Wired to Say “Yes?” Say NO Anyway

saying no

I call bullshit on this new wave of “women have a hard time saying no” trope that we have seen on the rise in advice targeting women over the last ten to fifteen years.

Many women are wired to say “yes.” (2014)

For many women, “no” is a foreign word on the tongue. (2021)

Prior to 2010, if you were to research “women saying no,” you were far more likely to get hits focused on “no means no” messages as a way of educating men to respect women when they said “no” to them. In 2022, if you research “women saying no,” you get hit with “women need to learn to say no.” 

There is a lot of sociological research as to why this shift occurred, but the bottom line is this: women do not have a problem saying no; men (and women) have a problem accepting a no from women. (Read that sentence out loud to yourself a few times.)

Women do not have a problem saying no; they get backed into saying no because of the price they are expected to pay for saying no. Being labeled as a bitch, abrasive, difficult to work with, prickly, shrewish, etc. or being shut out of opportunities and relationships, are just a couple of pieces of the price that women pay for saying no. 

So, do you get to say no and be called a bitch, or do you say yes and avoid being labeled as too difficult to work with? Do you say no and piss off the person whose support you need to advance, or do you say yes so that you can maintain access to advancement opportunities? These are the choices that women make at work every single day, and it’s not helpful to lecture women about learning to say no.

Instead, let’s say it the way it really needs to be said. If you are a woman, it will often hurt you to say no, but say no anyway because it will hurt less in the long run. It sucks to write that sentence; it sucks even more to live that reality every day. But say no anyway.

Here are 4 things you can do to make this sucky reality easier to manage:

saying no

Define the price before you decide to not pay it.

Ask yourself exactly what you are avoiding by not saying no.  Get into the details. What will really happen if you say no? Do you know this for sure, or is this what you fear? Ask others what you think will happen if you say no. Separate what you know for sure from your fears. Define the price of saying no as clearly as you can. Go ahead and define it with the worst possible scenario you can imagine. Now, weigh saying no and what it means to you against the price you believe you are going to pay. You don’t have to force yourself to say no, but you will be saying no with conscious intention. 

Define the request as the rule or the exception to the rule.

Our calculations of not paying the price for saying no may make sense if we are backed into saying yes once or maybe twice. But, if the requests that are exacting a yes from you in spite of your desire to say no are happening frequently, you have to recalculate. Swallowing your no once or twice is bearable, but the price you will pay for doing it regularly will cost you more physically, mentally, and emotionally than any negative label attached to you or any opportunities denied to you.

Get organized to neutralize the impact.

Consider the price you have defined for saying no. Ask yourself what it will take to neutralize the impact you think saying no will have. Get organized to see if you have alternate paths to getting what you need. Get organized to refute anything that isn’t accurate that may come your way. Then, take a deep breath, and release that no. 

Get connected to deal with any potential fallout of saying no.

Saying no and dealing with the fallout is harder if you are doing it by yourself. Get your community of women – in your personal life, professional networks, or your workplace – together to support you. Let them know what’s going on. Tell them that you are planning to say the no you need to say and that you will need support in absorbing the potential fallout. Knowing you aren’t doing this by yourself will give you that oomph you need when your fears arise in that moment.

You do not have a problem saying no. You are a reasonable woman who has seen the realities of this world. And you have adjusted accordingly to people not being kind to you when you have said no. Unfortunately, there is no relief after withholding your no – there are only more and more instances where you have to say something other than the no you want to say. 

So, acknowledge the reality, and say no anyway. Your future self will thank you for it.

This guest post was authored by Dr. Arin N. Reeves

Dr. Arin N. Reeves J.D., Ph.D. is a bestselling author and internationally acclaimed speaker. She is a globally sought-after expert on the neurobehavior of inclusion, equity, and diversity, and advisor to a robust list of Fortune 50 companies, law firms, government agencies, educational institutions, and individual leaders. Passionate about forging more equitable and dynamic organizations, she is the founder and Managing Director of Nextions LLC, a leading research and consulting firm which specializes in enhancing workplaces. Her newly published book is In Charge: The Energy Management Guide for Badass Women Who Are Tired of Being Tired.

Ms. Career Girl

Ms. Career Girl was started in 2008 to help ambitious young professional women figure out who they are, what they want and how to get it.

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