Sarah Knight on How to Just F*cking Say No
On Throwing Social Expectations Out the Window (BONUS: A Quiz)
When you say yes all the time, you get overwhelmed, overbooked, overdrawn, and burnt-the-fuck-out. But you know that already, or you wouldn’t be here. So instead of focusing on the effect, let’s investigate the cause. What motivates you to take the circuitous path to Burnout Town instead of hopping the express train to No-ville?
Perhaps you identify as a people-pleaser, which is not in itself a terrible quality. Aren’t you reliable, helpful, and my, such a team player! But if you spend your days doing shit only because you feel like you “should,” or wanting people to like you even if it kills you, well, maybe it is a little bit terrible. Just calling ‘em like I see ‘em.
In the spirit of airing out our hang-ups, I’ll tell you I’ve historically had a hard time saying no for other reasons, too. For example, I’m competitive; I don’t like to admit defeat and sometimes saying no can feel like a loss. Also, I’ve been known to equate being busy with being virtuous, and I take pride in being the kind of gal you can rely on to get shit done. Whether that pride is worth the extraordinary effort expended to attain it is, as they say, the rub.
So how about you?
Through rigorous research (I conducted an anonymous online survey), I’ve taken the liberty of identifying four types of Yes-Men. They are:
I myself am a People-Pleasing Overachiever (or a recovering one, anyway). I’ve never identified as a Pushover, but there’s a first time for everything, so I won’t rule it out. And as for FOMO (“fear of missing out”)—in the commonly understood manner of missing out on something fun, honestly, I’m content to let other people go to parties and stuff without me. I’m exceedingly fond of my couch. But I do experience that I-should-say-yes-when-I-want-to-say-no feeling in other ways—like when it comes to missing out on a business opportunity. I worry that if I say no this time, I may be closing a potentially lucrative door forever; it’s not that I want it now, so much as I don’t want to not have the option to want it in the future.
(Weirdly though, while I can think of several occasions when I should not have said yes to an “opportunity” that turned out to be a total clusterfuck, I can’t immediately call to mind a situation in which I’ve regretted saying no. Huh. Interesting.)Once you know which of the Yes-Men is pushing your internal buttons, you can begin to honestly and thoroughly confront your hang-ups at the source.
What I’m saying is, we all contain multitudes.
Take the quiz below and choose the answer that best represents what you would do in the given situation. If you can’t decide, pick two. This is a fun diagnostic tool; I’m not submitting the results to the Nobel committee or anything.
Why do I say yes all the goddamn time? (a quiz)
Your boss offers you a promotion that comes with more responsibility and a better title, but no additional pay. You take it without arguing because:
A. I’d hate to seem ungrateful.
B. I really want those new business cards. I’ll work on the raise next.
C. If I hold out for more money, my boss might change their mind about the whole thing.
D. If they could have given me a raise, they would have, right? I assume it’s just not possible.
Your friend asks you to be their date to a super fancy, exclusive event. TONIGHT. You don’t want to go, but you say yes because:
A. I don’t want my friend to get stuck going alone.
B. I guess it’s not that hard to add a party to my schedule. Plus get a quick haircut on my lunch break.
C. One of these days I am going to want to go to one of these fancy parties, and if I say no for tonight, I may never get another invite.
D. My arm is easily twisted.
Your co-worker asks you to pitch in on something on short notice, because they failed to get it done on time. You’re annoyed, but say yes because:
A. I always try to be helpful.
B. This is what I do. I get shit done when other people can’t.
C. What if I need their help someday? What then?
D. I don’t know, I feel weird about calling them out.
Your kid’s teacher is looking for a last-minute field trip chaperone. You don’t really have time to do it on top of all your other responsibilities, but you say yes anyway because:
A. I hate leaving people in the lurch.
B. I can work it out; it’ll just take some rearranging.
C. I’m worried I’ll regret not going the minute I see some other parent Instagramming my kid at the science museum. (Even though we’ve already been as a family. Twice.)
D. The teacher asked nicely.
A good but demanding client asks you to complete a huge project on a ridiculously tight deadline. You know it will be painful, but you agree because:
A. I want to keep them happy.
B. “Ridiculously tight deadline” is my middle name.
C. If I push back on the timeline and they give it to someone else, I could lose them as a client completely.
D. I’ve never said no to them in the past so I feel like I can’t start now.
It seems like one of your friends always expects you to be there to deal with the fallout from their bad decisions. This is the third meltdown in as many weeks. You’re really busy and tempted to let the call go to voicemail, but you answer it because:
A. I feel guilty not picking up.
B. I want to be the kind of person who always has time for my friends no matter how busy I am.
C. If I don’t answer and talk some sense into them, what if I could have finally put a stop to all this madness and didn’t?
D. It’s easier to take these calls than to explain to my friend why it would be great to get fewer of these calls.
Your coworkers are always inviting you to socialize after work. You’re exhausted, but you say yes because:
A. I don’t want them to think I dislike them (even if I do).
B. Sleep is for the weak!
C. It could be a good networking opportunity.
D. They just kept asking me until I caved.
Your parents decide they want to do a family trip to the Grand Canyon. You had intended to use your vacation days (and budget) on something else this year, but you say yes because:
A. I don’t want to hurt their feelings.
B. Maybe I can do both if I work overtime and plan carefully.
C. What if this is my last chance to do a trip like this with my parents before they get too old to travel?
D. I feel like I have no choice when it comes to family.
“Why do I say yes all the goddamn time?” (the results)
If you got mostly A’s . . . you’re a PEOPLE-PLEASER.
