February 17, 2022

Learning to Say No

BY: Autumn Johnson

Let’s be honest, this is something we have all struggled with at some point in our lives. Maybe it’s a family member who needs help or a friend whose rough patch just won’t end. Perhaps a co-worker is inundated with work and needs help with a project. Of course you want to help, but that doesn’t always mean that you should. In your efforts to help others, remember that at some point you may have to say “no.”

It’s not easy. There’s a reason you feel nervous or anxious whenever the topic comes up. Perhaps you know you simply do not have the time or the means to do what is asked of you. Oftentimes, you get so in over your head that you feel desperate to get out of the situation you originally agreed to help with.

Helping your friends and family is important, but you have to set clear boundaries about what you can and cannot handle. If you feel like you might not be able to complete the task as effectively as you want to, be honest about it. Making our expectations clear early on is key to helping others. If you do not have time, skills, or wellbeing for the commitment, learn to say no.

If you can’t say no to others, you will eventually be trapped in a task or relationship you wish you never got involved in. Remember that you are the only person responsible for taking care of yourself and managing your time wisely. If something makes you uncomfortable about the request, be honest about it. Failing to be honest about your limits hurts you and the person you agreed to help, since ultimately you cannot give the person the assistance they originally asked for. This further exacerbates problems and can jeopardize the relationship. No one wants to be put in the position of having to tell a friend that you took on too much and can no longer give them the help you originally promised.

You might worry that saying no to someone you care about will damage your relationship. It’s true, it can. Boundaries can be crossed and feelings can be hurt. The important thing to remember is that any family member, friend, or colleague who cares about you should understand that you just can’t help at the moment.

Likewise, you should avoid asking an already too busy person for help, since they feel bad for not being able to help you and you feel bad for asking in the first place. If now isn’t a good time, find someone else to help you with your task or wait until the person you originally asked is available. Above all, make sure you are respectful of everyone’s time and space. We all know what it feels like to be saddled with a task you wish you never took on.

Be kind to one another, and treat family, friends, and colleagues with the care and respect you know you deserve.

About the Author

Autumn Johnson Portrait

Autumn Johnson is an attorney with The Stanley Law Group in Moneta, Virginia. She is a chairperson for the Young Lawyers Conference Wellness Committee.