No Means No

Thursday, December 20, 2007
No means no. And it doesn't apply just to sexual encounters, either.

When people won't take "no" for an answer, they're trying to control you. Think about it. Any time you say "no" and the person asking the question doesn't accept that as your final answer, what are they trying to do? They're trying to control your behavior by convincing you that your answer should really be "yes." The "no" answer may be what's best for you, but in many cases, that fact doesn't appear to concern the asker.

Consider these examples:
  • Your child wants to go to a risky party. You say "no," and they proceed to try and convince you letting them go is the right thing to do. Letting them go is certainly not in your best interest, if your best interest is being a concerned and disciplined parent.
  • Your boss wants you to take on an additional project because you're her best worker and she knows if she gives it to you it will get done right with very little supervision on her part. She has no intention of reducing your other tasks to allow you additional time to complete this project. You say "no," and she tries to convince you to change your mind. Is it in your best interest to change your mind and give up your evenings and weekends to do the project? Probably not, but you can bet it's in hers.
  • An acquaintance needs a favor that will take you some time to complete. You really don't consider the person a friend, and don't feel obligated to give up the time to do the favor. He tries to convince you to do the favor by implying you're a bad friend/person if you stick to your "no."

This relates to the guilt issue, but it really has more to do with boundaries and respect. Where do I draw the line between what's best for me, and my obligations to others?

Like many women, I sometimes have trouble saying "no" and meaning it in terms of setting boundaries. I don't want to be a bad friend, a bad colleague, a bad human. So I'll say "yes" in order to meet others' expectations of me, when the best choice for me is a resounding "no!" So I've tried to come up with some general rules, in order to keep my boundaries intact:

  • If someone asks me to do a work-related task, I ask myself, "Is this normally something I should do in my job title? Is this someone else's job, and if so, why aren't they doing it? Is the person asking me to perform the task trying to get out of doing it themselves (trying to make their lives easier at the expense of mine)? Are they genuinely asking for help, or are they treating me like their bug-eating bitch-girl? What's the best course of action for the company?" The answers to these questions will help me to determine if I say "yes" or "no." I find the older I get, the more I say "no," mostly because other people's helplessness just gets on my damn nerves.
  • If a family member asks me for something, my answer depends on a number of things, such as my guilt factor, if the person in question is a self-righteous dick, if the person bothers to acknowledge my existence the rest of the time, and how I feel about them. Like many large families, I find that some of my relatives can write their own ticket with me just because I love them that much, and others can kiss my butt at the best of times. Most fall somewhere in between.
  • If it's a friend - a real friend, not some person I happen to be friendly with - then the answer's almost always "yes." And I'm okay with that. Because the people I consider to be my real friends are not the kind of people who take advantage of me, by definition. Casual friends fall under the same criteria as family.

The idea that someones not taking "no" for an answer means they're trying to control me is something I have to keep in the front of my mind. My natural inclination is to help whenever I can, so in the past I've managed to overextend myself on a fairly regular basis. That's not good for me. It also annoys my Smart Man, because when I'm overextended I go from being a Hot Chick to a Bitchy Chick. And no one wants that.

8 comments:

Signonthedottedline said...

Now why can't Oprah simmer it down this succinctly? Jeez, it takes her a whole hour to get this simple statement out. Janiece should go to Oprah and tell her to cut it short, sister.
I know many people that need to heed this credo. Just how exactly does everyone profit if you are trying to do a gajillion things and actually accomplish nothing?
Mom and Dad ask, I do. Brother? Probably, but he doesn't hardly email me as we live at opposite ends of teh country. Many others? Sorry, I have plans.......
Janiece? Rolled tacos? ANYTIME! Want me to fly them to you?
(note to self: pester Janiece to tell you the great secret to italics and bold and shit in this HTML format or whatever it is.)

MWT said...

Italics: < i >italics< / i >
bold: < b >bold< / b >
link: < a href="url">text< / a >
shit: uh, you're on your own there, but I recommend a toilet.

I've found that people who refuse to take "no" for an answer will also often go on to accuse you of being selfish and ungrateful. It can get really annoying.

Also, this post reminds me of a half-baked rant I wrote a while ago about respect of boundaries as a sign of maturity.

Janiece Murphy said...

Amy, you know what's funny about your entry? The phrase "No means no. If people won't take no for an answer, they're trying to control you" came from an Oprah show. At least I think it did...it's been on the my list of "Things I need to learn, again and again and again" for many years. I also sent you a quick guide to italics and such. And yes, you've always been on my list of "always yes" people, and you always will. Unless you decide to pursue dogfighting or some such. I'm just sayin'.

MWT, I don't think your rant was half-baked. I thought it was insightful, and I'm glad to learn a bit more about you. And you are so right about people who accuse you of being selfish when you say no. From where I sit, it's just another way to try and leverage guilt to their own advantage. That particular tactic rarely works on me these days. My usual response? "Piss off."

Jeri said...

Amen, sister!

I deal with family on both sides that are total control freaks, completely unwilling to grant that a 40-something year old woman can make her own life and parenting decisions without asking for input. The ILs, especially, are loving, generous, and WAY demanding and intrusive.

And of course, there's always work, where increased time slicing usually results in greater productivity, right? ;)

So, this is something I am always, always working on. The perspective of control is really interesting, it gives me a lot of insight.

Janiece Murphy said...

Jeri, I loved your comment regarding the assumption that as a 40+ year old woman, you're apparently incapable of making decisions that will result in the desired outcome without input from your "elders."

Hehe.

I don't know what we were thinking, assuming we were the architects of our own lives. Delusional, I guess.

Michelle K said...

I used to be terrible about this--and it got me into a lot of stupid/bad/dangerous situations. (Oh, your acquaintance who's in an abusive relationship wants to leave? I'll help. ... Gee, how is it that I am the only person the jackass ends up recognizing?)

Anymore, I can't think of anyone who could possibly ask me for anything that I wouldn't jump to help them, mostly because the only jerk I deal with on a regular basis is my mom, and I'll help her for my dad's sake.

My Dad's side of the family is pretty awesome, so it makes me happy whenever I can help someone, because they've done so much to help me in the past.

But to circle back around, it took me quite awhile to learn that lesson that NO is a good word to learn.

MWT said...

My mother definitely thinks I'm incapable of independent life. She still gets all gushy impressed whenever she sees me do something that demonstrates it - along the lines of praising a clever toddler. Even if it's something I've been doing as a matter of routine for years. I always figured it was a mother thing. ;)

Janiece Murphy said...

MWT, it may be a mother thing, but I sure hope to avoid it once my kids are on their own.

No doubt about it. No=good.