By Susan Jerrell, TOFT Founder
In a profession that keeps being asked to do more, it is important for teachers to learn to say no.
Teaching is a caring profession and because of that people who choose a teaching career like to help others. Most teachers are people pleasers which makes them great as teachers but terrible at saying no. Just because you are in a teaching career, and chose it most likely because you like to help others, doesn’t mean you have to say yes to everything. If you are a new teacher, now is the perfect time to avoid starting this mistake.
Why it’s hard to say no
Reasons that make it so hard to say the two letter word no:
- You don’t want to let anyone down.
- You are afraid of what other people will think.
- You don’t want anyone to get mad.
- You want to be a team player.
- You don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
- You want to be helpful.
For many of us, this is a learned behavior from childhood. When we saw disappointment from someone we loved if we told them no, we learned to just say yes so we wouldn’t feel their disappointment. How many of you who have trouble saying no were told “ just get along”, “don’t rock the boat” or “put others before yourself?”
Many of us learned it was easier to say yes and make other people happy, and in the process, we forgot about ourselves and our own needs. That is why we have to learn to say no.
This early programming is a hard habit to break and often results in people doing things they have no desire to do, that interferes with other important parts of their lives, or that makes them feel resentful or angry.
If you find yourself in this position, it is quite possible to reprogram your response.
How to reprogram your thinking so you can learn to say no
The first step is believing that you are worthy of saying no. You teach people how to treat you by the way you let them treat you. If you constantly say yes every time someone asks you to do something you will create an expectation. In college you no doubt learned about the self fulfilling prophecy. It is possible you are creating this scenario for yourself.
Does this sound familiar?
- The administration needs someone to come in early on snow days to sit with students. “We’ll ask Ms Dogooder because she won’t mind.”
- Popcorn needs popped before the fall carnival. “Ms. Dogooder will do it. I’ll drop by her room and ask after school.”
- We need someone to chaperone the field trip, make teacher goodie bags, do bus duty, take temperatures, watch the bathrooms… “No problem, just ask Ms. Dogooder. She always says yes.”
You get the idea. If you always say yes, no one will think twice about asking you. In the process, they are overlooking all the other people who could help and you are overburdened. It’s time to realize that your time is just as valuable as everyone else’s. You are worthy of saying no as much as anyone else.
Second, let go of some ego. Helping others sometimes may make you feel good about yourself. You may feel important because they asked you, and it boosts your self-esteem. However, at the same time, you may be disappointed that you have again agreed to do something you don’t want to do.
To combat that you need to assess if what you are being asked to do is because you truly are the expert in that area or because they know you are an easy “ask” (or target). Yes, that requires a hard and honest look at yourself. Are you being taken advantage of simply because the person asking knows you won’t say no?
Another part of losing some of the ego is to ask yourself if there are others who could do a better job or who would like the opportunity. Maybe while you are always saying yes, you are keeping someone else from contributing.
Third, realise that if you say no, the world doesn’t stop. To a people pleaser that is a shocking realization, but people don’t stay disappointed and they won’t dislike you or be angry (at least not for long) if you say no. In fact, it can make others respect you when you stand up for yourself. It will also go a long way in helping you respect yourself.
A good question to ask yourself is “Will this still happen without me?” You may be surprised to find out the answer is YES!
So once you’ve decided that no is going to become part of your vocabulary, how do you start?
How you can learn to say no
Plan ahead of time
This simple step of setting parameters ahead of time makes saying no much easier.
Take some time and decide now:
- what types of things you are willing to do
- when you are willing to do them
- how much time you are willing to give
If you know you need to leave school by 3:30 each day, then you automatically know that anything you are asked to do after that time period is a hard NO. If you know you do not want to spend more than 2 hours a month in extra duties, then you can plan your yes or no around that time frame. If you are willing to do occasional morning bus duty, but you don’t want to sponsor a club, you have already made that decision.
Don’t make decisions on the spot
You don’t have to give an immediate answer for most things you are asked to do. It is perfectly fine to say, “I need time to think about that.” or “Let me check my schedule and get back with you.”
This gives you time to analyze how you feel. Ask yourself these questions:
- Does the thought of doing the task fill me with excitement or dread?
- Is it going to take more time than I want or am able to give?
- Will I feel good about doing it or resentful?
You don’t need to give explanations
Part of learning to say no, is to just say it. Once you make the decision to say no, that is really all you need to say. No long explanation is necessary.
For some reason people pleasers think if they come up with a long explanation, it makes the answer easier for the recipient. It doesn’t. A no is still a no, and their mind is racing ahead to who else they can ask, not on your long drawn out response.
It can also backfire on you. If you say, “No, I’d really like to but my parents are visiting for the weekend.” You have just opened up an opportunity for them to say, “No problem, we can wait and do it the following weekend!”
Instead, try this simple phrase: “Thanks for asking, but I am not going to be able to do that.”
That’s it! It’s polite, short, simple, and to the point. (And did you notice the dreaded word NO isn’t in the phrase at all?)
Get over the guilt
After you have worked up the nerve to say no, people pleasers often go into doubt mode. You wonder what they are thinking about you. You worry they will be mad. You feel guilty because you let someone down.
“Pleasers are so relationship-oriented that they will automatically say what someone else wants to hear, agree with someone else’s ideas, or bow to another’s agenda without hesitation.” -Judith Sills Ph.D.
When you break that cycle, feeling guilty can be a by-product. You need to learn that it’s okay to say no, and that doing so does not make you a bad person.
You also need to realize that other people’s happiness is not determined by you. Your programmed mind is giving you much more power than you really hold.
Learning to let go of the guilt will free you to make decisions based on what you need to do for you instead of responding to how others “might” feel. It’s time to learn how to say no.
Conclusion, give yourself time to learn to say no
Learning to say no is like learning anything else. It takes practice. Start with something small and work your way up to a bigger or more important No.
Instead of working up the courage to tell your boss no, start with saying no to the colleague who asks you to miss your planning period for the third day in a row. Or say no to the parent who wants you to wait a half hour after practice with their child so they can finish their yoga class. Be honest, doesn’t that feel good?
With practice and perseverance, you can learn to say no. You will soon find that you are happier and you’ve reclaimed your life. The added pressure and stress you usually carry is lessening. You have some time to do what you want and need to do for yourself. How’s that for liberating?