How to Say No Without Regrets

A couple having a quarrel

Have you ever said yes to someone's odd request because you didn't want them to think you were an a**hole? Do you give away your help expecting nothing in return, just to be good and kind and pleasant? Do you ever find it hard to disagree with someone or simply say no to their request?  

Well, you're not alone. Just a couple of years ago my entire social life revolved around pleasing everyone around me. 

In order to be get along with people, I would bend over backwards to meet their expectations. And at that time, it seemed like an amazing tradeoff to just cave in to peer pressure and social expectations in order to avoid rejection and conflict.

If one of my friends needed help - any kind of help - I was happy to oblige. No, not just happy but downright honored. It made me feel needed and it was a good feeling. I didn't even care if generosity meant staying up late or go out of my way. 

My helpfulness was virtually endless. Everybody could count on me - and they did. Sometimes I had a feeling that people were lining up behind my door ready for a generous serving of my kindness. 

And the end result was almost always the same. I overexerted myself. And this grand self-image of the "knight in shining armor" that helps all those in need cost me countless personal sacrifices.

And what do you think I did when during a conversation with a friend I felt a strong urge to disagree with what they were saying? I pretended to agree, putting a wide fake smile on my face. Anything to avoid conflict... I felt my spine crumble a little each time this happened.

In my experience, shy people tend to find saying no difficult. They find it very challenging to even voice their own opinions when it goes against that of someone else. Instead, they choose to blend in with the crowd in an unassuming manner and prefer to be out of sight and out of mind. 

A Favor for the Bully

Water Drops on Glass

Let me tell you a story from my childhood that will hopefully show you what an tough situation saying yes to everything can land you in.

I must have been about 14 years old. We were writing a chemistry test in elementary school. I was pretty good at chemistry and all my clasmates were aware of that. 

That day I was especially quick and finished writing the test within 20 minutes - 25 minutes earlier than everybody else. So I sat back in my chair basking in my confidence as only a 14 year old can, looking around at all the hunched backs still scribbling on their chemistry papers. 

And then it happened. 

One of my classmates passed his paper to me with a note telling me to write it for him.

I kid you not.

For a moment, I was surprised. But then the muscle memory built by several years of saying yes to everything kicked in and I started scribbling again just like everyone else. 

And the irony of the story is that the kid that asked me to write his test for him was the biggest bully in class that had been picking on me for years. 

Needless to say, after the test was over, he didn't even say thank you. He smugly walked out of the classroom with his cronies at his side laughing.

Why Can't You Say No?

And that was not the only time my compulsive yes-manship got me in trouble. 

But why is it so hard to say no to a request or stand up for your opinion?

The Benefit of Always Meeting Expectations

On the one hand a deep-seated desire to meet expectations is at work every time you say yes. Because after all, meeting expectations earns trust and builds a relationship. By being available all the time and going out of your way to be that "nice guy" that everyone likes.

And that's a great benefit - until someone uses your kindness. But sure, in the beginning, you'll get your fair share of gratitude and admiring looks. 

And let's be honest: it feels great to able to help while not needing help yourself. It rubs the ego in the right way.

The "Social Lubricant" Effect

For many shy people the willingness to help whenever someone's in need is probably the easiest way to make friends. If you're socially anxious, then useful to others is a great way to start relationships. 

(And it says a lot about your self-esteem.)

And so why would you say no if someone approaches you with a request? It's actually a great opportunity to meet someone new and it doesn't require any social skills. You instantly have something to talk about and a reason to hang out together, which is great. 

These benefits might make you forget about the uncomfortable fact that you might overexerting yourself. Or that they aren't interested in you, as a person, but in what you can do for them, as a service. 

"What Will They Think About Me?"

Swimming Under Water

"If I decline, they'll think that I'm cold-hearted. Or that I don't like them. They might get hurt if I say no." 

"No, I simply can't say no, it will only lead to a quarrel. Nah, I'll just beat around the bush and avoid direct confrontation for as long as I can. I'll find excuses and then I'll make up stories. They'll soon get exhausted and forget."

Fear of Conflict

Couple Having a Quarrel

Saying "No!" can be scary.

"No" is a word that draws a line around you and tells everyone not to cross that line. Therefore the word "No!" reflects strength. It creates a social situation where your partner has no choice but to either accept your newly declared personal boundary or start questioning it and start a quarrel. 

And that 50% chance of a verbal conflict is scary because no one likes to argue, right? So we often dodge the bullet by trying to be pleasant and kind all the time - even if that means going against our true feelings.

The Price of Saying Yes All the Time

I learned it the hard way that saying no -