You stop at a friend’s place for a coffee. He offers you a drink. You say no, because you won’t be there very long and you have a long drive after you leave. But you found it hard to say no, because it was a nice gesture and you would enjoy a drink, so you explain that you have to make the long drive when you leave…Then your friend says one won’t hurt you, and besides, you can stay a while longer. You end up accepting the drink, but feel uncomfortable. You thought you had made it clear, so why did he pressure you?
Another example: you are on a business trip, bump into an old boyfriend and decide to have dinner together. You have a great visit, but at the end of the meal he invites you to spend the night with him in his hotel room. He appears disappointed when you say no, so you remind him that you are in a committed relationship and then you add that you have an early-morning meeting you have to prepare for. As you debate the importance of the meeting with him and what it means to be in a committed relationship, you wonder why he is so persistent after you already said no. Hint: it’s not about the hormones.
A final example: after a great deal of reflection and marriage counseling, you decide to end your marriage. When you announce you are leaving, the first thing out of his mouth is “Why?” You tell him honestly you can’t live with his infidelity and alcohol abuse. He declares that he has already changed and he convinces you to give him another chance. You feel conned, but there you are, still with him. What went wrong?
The problem stems from the fact that most people, including you and including me, have been socialized to be nice to others and not hurt them. However, we all have to make decisions, and your decisions are yours alone to make. If your decision might not sit well with the other person and you don’t want to hurt or offend that person, you try to handle your internal conflict by explaining your decision. Explaining is natural and almost automatic.
In each of the examples above you said no and meant it: you won’t have a drink, you won’t spend the night with your old boyfriend and you won’t stay in your marriage. However, as soon as you even hinted at an explanation, the other party had you hooked. Your “no” had become “I’m willing to negotiate,” no matter what you intended.
No with an explanation is negotiation. No with nothing added means no. Every eight year old and every mother of an eight year old knows that!
It may sound counterintuitive that “no” without an explanation is much stronger than “no” with an explanation. Perhaps that is part of why it is so hard to resist offering an explanation.
Remind yourself of this truth: if you have made a personal decision that is yours to make, you do not owe anyone an explanation, especially an unwanted suitor or an about-to-be ex-spouse.
I invite your to reflect on times you let yourself slip into nogotion after you said no and meant it. How did it work for you?