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“The Book of No”

· Article

"The Book of No"

Have you ever received a phone call or email that begins, “Feel free to say no, but I have a favor to ask … ” and found yourself flipping through your calendar to figure out how to accommodate the request, even if you’re conflicted about doing so? If so, you might be what social psychologist Susan Newman calls a people-pleaser in her smart and helpful book, The Book of No: 365 Ways to Say It and Mean It — And Stop People-Pleasing Forever.


According to Newman, we tend to forget that we have the right to put our needs first, make our feelings and desires known, and ask for details before committing to something.


She’s here to remind us that we have the right to say no.


Too much yes can affect our sleep, health and happiness, she said.


Newman’s book was just published in its second edition, and she sat down to answer some questions.


The first edition of “The Book of No” was published in 2005. How has the culture of no changed in the years since?


With the pervasiveness of the Internet and email, which has escalated in the last 13 years, the immediacy, the urge, and the feeling that you have to respond immediately has compounded. I think people respond to requests too quickly online or in person, agreeing without stopping to think what might be required. There have always been people-pleasers, but now that life seems to be moving at a faster pace, most of us face more requests for our time, talent and know-how.


You write that too much yes affects our sleep. How so?


When you commit to too many things and do it too often, your anxiety escalates. Then you get in bed and your mind races: “How can I possibly do all this? Why did I agree to that?” So while you’re trying to get to sleep, you have 20 things whirling around in your head. We all know that sleep is key to being healthy and staying healthy, so the ability to say no can become a critical health issue.


What is the most effective way to say no?


Don’t say “I can’t” or “I’m sorry.” Avoid explaining yourself or making excuses. When you do, the other person is going to come back at you until they wear you down. Also, if you give a no or an excuse that isn’t true, you’re going to feel very guilty, and you’re going to worry about being caught. If someone asks you out to dinner, don’t say, “I’m sorry we can’t go, we’re staying in that night.” Instead, say, “That date doesn’t work for us.” That way, if you accept an invitation from somebody else for that night, you’ve actually been honest with your answer.


You write about how no is part of maintaining healthy boundaries in relationships. What do you mean?


Boundaries are important because they shore you up to be able to say no. You’re not responsible for other people’s happiness. You’re not responsible for solving the problems or situations that they’ve gotten themselves into.


My biggest hope in doing this book was to help people realize that saying no is not going to be the end of the world. Strategic noes to protect yourself are generally not going to be the downfall of any of your relationships. You’re not going to say no to everything; this isn’t a question of becoming a mean-spirited, negative person who refuses everybody and everything. But when it comes to the things that chip away at the time everyone needs to step away and rejuvenate, you have the right to say no.




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