How to set boundaries

We’re bombarded with requests from family, friends, co-workers, and bosses, all wanting or expecting us to say yes. However, constantly saying yes has a price.

Flexing our “no” muscle can be liberating and effective. Used appropriately, “no” can be one of the most powerful words in your vocabulary. \

Not a four letter word
For some people, the stigma of saying no is so strong they’ll agree to almost anything rather than say no and risk being thought of as a bad person. Fear of conflict pushes them to say yes because they think saying no is rude, aggressive, or obnoxious—and others won’t like them.

The positive side of no
Constantly giving in to others’ demands at the expense of our own feelings can build anger, resentment, anxiety, depression, stress, and feelings of powerlessness.

Saying no is empowering, gifting us the time, energy, and health to say yes to what really matters to us. People who feel in control of their lives are generally happier, and studies have shown that happiness leads to success in relationships and work.

The art of saying no
Saying no well is an art—one we can all learn with practice. You might feel silly practicing, but it works. Stand in front of a mirror and simply say “no” calmly, coolly, but firmly. Stand up straight, make eye contact, and speak clearly and fluently to signal you mean what you’re saying.

If you’re ambushed with a request and can’t think of a good way to say no, fall back on the tried and true: “Let me get back to you.” That gives you time to respond later when you’re better prepared.

Strategies for saying no
If you’re saying yes out of fear, examine the realities of those worries. Will your boss really fire you if you refuse to do personal errands? Will your friend truly drop you if you don’t help her move? Often, we’re so afraid of appearing aggressive or rude that we inflate the consequences of saying no.

According to Goldie Newman, a consultant and assertive communication specialist, we need to remember the three Rs and be “responsible, respectful, and realistic.” Further, the way we choose to say no allows us to “model this behavior to others (children, people who report to us, colleagues, et cetera), while achieving a sense of personal satisfaction.”

Dealing with persistent requests
Some people aren’t willing to take no for an answer. Unless you’re prepared to keep dealing with their requests, don’t give in.

Setting limits on yes
There are times when saying no is not an option. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to give an unqualified yes.

  • Be clear on exactly what you’re willing or not willing to do.
  • Put a limit on how much time you can give.
  • Prioritize the tasks.
  • Ask for help or delegate.
  • Simplify or eliminate unnecessary tasks.