How do you set healthy boundaries and say “no” to a friend, a colleague, your boss, or to your family?
I previously wrote a post on boundaries because so many of us struggle with the topic. I wanted to take it a step further, what do you actually say in various situations? I’ve formulated a short list of responses to help you prepare for the next time. You’ll find these at the end, but first, let me provide a bit more context.
To be respectful to yourself and to the other person, sometimes you have to say “no.” There are 3 areas you must consider when communicating your truth.
He said yes, but his body was clearly in opposition to the idea
We register body language, mannerism, facial expression, and tone of voice almost instantaneously. So if your body or voice is expressing one thing while your words are conveying another that can be a trigger for the other person. Mixed messages cause confusion. The other person may react any number of ways depending on their long history of experience. The crazy part is that neither of you may be aware of all that is being communicated, and the encounter can leave a bad taste in your mouth that has nothing to do with the topic at hand.
Where are you coming from? What is your agenda or motivation? Are you clear about what you want or need? Saying yes when you really mean no is a violation of your boundaries and believe it or not directly impacts your body and your energy level. Continually breaking trust with yourself can lead to illness.
Saying “yes” is a disservice to you both if you honestly mean “no.”
Here are a few questions to ask yourself to get clear about your intention or motivation:
- Are you acting out of fear? For example, fear of hurting someone, fear of making a wrong choice, or mistrust of your wants or needs.
- Are you hiding the fact that you are acting out of fear?
- Idealism: You may be masking your fear with idealism (thinking the situation is one thing when you know it is not. Example: feeling flattered can be an indicator of idealism)
- Anger: Ignoring fear by hiding it behind anger or blame is quite common. We may behave as if we’ve been wronged when it’s the fear of owning our position or power in the situation.
- Concern: Are you focused exclusively on the feelings or reaction of the other person? This may be a way of masking your fear of rejection, their anger, of not being liked, or abandonment.
Are you clear about what you want in the situation? You may simply need a moment to get in touch with your feelings; it’s okay to ask for that! “Give me a minute to check my calendar; I’ll get back to you.” Strategizing, imagining the future, or recalling a similar situation in the past are all indicators that you have not yet reached your authentic feelings on the matter, shift your attention to your body and notice what’s going on.
You are responsible for your feelings, intentions, wishes, wants and needs. You must ask for, stand up for, show up for, speak up for, and take a stand for yourself, your feelings, wants, needs, and beliefs. You are NOT responsible for the feelings, wants needs or beliefs of others. This is the definition of a boundary. Compassion is the key here. Be present and aware but drop your inclination to fix, make better, or alleviate the emotions of the other. This means when you clearly and thoughtfully say “no,” you must stand aside and allow the other person to have their reaction, thoughts or even judgments, don’t get involved. Staying in your integrity, without second guessing yourself actually honors both of you. I realize this is a tall order at first, it will take some practice, but it is well worth the effort.
It takes just a moment or two to call yourself back to the present
To recap, you may not know what you want at the moment, take 5 minutes, you deserve at least that, right? If you are a more emotional person, you may need longer, as long a day or two to cycle through and discover your true desires. Guilt is second-guessing your instincts. Trust yourself. If you are feeling guilty, walk through it again, ask the questions and let it go.
- Take a moment to become grounded in your body by bringing your attention down into your heart, or just below your navel, keep your attention there.
- Check your motivations, are you responding out of fear?
- Once you are clear, consider your tone of voice, stay in your body, and deliver your answer without apology.
- Honor the other person’s right to their feelings. You don’t know how they feel. You rob them of their honest response when you apologize, which is more about your guilt and fear than concern for them.
- If you are really struggling, offer a kindness before the no. If you have the ability and inclination, offer an alternative suggestion but not out of guilt or fear.
Here are a few suggested responses, choose a couple that feel most comfortable for you, or change them to suit. Practice saying them out loud, or even in the mirror until it feels comfortable. Ultimately the best strategy is to set up parameters that support your boundaries at the start, then your “no” won’t come as such a surprise. Want to read more on boundaries? Click here
“I must say no, but I may be able to connect you with someone who could help.”
“I can really understand how that could be difficult for you.” (stop there, smile, nod, and walk away).
“You know, I am focusing on spending more time with my family this year. I won’t be able to help you out this time.”
“Gosh, that sounds like fun but I’ve already got plans.”
“I do not want to disappoint you, but I just can’t volunteer this time. If I say yes, I’ll resent it later. I’m determined not to spread myself too thin this year!”
“I am going to say no because I am on a mission to take better care of myself, which means more time…” (with family, just for me, at home, whatever feels true for you).
“I’ve had a great time in the past, but it doesn’t work for me this year.”
“It is my policy not to lend anything worth more than $1,000. Depending on your time frame I may be able to offer you a ride instead.”
“I just can’t this time.”
“I’m afraid I have to decline, but thanks for asking.”
“It’s kind of you to think of me, but I’ve got too much going on right now.”
“No, I really can’t, but I’ll get back to you if anything changes.”
“I understand you are angry that I said no. However, you may not yell at me. If you continue, I will leave the room.”
“I respect your perspective. I don’t see it the same way.”