No. It’s a simple word, but it can be so difficult to say. Whether it’s a favor asked by a friend, or a request from a colleague, many people will say “yes” because they hate to let others down and saying “no” makes them feel uncomfortable.
According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, people will even agree to unethical requests rather than risk the discomfort of saying no. In a recent study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, researchers recruited 25 college students and had them ask 108 strangers to vandalize a library book by writing a word in ink on one of the pages. While many of the strangers pointed out it was the wrong thing to do, or asked the students to take responsibility for any repercussions, half of the strangers agreed to deface the book — much more than the average of 29 percent that the students predicted. “One of our most fundamental needs is for social connection and a feeling that we belong” Vanessa Bohns, who led the study, told The Wall Street Journal. “Saying ‘no’ feels threatening to our relationships.”
And we worry that saying no will change the way the other person views us. If you have a reputation of being a helpful and accommodating person, it is even harder to say no because you don’t want to hurt that good reputation, says Adam Grant, a professor at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
“Every ‘no’ is a missed opportunity to make a difference and build a relationship,” Grant wrote in a column for The Huffington Post.
Saying no is a rejection and a lot of times it does hurt feelings. But even so, psychologists say, most people probably won’t take our “no” as badly as we think they will. That’s because of something called a “harshness bias” — our tendency to believe others will judge us more severely than they actually do.
For those people pleasers, Grant says there’s a big difference between pleasing people and helping them. “Being a giver is not about saying yes to all of the people all of the time to all of the requests. It’s about saying yes to some of the people (generous givers who will return your favor, but not necessarily the selfish takers) some of the time (when it won’t compromise your own goals and ambitions) to some of the requests (when you have resources or skills that are uniquely relevant).”
Always saying yes can make us overcommitted and put us under too much pressure. Saying no helps us protect our own priorities, psychologist Judith Sills told The Wall Street Journal. Another important reason to say no, Sills says, is it keeps us from caving in to peer pressure. “To have your own values, sometimes you have to say ‘no’ to people with whom you don’t agree,” Sills says.