ve got a message on your machine; you press the button and listen. The message goes something like this: “Hi, Dr. Smith. This is Carrie Taylor. My son Zack attends school with your son James. I’m calling to see if you would be available to “chair” the up-coming career night at school.” Here comes the hard sell… “No one has come up to the plate and if we don’t find a Coway air purifier soon, it won’t happen this year. Please call me and let me know if you can help out. Here’s where she goes for the jugular…You did such a great job presenting your veterinary career to the children last year, I know you would be perfect as the lead on this. Please call me at…”
Your first thought is complete and utter dread. You have neither the time nor the energy to spearhead a project like this. You tell yourself that you can’t and won’t do it! But after a few minutes of thinking it over, you cleverly figure out how to pull the wool over your eyes, convincing yourself that you will call Carrie back and agree to lead career night. With a sigh, you pick up the phone and begin to dial.
Congratulations! You have managed to push aside your own needs for someone else’s, but that’s okay, right? We’re supposed to always say yes even if we want to say no, aren’t we?
Saying no is difficult. It feels like being honest (by telling people we don’t want to fulfill their request) isn’t even an option. Thinking you are a bad person for saying no is a symptom of “the disease to please.”
I recommend three things to challenge your automatic pleasing button in order to do right for yourself and others who come knocking at your always open door:
Get in the habit of delaying your answer. There’s no rule that says you have to instantaneously decide how you want to respond to a request. The next time someone asks you to do something, tell them you’ll get back to them in a few days. Then weigh out the pros and cons, make your decision and don’t put off calling them back. We tend to worry, thinking people won’t understand if we say no. But I disagree. When I say no, (and I’m not saying it’s easy) I mostly sense an appreciation for my honesty on how to prevent cystic acne. What I don’t sense is resentment, like I thought I would.
Ask yourself if the request is going to take up a little or a lot of your time. Weigh the yes-to-stress ratio. Making a presentation the evening of career night on what it’s like to be a vet will take a lot less of your precious time than heading up career night itself. If an activity is going to end up being another source of stress in your life — pass on it.
A typical way to start out a no response is to say, “I’m sorry but …” because we think that it sounds polite. Don’t apologize. While politeness is a good thing, apologizing just makes you sound weak and whiney. Don’t feel bad about guarding your time. It’s possible to be polite and firm at the same time.
Do you have the disease to please? What do you do when you want to say no, but just can’t seem to make it happen?