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‹ View all articles5th April 2016

Why is saying 'no' so difficult?!

How to Inspire

]It's easy to think inspiring public speaking is all about being nice, friendly and uplifting. But as I've been learning recently, with the help of the fabulous Luke Gregorczyk, great speakers also know when to say a firm and confident 'No.'

There's a big difference, I found, between those noble 'giants' (that's how they seem to me) who nobody would dare to cross, versus meek little me (that's how I seem to me) who can be pushed around by most people. What is it that means some people can say no and mean it, whereas, in certain situations, I find myself utterly incapable of saying 'no'?

A fun little video we put together that outlines the problem:[youtube id=SOJmXkGbYFs]


Here are three important things I've learned about saying 'No' from being part of Luke's course: Assertive Communications - Mastering the art of standing your ground.

1. Saying 'no' helps us say 'yes' to the stuff that matters

Those of you who know my TEDx talk Good Girl Goodbye will know that I've long struggled with the idea that being a 'good' person means taking things in your stride and letting unpleasant things slide off your back. It's easier and nicer to only communicate positive messages.

Well, when we say 'yes' to one thing, usually someone else's agenda, we're saying NO to something else. And more often than not, that something is important to us. It could be anything we're implicitly saying no to, from having more time to recover from our busy day, to making our business work, to slowly but surely eroding the freedoms and values you hold closest to your heart.

2. You can't say a convincing 'no' unless your body means it

Luke's work has been a revelation for me. I've spotted the ways that my body already says 'no' or 'don't bother' or 'they're not going to like what you say' before I've even opened my mouth.

I can learn as many negotiation techniques, or power poses as I like, but if there's uncertainty in my body, my audience will subconsciously pick up on that and find me less convincing. Not everyone will exploit that, but if you're in a really tricky situation (like public speaking); if your negotiating hard for something that you want, or even if you're thrown a request unawares, don't you want to be convincing in your efforts to say 'no'?

It can feel tricky, but Luke teaches some fantastic and simple techniques for keeping the body in a place of calm and solidity, to feel as convincing. One of the biggest for me has been taking more time to think before responding by focusing on the breath. This stops my instant "YES!" reflex (the bit in me that's super eager to please) and gives me a chance to figure out what I really want.

3. Every hero knows her boundaries

Think of a hero who can't say 'no'. Who's a bit of a push-over. That did whatever anyone asked, no matter what?

Can you think of one? Me neither.

If there were such a hero, they'd be confused, burned out and... well, weak.

Heroism, I believe, is directly connected to the ability to draw a line and say to others 'this is the behaviour I endorse and this is the behaviour that I do not accept'. If we can't say a strong and convincing 'no', we can't create the change we're seeking in the world. Full stop.

Look at historical heroes, like Martin Luther King Jnr and Gandhi - they certainly new their boundaries, their principles, and were willing to die for them. They certainly knew how to say 'No.'


So, I think that learning to assert as well as inspire is critical in communication of all sorts. And if you're struggling with that, I can point to no better resource than Luke's fantastic course Assertive Communications - Mastering the art of standing your ground.


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