You say yes when you want to say no because…
You hate to disappoint others. You feel obligated. You feel guilty. You want people to like you and/or you don’t want to be rude. You’re a legit nice person who is sometimes too nice for your own good. You say yes to friends and family in need, but also to enemies, strangers, and Jehovah’s Witnesses just so they won’t feel bad. You agree to dates you’re not interested in and you do favors like they’re going out of style.
Saying no instead will help you…
Place much-needed value on your own happiness. You’ll stop being taken advantage of by people who don’t have your best interests at heart. You’ll gain more down time, plus the energy to enjoy it. Become a Me-Pleaser!
Things People-Pleasers should be saying instead of yes
I can’t afford it.
You go ahead without me.
I don’t like Thai food. Let’s get something else.
I’m sorry but no, those pants don’t look right on you.
If you got mostly B’s . . . you’re an OVERACHIEVER.
You say yes because . . .
You might as well be the one to do it because you’ll do it best. You’re a perfectionist. You don’t want anyone to think you’re being lazy and you also enjoy getting credit. You’re competitive with others and/or always looking to outdo yourself, so you take on assignments, elaborate projects, and insane deadlines like you’re sitting on the world’s largest supply of Adderall. Your desire to totally crush it sometimes means you get totally crushed.
Saying no instead will help you…
Delegate more and panic less. You’ll stop being resigned to “doing it all” and get excited about “doing what you want.” You’ll be able to focus more on fewer things, setting yourself up for success at what’s most important to you. Now that’s an achievement.
Things Overachievers should be saying instead of yes
I don’t have time.
That’s above my pay grade.
I don’t need to look that over. I trust you.
I’m on vacation.
If you got mostly C’s . . . you’re a FOMO’ER.
You say yes because . . .
Although you don’t necessarily love the feeling of taking on too much, you’re afraid of what might happen if you don’t. You fear missing out on something fun, or on an opportunity that might be rewarding—financial or otherwise. You feel like there’s something wrong with you for not wanting things that other people want. (Note: fear of what other people might think belongs upstairs in “People-Pleasers.”) You’re ruled by regret. You go to parties and on trips even when you don’t feel great about them, and you ALWAYS take the meeting. You’re overcommitted and ultimately, underwhelmed.
Saying no instead will help you . . .
Let go of expectations (for yourself and of others) that don’t serve you. You’ll eliminate anxiety about your choices and be more confident in them. And you’ll be fully present for, committed to, and excited about the stuff you really want to say yes to. Turn that FOMO into JONO (“joy of no”)!
Things FOMO’ers should be saying instead of yes
I should trust my instincts.
I remember how this went last time.
There will be other chances.
I do me, and that’s okay.
If you got mostly D’s . . . you’re a PUSHOVER.
You say yes because . . .
You dislike confrontation. You prefer the path of least resistance. You acquiesce to lowball offers and you can’t refuse telemarketers, whining children, or manipulative cats who definitely already got fed today but are awfully cute. You’re low on willpower. You’re indecisive. You “go with the flow” right over the edge of the falls.
Saying no instead will help you . . .
Gain instead of lose (time, energy, money, success, respect; the list goes on). You’ll follow through on your goals instead of getting sidetracked. You’ll be admired for your fortitude and savvy. You’ll stop giving inches and save many, many miles. It’s okay to push back.
Things Pushovers should be saying instead of yes
I’m not comfortable with that.
I am immune to your charms.
I’m worth more.
I object, your Honor.
And if you got a healthy mix of most of the letters . . . you need Fuck No! more than the cast of The Departed needed a better dialect coach. No worries. This, unlike Martin Sheen’s Boston accent, is totally normal.
Once you know which of the Yes-Men is pushing your internal buttons, you can begin to honestly and thoroughly confront your hang-ups at the source. If you don’t do that, then you’re like those people who say “I really want to quit smoking, but it’s so hard when I drink,” to whom I say “Okay then, I guess smoking (i.e. saying yes) isn’t your real problem. Drinking (i.e. feeling guilty/obligated/being a pushover) is. Let’s work on that instead!”
Unless you don’t really want to quit . . . ?
Carry on then.
The next time you find yourself in this predicament, pause and ask yourself WHY. I call this the Why Yes/When No Method for Getting a Handle on Your Hang-ups.
The Why Yes/When No Method
Ask yourself WHY you are about to say yes WHEN you want to say no.
It’s is a really easy method, guys. One step. Give it a shot, like so:
Can I really afford to give that client a discount, or am I caving just to avoid confrontation?
Should I volunteer to chair that committee, or is my ego getting more out of this than the cause?
Do I truly want to go white-water rafting, or am I just afraid of missing out on the Instagram likes? (Come on, be honest.)
Whatever your hang-ups are, recognizing them is the first step to resisting them. After all, you can’t change your mindset from Yes-Man to No, ma’am! if you don’t even know the current calibrations.
Excerpted from Fuck No!: How To Stop Saying Yes When You Can’t, You Shouldn’t, or You Just Don’t Want To by Sarah Knight. Available wherever books are sold.