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Easily Pick Up the Art of Saying No

Easily Pick Up the Art of Saying No

I used to suck at saying no, but trust me: when you say yes too often and your life no longer feels like your own, you learn really fast!

For me, it wasn’t so much a fear of disappointing people that fueled my “Sure, why not?” attitude–it was my nonexistent sense of individuality. Saying yes was my way of figuring out what I did and didn’t want, like and don’t like. But when it came time to set boundaries, what felt like a gradual shift to me was sudden and shocking to everyone else.

Here’s why saying no is important:

  • If you say yes too much, the quality of every aspect of your life will suffer.
  • You’ll become scattered, stressed, and unable to focus on what’s truly important to you.
  • People will start to consider you enthusiastic, but unreliable.
  • Feelings of overwhelm, inadequacy, guilt and frustration will consume you.
  • Follow-through? What’s that? You’ll completely lose faith in your ability to reach your goals.

Regardless of why you always say yes, the most important thing you can do is equip yourself with ways to say no that won’t hurt or offend anyone. This is especially crucial in the beginning, since no one will be used to you saying no. Eventually, as you establish your boundaries, it will get easier on both sides.

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Ease Into Saying No

When I first started saying no, it wasn’t pretty. At first it was more of a “Nnnyes.” When I was finally able to get the entire word out, I wasn’t prepared for the second half of the equation: the part where I’d spend so much time justifying my “no,” I’d be too exhausted to accomplish what I wanted to with that time.

If you really suck at saying no, the best thing you can do in the moment is say, “Let me get back to you.” This will give you the opportunity to make an informed decision and practice a concise, firm “no” beforehand.

When it comes to the actual act of saying no, here are my favorite strategies to help you get a grip on your life again:

Saying No at Work

With the level of job insecurity flying around these days, it’s completely understandable to feel as if saying no at work will negatively impact your career. As it turns out, the opposite is true! By focusing on quality over quantity on the job, it shows you care about not only the outcome of the projects others are trying to add to your plate, but also about the overall reputation of your company.

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Start off by showing you understand the importance of what they want you to do, or appreciation for being thought of:

  • “I’d love to help you out, but…”
  • “It sounds like a fantastic project, however…”

Then let them know why you’re saying no:

  • “I already have several time-sensitive projects on the go…”
  • “It’s not my area of expertise…”

End with offering them a back-up plan:

  • “I could put you in touch with…”
  • “Debbie in PR is well-connected to the companies you’d like to partner with. Here’s her cell.”

There will be times when you really do want to work with the person in the future, so let them know you hope to be free for their next project (don’t say you definitely will–you don’t want to make a promise you can’t keep).

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Saying No at Home

Saying no to friends and family is especially tricky; you don’t want to hurt their feelings or disappoint them, but at the same time it’s important to voice your wants and needs and do things that are important to you too.

There are those friends and family members who are consistent when it comes to returning the favor, so you can easily say to them, “Sorry, I already have plans,” or, “Work wiped me, I really need to recharge,” and ask for a rain check. They’ll understand and appreciate the give-and-take of your relationship as much as you do.

Then there are those who are dramatic and needy by nature. It’s pretty much guaranteed that they won’t accept an answer like the above–they’ll want to make new plans right on the spot or try to talk you into doing what they want anyway. Remain firm with your answer, and don’t feel the need to continue justifying your reasons. Trust me, they’ll try to counteract everything you say just to get their way. They’ll get the picture eventually. If they don’t, respectfully say, “This is who I am. Take it or leave it.” If they “leave it,” it’s their loss.

The hardest part of saying no? The unavoidable guilt as your family member or friend gives you the “humane society” face–the big eyes, the chin quiver, the crack in their voice that makes you feel like the biggest tool on Earth. But here’s the thing: you’ve said no respectfully, and for good reason. It’s your time to do exactly what you want with, so why settle for anything less?

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The only thing worse than someone being disappointed in you is being disappointed in yourself.

How has saying no changed your life for the better?

More by this author

Krissy Brady

A women's health & wellness writer with a short-term goal to leave women feeling a little more empowered and a little less verklempt.

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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