I'm often asked by my friends, "Just how are you so good at saying no?" This question is usually asked with a certain degree of attitude and a few expletives thrown in. The fact of the matter is saying no and maintaining good boundaries around what we can and cannot provide, just like every other valuable skill, takes a ton of practice. I didn't get here overnight. It took years of training as a psychotherapist and a year working in a psychiatric ward to really get the hang of having healthy boundaries and saying no. And still, even I occasionally blunder. Practice makes perfect and getting the hang of consistently and comfortably setting boundaries will take time. Being that this week at Awfully Grand is all about practice, I thought I would put together a helpful list of ways to practice creating healthy boundaries and saying no.
1. Before you read any further, you must do this: Reframe what you think about boundaries. In my post about boundaries a few weeks ago, I wrote that boundaries are a courtesy we extend each other. Yes, boundaries are a GOOD thing. It is challenging to say no and create healthy boundaries, but it is a lot easier if we understand that saying no is a courtesy. By saying no and creating healthy boundaries, we are letting others know what they can expect from us, and this is positive for all parties involved. I don't care if you use my boundary mantra or create your own, but start to see setting them as a social grace.
2. Start small. Before you decide to test your boundary skills out in the board room, hold up! How about a little role play? Ask a friend, partner, or if you really want to test your skills, me, to role play a customer, co-worker, or family member. If that seems too close to home to start, have fun with it. You are seated in between Eva Mendes and Brad Pitt on an airplane and they both want to take you home. What do you do?
3. Take it to the streets. Once you have tried out some role play, it's time to take your practice live! Start with strangers. I think it is most difficult to maintain boundaries with family and work relationships. Why not try saying no to someone who you do not have a relationship with? Practice on the Greenpeace canvasser, that telemarketer you keep ignoring, or the person trying to cut in front of you at the store. Remember, you are coming from a place of concern and courtesy.
4. Be unapologetic. If boundaries are a courtesy, there is no reason to apologize for them. Saying no is enough. When you apologize for saying no or setting limits you are sending the message that what you are doing is wrong, and it's not, so drop the apology. No need for an explanation or back story. The more you say no, even to questions like, "Do you want fries with that?", the more easily you will begin to create a way of doing so that feels polite and genuine without the apology.
5. Write and record. When you feel as though you have a way of communicating your boundaries that feels right to you, take notes! Write down your dream scenario, with your fantasy sentence and response. Study this, believe in it and know that if things ever go this smoothly you might be dreaming! I want to stress the importance of this step. What you are doing here is creating a toolbox for yourself, a mental checklist of words, sentiments, and feelings that will help you in the moment. This is where you break out the coffee and the highlighter and get down to studying.
6. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again! Once you have some practice under your belt, you will find yourself in real world situations being able to more easily see and feel when your boundaries are being crossed. If you are lucky, it will happen in the moment and you can work on reaffirming those boundaires in real time, but what will most likely happen at first is you will notice later. This is so very frustrating, but all part of the process! And seeing the events play out in your mind afterwards, is very useful! First, you can take stock. Think about what you could have done differently. Hindsight is 20/20, so give yourself a little constructive criticisim. Second, know that you did not blow it! Establishing boundaries is not all or nothing. It is never too late to start, so just becasue you missed something first go around with a client or co-worker does not mean that you are now stuck. You can say no at anytime.
7. Ask for help! This is a process, and like any process, it will take time and it is nice to have some guidance and support along the way. Let me know how I can help!
I will leave you with a glorious NO.