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Learning to say 'No' to those in your life

WE could learn a few things from toddlers. They may not be able to wipe their bottoms, pronounce many words, kick a ball without falling over or have lunch without wearing more food than they eat, but ask them to do something they'd rather not, and the answer will be an immediate and resolute no.

It's a shame that the ability to say no is stamped out over the next 30 or so years. Saying no makes us feel we are being disagreeable, letting people down, missing an opportunity or risking conflict.

In reality, saying yes all of the time is stressful, frustrating and leads to resentment. Most of us falter over babbled excuses, rather than just saying "Sorry, but no".

I'm not suggesting you take the toddler approach and scream "NOOOO!" through a haze of snot and tears -- that wouldn't be dignified. But there are ways to say no, and still walk away with both parties feeling uninjured.


Unreasonable workplace demands take many shapes. It could be you feel that too much is being asked of you. If this is the case, remind your boss of what else you have on, and ask them to suggest which projects you should sideline to take on the extra work. Point made.

Or someone might ask you for contacts or information that you don't feel are appropriate to share; tell them you don't think you have anything relevant to them at the moment, but if that changes, you'll let them know.

Another workplace dilemma is the office equivalent of asking someone if your bum looks big in something. It's your boss asking you if you like their new idea. And you don't. But what do you do?

The best course of action is either refer to a previous idea and say you preferred that one (keeping it positive!), or deliberately misunderstand the idea and add in your own amendments to improve it as you do. Then make sure you never have to work on it.


It could be anything from something you're not comfortable with in the bedroom to inviting the in-laws for Christmas . . . again.

The best way to approach it is to offer alternatives; suggest your partner sees his parents the day you are out with your sister (rather than telling him you'd rather rinse your eyes with lemon juice than see his mother again).

And one for men: if she asks if an outfit looks good, but you saw more flattering clothes on the Dale Farm protesters, remind her of another outfit that you preferred.

And what of the biggest question that can be popped? Most couples these days discuss engagements in advance, so it's never a complete shock. But if is going to be a complete bolt from the blue, just don't do in front of a large group of people, as if the answer is no, at least there won't be witnesses.


Irish people are renowned the world over for their easygoing nature. We don't complain in restaurants, we're always up for getting the next round in, and we'll never say no to an invitation. But after the fact, we will give out and moan to anyone who will listen about how bad the food was, how we were stung for a ¤40 round when we only had a coke and how we never wanted to go to that wedding.

Well people of Ireland, the times they have a'changed. The next time your food is bad, say something then and there. You'll be surprised when, nine times out of 10, nobody will pull a face, scream at you or look at you as if you're an imbecile. They may just fix the problem and be happy to help.

When it comes to rounds or bill splitting, take the same approach. Friends may just thank you for bringing up what they never could.


It seems like parents spend their lives saying no to their children and feeling guilty for it. It starts off with no to that extra bag of sweets, then no to the millionth toy request at Christmas, or the party for 30 at birthday time. Then it's no to the underage disco, no to the bottle of cider, and no to staying out all night.

All parental nos stem from two main concerns: what's good for the child and financial pressure. And although explaining to kids why they can't do or have something might fall on deaf ears, always explain the reasons. They will get over it. I'm quite glad my request for a bubble perm in 1989 was turned down . . . thanks Mum.


How do you say no to a request to something as personal as being a bridesmaid or godparent without ruining a friendship? If you just can't commit to the job, then you have to find a way to get out with the least damage.

It may inevitably lead to a fallout, but this may still be preferable to taking on a role that you have neither the time nor the energy for. Not to mention the hideous bridesmaid dress or having to buy the snotty twins more expensive gifts than anyone else for the next 18 years.

There are always people who just won't hear the word no and may need to be shown in other ways. I used to socialise with a group many moons ago, and one of the girls would always reach into my bag, take out my lipstick and use it. She thought it was cutely familiar. I thought it was hideously overly-so and said so.

Eventually, I rubbed the end of a lipstick in chilli -- the really hot stuff -- and left my open bag within easy reach. "No!" I hear you gasp.