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Nancy Okerlund
Volume 2, Issue 3, 02/14/08

No! No! A Thousand Times No!!

A few weeks ago I heard a leadership expert say that the ability to say no is one of the most important skills a person can have. He also happens to be an expert in body language, so he demonstrated the difference between a skillful and an unskillful "no". (The skillful one I'd describe as "friendly confidence" body language.)

I was impressed. Maybe it was "wishful looking" on my part, but it seemed like if you do it well in your body everybody can feel almost cheerful that you just said "no". It's been on my mind every since.

It was great to get a reminder about the importance of being good at saying no. But what I'm wondering about is the happiness factor: how to get good at being happy saying no.

Ellen DeGeneres says in America we're suffering from TBS: Too Busy Syndrome. Being good at saying no is one remedy for that malady, across the board. Even if we didn't have TBS, it's part of basic wellbeing to be good at making choices saying yes, saying no, opening things up, setting limits.

It's when I think of myself as an introvert that the happiness question comes up.

It makes sense for everybody to be skillful no-sayers. For introverts, it's essential. Here are a couple key reasons: for one thing, our energy flows out faster than extroverts' and it takes longer to replenish. (Plus, we need a particular environment low-stimulation to do the replenishing.) Managing our energy well in this over-stimulating world means being good at setting limits.

For another, introverts don't get what the researchers call "hap hits" ("hits" of happiness) from being up on the surface. We get pleasure from experiencing things in depth. We like to reflect. We like to be thorough. But we live in a world that operates a lot like channel-surfing. Protecting our depth-seeking selves from too much living in the busy shallows involves saying no.

But back to happiness. It's one thing to be good at saying no. (In fact, the research on temperament gives introverts a high grade for being able to say no to ourselves.) It's another to enjoy it.

I notice there's a difference between saying no to the "outside world" and saying no to myself. I've grown to often actually enjoy saying no to things I know will over-stimulate me. Like a big New Year's Eve party, for instance, or a "networking event" (which I've officially given up forever :-)). It's a pleasure to imagine the over-stimulation I've avoided.

But setting the more internal limits seems harder, more complicated. Of these generalizations about introverts, I identify with every one: Introverts love to learn. They feel things deeply. They're good at concentrating. They like to think.

For me, saying no to a good thought process or a strong feeling or something new to learn about is hardly ever enjoyable. And because that internal land of the mind is so fluid and not very concrete, in the moment it can seem like there's room for everything the sky's the limit! Not true, of course, because I live in a body (and wear a watch.)

Sometimes I say no to myself and feel deprived. Sometimes I don't say no and feel overwhelmed or exhausted.

And then there are the times when I find a way to step outside my mind (bless its heart) to look for the yes or no. Sometimes it's by walking, sometimes following my breath, sometimes climbing into the bathtub. However I get there, the answer usually comes pretty easily and I'm almost always satisfied.

So here's my plan: I'm going to unlock the secret of "friendly confidence" body language. I'm going to keep fending off the outside world, with a smile. And I'm going to negotiate more time off for my busy mind.

And no big deal: just say no :-).

End of food for thought on to some practical ideas:

A Practical Idea for Introverts and Extroverts

Pick a day to track how many times you say no (to yourself and to others) and for what reasons. Also notice how you feel each time. Reflect on it and take a next step for yourself in the "no" department.

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