Jan 7, 2019
Do you have trouble saying "no"? Lots of people do—and it can
sometimes get you into trouble.
In spite of many best-selling books on assertiveness, like
Manuel J. Smith’s classic book, “When I Say No I Feel Guilty,” many
people still have trouble saying no. For example, you may
have led someone on in a romantic relationship because you were
afraid of saying no and breaking the other person’s heart.
Or, you feel burned out, because you're always giving, giving,
giving because you can’t—or won’t—say no. Or, you may end
up hopelessly over committed at work, putting in long hours and
feeling secretly used and resentful, because you don't know how to
In this Podcast, Fabrice and David interview Dr. Jill Levitt,
the Director of Clinical Training at the Feeling Good Institute in
Mt. View, California. Jill confesses that she sometimes has trouble
saying no—to new referrals when her practice is full, to
her family, who she loves tremendously, as well as colleagues who
request this or that. David admits he sometimes has similar
There are lots of reasons why you may have trouble saying
no. Some are negative, but some are actually positive,
- Conflict phobia. You are afraid that if you
say no, the other person will get angry and annoyed with
- Fear of disapproval or rejection. You are
afraid that if you say no, the other person will judge
you, disapprove of you, or reject you.
- Perceived narcissism. You believe that other
people will lash out if you don’t give in to their demands.
- Submissiveness. You believe that your role in
relationships is to make others happy, even at the expense of your
own needs and feelings.
- Joy / Love. Jill confesses that she often says
yes to this or that request because she feels it will be
fun, or because she doesn’t want to let the other person down. One
example would be baking brownies for her sons when she’s exhausted.
One consequences would be giving in, but resenting the person she’s
saying yes to.
- Guilt. You may feel that if you say
no, it means that you are somehow “bad,” and that it’s
your duty to please other people.
- Achievement addiction. You say yes to
almost everything because you think this or that activity will make
you more productive and successful.
Fabrice, Jill and David discuss many strategies for overcoming
this problem, including:
- Empathy--as a therapist, you always want to start with empathy,
without trying to "help."
- Motivational strategies such as the Paradoxical Cost-Benefit
Analysis, Positive Reframing, or even the Straightforward
Cost-Benefit Analysis. This is crucial to find out if patients
really want to change before using methods to help them become more
- Punting. This is a delay strategy that David uses to get
himself off the hook when feeling ambivalent about a request. For
example, you can say, “I’m really pleased and honored that you’ve
invited me to do X. I’m going to check with my schedule and see
what might be possible, and I’ll get back to you.” Then, he has a
day or two to work up the courage to say “no” in a kindly way.
- Write down your Negative Thoughts. when you're feeling
compelled to say yes because you're feeling anxious or
guilty, Ask yourself, "What am I telling myself?" Those thoughts
will nearly always be distorted. Then ask yourself how you could
challenge and talk back to those thoughts.
- Fabrice, Jill and David also discuss how to say no
effectively and demonstrate this skill in a role-play with Jill
that is surprisingly challenging!
They also demonstrate the Feared Fantasy, a powerful technique
to help patients say no, using Jill’s example. Her worst
fear is that if she says no to colleagues, they will:
- Feel disappointed.
- Become angry and demanding.
- Will say they won’t work with her in the future if she says
- Will say they’ll get someone else to do whatever it is, and
that Jill will miss out on all the fun.
David and Fabrice play the role of colleagues from hell who put
demands on Jill to do another podcast and then get upset when she
tries to say no. The dialogue is quite entertaining and
dynamic, and Jill finds it helpful, though anxiety-provoking.
They also describe the importance of giving patients homework to
actually say no between sessions to requests that are
excessive or inappropriate.