When Alex Head was aged 17 and working in a kitchen, she was told by a chef that she’d never make it in the hospitality industry. Today she’s the founder of Social Pantry and Social Pantry Café, and employs 25 people, 10% of whom are ex-offenders (a commitment she’s made to giving people second chances). Here, Alex explains what you need to know about using and hearing the word ‘no’…
1. Listen for the reasoning behind why someone is saying no
When you hear the word no, don’t take it at face value. Instead, think about why it’s being said.
In business and your personal life, put yourself in their shoes and it will help you gain perspective. Whether someone is simply saying, ‘No, I can’t come for a coffee’ or something that has real impact such as, ‘No, you can’t have this job’ or ‘No, you’re not capable’, think about why they’re saying no. Try to use it as a learning mechanism.
That could be learning to be more empathetic, or discovering where your skills are most valued.
2. But don’t always listen to no
Historically, women have been told no far more often than men. So, while it’s good to try and understand the reasoning behind a no, it’s critical that you don’t necessarily listen to that.
If someone is saying you can’t when you know you can, don’t listen to them.
3. The best part of being told no is proving people wrong
Sometimes a firm ‘no’ can fuel you better than anything else.
It can be the power behind every decision from then on, or it can motivate you to really succeed.
Don’t let the negatives around ‘no’ dishearten you – harness how it makes you feel.
4. Being a yes person is not always beneficial
When I’m using the word ‘no’, I completely over-explain and over-compensate. I’m still not totally comfortable with saying no and I’m still on a bit of a journey with it.
But there are genuine benefits in feeling comfortable saying no.
I use it to maintain a work/life balance and manage my anxiety so that I have enough downtime.
Understanding how to say it is key, though. It’s never about not wanting to do something. It’s about not being able to, then explaining why.
The more you do it, the more comfortable you get with it.
5. No allows you to set boundaries
Saying no sets boundaries and ultimately, boundaries enable you to find balance and embracing our true selves. You see life more clearly when you take a moment to breathe.
6. Say no to guilt
There’s a certain amount of guilt that comes with no. Will people think you’re a rubbish friend? Are you turning down opportunities you may not get again?
I’m 33 now, but I was 30 when I started saying, ‘Actually no, I’m going to prioritise two things in the evenings this week’, because I would just get so tired. By the end of the week, I felt so much better. I wasn’t completely exhausted. I was better natured and wasn’t losing my temper over small things.
I was able to maintain that balance by saying no and that isn’t something you should feel guilty about.
7. No allows you to be in control
I read about the term ‘superwoman syndrome’, which is when you’re trying to do it all in multiple roles – family, friends, business, partner.
That can suck the energy out of you and you can often lose yourself in the endless pursuit of perfection.
So, being in control and deciding what matters is integral to your wellbeing. Using the word ‘no’ will help you do that.
8. It’s totally fine to change your mind
That slightly over-ambitious ‘Yeah, great’ doesn’t mean you’re tied in forever.
Would it be so bad if we were all just honest and said, ‘I love you, but I can’t be bothered tonight’?
9. Don’t use no as an excuse to stay in your comfort zone
Don’t instantly say no if something scares you.
Embrace it, think about it, and consider saying yes instead. How dire are the consequences going to be?
Even if it doesn’t turn out the way you want, chances are you’ll have learnt something and grown along the way.
On a personal level and business-wise, the best things I’ve done are when I’ve been anxious about it and something I would have normally said no to.
The fun bit about not saying no is realising that you don’t regret it.
10. Do two things a year you’d normally say no to
It can be anything.
A friend recently asked me if I wanted to go ice skating and in my head I was like, ‘Hell no’.
But instead, I decided to do something I usually wouldn’t. I was rubbish at it, but it was amazing fun. There’s a great value and a genuine emotional benefit in breaking your routine and seeing what happens.