So, your best friend calls up and asks you to take him to the airport the next morning at 5 a.m. the day of your big presentation. Think the answer’s easy? Well, not always.
“Saying ‘no’ is taking a risk. It can be hard to put it out there,” says Stephen Ilardi, an associate professor of clinical psychology at Kansas University.
Vicki Wilkerson, an avid volunteer and president of the Board of Directors of United Way of Douglas County, says it can be difficult to make decisions where and when to give your time.
“I recently had to stop volunteering at Meals on Wheels, which was very hard for me,” says Wilkerson, who found the social interaction of seniors to be particularly meaningful. “Sometimes you are the most important part of their day.”
When making decisions about where to give your most precious commodity — your time — Wilkerson encourages people to follow their passion
“You want to make sure you’re focused on the things you really care about,” Wilkerson says.
Ilardi suggests an assertive, rather than a passive or aggressive approach, to balancing your own needs.
“You should try to be generous, carefully weigh all requests, and ask the question, ‘Do I have the resources to take this on?’” he says.
If the answer is yes, that can be good.
“It’s the give-and-take among friends that makes people sane and life worthwhile,” says Chris Crandall, professor of social psychology at KU.
Crandall finds that reciprocity can be quite powerful.
“In a good way, it makes us happy and our lives efficient, especially when I cooperate with friends to get things done together I couldn’t do on my own,” Crandall says. “But unfortunately, it’s also an opportunity for manipulation. People can exploit each other by offering first a small favor, and then requesting a large one in return.”
But just how do you say no?
“The first thing we can do is acknowledge the validity of the other person and the request,” Ilardi says. “The next thing can be to give your point of view — i.e., ‘I understand that’s what friends are for, and under normal circumstances I would, but here’s what’s going on with me.’”
But ultimately, for many of us, there can be bigger issues to deal with.
“For a lot of people, there’s that core belief that they don’t have the right to say no — I don’t deserve to have my own needs met,” Ilardi says. “But you need to ask yourself, ‘What happens if I don’t take care of myself?’ If I can’t meet my own needs than I won’t be able to help other people. Once I get that, then I can work on communication.”