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Avoiding a Calendar of Chaos – 4 Tips on Saying No

Do you find yourself feeling pressured to say yes to every request, invitation, and expectation? I do. And in an effort to please people (which boils down to my desire not to feel rejected), I say yes to the point of creating a calendar of chaos.

In the 2008 movie, “Yes Man,” Carl Allen, played by Jim Carrey, attends a motivational “Yes!” seminar where Carl promises to say, “Yes!” to every opportunity placed before him. At first, Carl is pleased because everybody likes him. But, as you can imagine, it doesn’t take long for Carl’s world to unravel.

Is your world unraveling because you have a hard time saying no? Author Anne Lamott once wrote, “No is a complete sentence.” But it’s a sentence that sometimes gets caught in the back of my throat.

Why is that? According to Greg McKeown in his book Essentialism, it’s hard to say no because we fear rejection.

Whether it’s an old friend who invites you to dinner or a boss who asks you to take on an important and high-profile project, or a neighbor who begs you to help with the school bake sale, the very thought of saying no literally brings us physical discomfort. We feel guilty. We don’t want to let someone down. We are worried about damaging the relationship (135).

Been there, done that. And I bet you have too. The truth of the matter is that when our emotions muddle our clarity, we overlook the fact that we can either say no and have a few minutes of emotional discomfort, or we can say yes and regret it for days, weeks, months or even years.

As difficult as it may be, it is possible to learn to say no firmly, resolutely and graciously. Here are a few guidelines from Essentialism that can help:

  • Separate the decision from the relationship. You can say no to the request but yes to the relationship. The person receiving the no might not be gracious in return, but you can’t control his or her reactions; you can only control your own.

  • Focus on the trade-off.  If you say yes to one request, you are saying no to something or someone else. And often is the case that family and close friends are on the receiving end of the no.

  • Make your peace with the fact that saying no often requires trading popularity for respect. Your “no” may generate some annoyance, disappointment or anger, but the potential upside is the initial reaction wears off and respect kicks in.

  • A clear “no” can be more graceful than a vague or noncommittal “yes.” This is where I have faltered many times. I over promise and under deliver. Will I commit to accomplishing X? Yes. But I have no idea how I’ll get it done, and after the deadline has come and gone, I realize my “yes” should have been a “no.”

There’s a reason why Jesus said, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no” (Matthew 5:37) because people of character are more concerned about developing emotional and relational health than taking shortcuts to popularity and approval.

Posted by Rick Grover, Lead Pastor with