Learning to Say 'No'

Remember “Just say no (to drugs)?” Arguably, this was one of the more sneered at and effective campaigns against drug use. However, it was deemed too simplistic and unsophisticated (most effective ideas are simple and not overly complex). Want to avoid becoming a drug addict---don’t experiment with drugs. Want to avoid becoming and unmarried teenaged mom with few prospects for the future (education, career, healthy family relationships, etc.)? Wait until the guy is willing to really ‘go all the way’ and marry you. Then give your heart and self to your husband who’s committed, really committed to you.

 That said, this “say no” campaign has nothing to do with drugs, premarital sex, etc. Its principles are found in the Bible (like the ones above):

 When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. (Proverbs 10:19)

Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. (Matthew 5:37)

…let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; (James 1:19)

 Often people ask us for things and we have to say ‘no.’ Saying ‘no’ isn’t easy in many societies and cultures (particularly in a “shame” culture). Most people want to accommodate others, or please others. Saying ‘no’ clearly and directly often seems so ‘unmusical.’ Why? There are more than a few reasons. You may be a ‘people pleaser’ and refusing a request is hard because you so want to be liked and accepted. Or… you simply don’t want to hurt another’s feelings or disappoint or discourage them. Or you’d like to say ‘yes’ but can’t without reshuffling a schedule that is well-nigh impossible to juggle at the moment. You may simply have no interest, or you may be adamantly opposed to doing what they are asking.

 The bottom line is this: it’s often better to say simply and briefly say ‘no’ than say maybe. And definitely don’t over-talk. It’s often better to say no kindly and as briefly as possible. So, what do you say and how do you say it? Just say “no, I can’t.” If you sense the need to offer up a lengthy explanation, don’t. Here’s an illustration of avoiding saying too much. No this isn’t a biblical or moral example---the pay-off scene comes at the end of the three-minute video in the last 90 seconds. Ignore Brad Pitt’s advice but observe the practice. As Christians we are to be kind and relational. But this video demonstrates the virtue of brevity.

 Jesus says let your ‘no’ be ‘no’ and your ‘yes’ be ‘yes.’ This speaks to a principle of honesty and brevity. Solomon, in Proverbs, says ‘keep it simple.’ Don’t say more than you should or less than you need to; otherwise, sin will enter into the transaction at some level.

 Common sense helps. Often, after your ‘no’ but before your nice speech, they stop listening. Often, the more you talk the more disappointed they become (angry even). So, as James warns us, “be slow to speak” but “quick to listen.” This might check anger, or stymie anger and real hurt from entering into the equation. Everybody’s wired differently. As for me, once I hear ‘no’ I accept it. That’s it. I don’t need to be stroked or soothed or listen to a 30 second and or 30-minute justification or explanation---but that’s me. As I heard someone else say, “Just say no and shut up… answer questions if you must.” That’s not terrible advice.

 So just how is this done? Here are a few examples:

·      “I wish I could accommodate your request, but I can’t.”

·      “That sounds nice but right now I’m unable and unavailable.”

·      “I can tell this is important to you, but I have to say no.”

·      “I wish I could, but I’ve got a conflict.”

·      “I respect what you are doing but I am unable to X,Y, or Z at this time.”

·      “I’m sorry I can’t support this cause.”

 I realize that all this seems theoretical and sounds easier than it is but… think about it. Otherwise, you might say too much, over explain, or find yourself saying no a few uncomfortable times before saying something more than you wish to say. One simple, gracious ‘no’ is sufficient most of the time because people understand and don’t want to be pushy—and more than a few have been in similar situations and understand. Occasionally, you come across that person who demands an explanation and won’t take no for an answer. However, this is usually the exception. So, do the requestor and yourself a favor learn to say ‘no.’

Keith Crosby