When friends ask for help do you fall into the "ask trap?" Do you worry that if you say no they will stop being your friend and not call again? Then, do you resent helping them? Do you get mad at them for asking? You're not in high school anymore. True friends will stay friends if you aren't available for every time they ask for something.
An "ask trap" is one you build yourself. Because you don't know how to say no you feel trapped by every request. Then you resent doing things you have chosen and agreed to do.
If you find yourself saying "yes" when you really feel like saying "no," it is time to set boundaries and free yourself from self-imposed guilt. Setting boundaries for the first time can be uncomfortable. But being everyone else's helper sometimes leaves you and your family in need - in need of more of your time and attention.
When you want to say no:
Know your priorities.
This will give you strength when others ask for your time. List yours. My priorities are God, self, family then friends. I also care about special causes like helping abuse survivors and raising healthy children.
Knowing these priorities helped me say no when someone with a cause that wasn't on my list pressured me to spend the afternoon hanging flyers on door knobs in my neighborhood. I was able to say, "I think that is a great cause, but I already give my volunteer hours to another group."
Learn to value your time.
William Plunkett said, "Three things never come back - the spent arrow, the spoken word, and the lost opportunity." Time only passes and cannot be taken back. See your time as a precious gift. You have only been given one life gift of time. Hold it in your hand and examine each person's request to spend your time. Does it match your priorities?
There are many ways to tell someone you love and care about that you are unable to do something.
Ways to say no:
Say no with a reason and wish.
"I would love to take you to the airport Saturday, but my children have soccer and I can't." Remember, the request is their problem. You do not have to solve it for them or own it. Then, wish them well.
Say no with a thank-you.
"Thanks for asking, but I just can't. I hope you understand. Ask me next time." You have shown appreciation for the invite, haven't made excuses and valued their request.
Just say, "No thanks."
A polite "No thanks" is sometimes all that is needed. As hard as it is, realizing we cannot make everyone happy is one of life's important lessons. Remember, you don't always have to have a reason. In a busy world and family life there are only so many hours. You can't be everything to everyone and do a good job.
Appreciate and decline.
There are many great opportunities in life. Sometimes we are invited to do wonderful things that we simply can't do with our schedules and responsibilities. For example, when I was invited to a girls' night out I said, "Wow, that sounds like so much fun and I could really use some time out, but I can't tonight." No reason needed, just the truth. I appreciated the idea and invite, but couldn't fit it in.
Leave your options open.
Leave your options open by letting them know you are available at another time. For example, "I wish I could, but this week is booked. Please ask me another time."
Understand that family and true friends will understand when you set a boundary and say no. You may lose acquaintances and friends who were never really friends in the first place when you say no. You are not a bad person for saying no.
Remember children watch and learn.
When you model an honest "no," you are teaching them to be honest, responsible adults. When your children see you make excuses or tell lies to friends, bosses or others they learn to lie. Teach your children by example to set honest, firm but kind boundaries.
Practice makes perfect. Start small, practice a polite no thank-you to the next survey call you get. Then practice a polite appreciative declination to the next party you can't attend.
Life is made up of a series of choices and moments. Your friends, family, employers and others will have many "asks" of you. Avoid the trap of feeling obligated to say yes and then feeling resentment by learning to say no. Remember that family and true friends will understand when you are unable to help or spend time with them.