Saying No to Someone Else Is Saying Yes to Yourself

One of the most important self-care tools is the ability to say no. Standing up for ourselves, our loved ones, our business interests, and our values without guilt, fear, shame, or anger keeps us in the driver’s seat.

Bill Ury, cofounder of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation, wrote an excellent book, The Power of a Positive No. Bill negotiates for companies, countries, peace, and to make this world a better place in all his affairs. His acclaimed three-part process of saying no consists of

  • Saying yes to your own core values
  • Linking your no to this powerful yes
  • Suggesting another positive outcome to the requester.

For example, a colleague whose work I know and value asks, “Can you please write the foreword for my new book?” This requires meticulous reading of the manuscript, taking copious notes, and producing a foreword that does the work justice. We’re talking about 40 to 60 hours of unpaid work that must come out of “free time” put aside for loved ones, exercise, cooking, recreation, and just plain old being.

After weighing the costs to my self-care, I decide to say no.

My answer (based on Bill Ury’s system) might be (and has been several times!): “Congratulations. You’ve written a book that sounds very valuable. While my heart would love to write a foreword for you, the rest of my body needs more attention these days. I need time to exercise, rest, and take better care of myself. So, I can’t write a foreword, but here’s what I can do. If you send me a synopsis of the manuscript, perhaps I can write an endorsement or mention it in a newsletter.”

We’re all the leader of our own life. Telemarketers, friends, strangers—everyone seems to want something! So, what to do when someone asks you for something more casual than writing a book foreword? According to a recent New York Times article, saying, “I don’t” rather than “I can’t” will make our “no” more definitive.

For another dose of inspiration, listen to Karen Drucker’s fabulous song, “N-O is My New Yes.”

Find out about programs with Joan Borysenko and Karen Drucker at Kripalu.

Joan Borysenko, PhD, is a Harvard Medical School-trained biologist, a licensed psychologist, a New York Times best-selling author, and a pioneer in mind-body medicine.

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