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E-Quipped to... Say no
In most countries in the world, the coronavirus lockdown restrictions are getting less and less or disappearing altogether and although this is good news for many, there are others for whom the reduced restrictions are causing increased anxiety. This is because of the pressure to go back to the workplace or to ‘get out there’ and socialise again.
I’m finding that the people who are anxious tend to fall into two groups: those who are at high risk of COVID and introverts.
Image by: jeftymatricio1
High Risk Individuals
It’s understandable that those individuals who are deemed to be at a high risk of dying from COVID, or those who are in contact with loved ones who are at high risk, are likely to be anxious. After all, we just do not yet know enough about COVID and its transmission to know what is safe and unsafe when it comes to infection prevention, and that uncertainty alone can cause anxiety, besides the thought of ourselves or loved ones suffering from Long Covid or dying.
An introvert is someone who prefers calm, minimally stimulating environments, limits social engagement, and embraces solitude. (If you would rather work through your feelings in your diary than have a conversation, you are probably an introvert).
To read more about introverts read my article: Understanding Extraverts and Introverts
Given these personality qualities, it is more than understandable that strong introverts, who have been in lockdown alone or with only a few other people, have enjoyed the lockdown experience. They’ve loved being able to stay at home without feeling guilty or having to make excuses. The thought of going back to open-plan offices or busy and noisy work environments, or being under pressure to engage socially with others again, is stressful and anxiety-provoking.
So What Can You do to Reduce Your Anxiety?
The answer is simple: When you have a choice, only do what you feel safe and comfortable doing and say no to anything else.
Before COVID this principle applied and no one questioned it, so I have been surprised by how many of my clients talk as if the principle no longer applies. I am hearing things like:
“My friends say that I must get out, so I guess I must.”
“My brother and his wife think I am ridiculous because I don’t want to out, so on Saturday I am going to a restaurant with them. I am really scared.”
Of course there be will be some situations where you do not have a choice, for example, your boss tells you that you have to come back to the office. In these situations, negotiation skills may be required if you have valid reasons why you should not be in the workplace, but for most social situations, when you actually do have a choice, it’s ok to go at your own pace. It’s ok to only do what you feel safe and comfortable to do. It’s ok to say no.
Unfortunately though, many people struggle to say no. There are a variety of reasons for this, and some of them are psychologically complex (like the need to appear agreeable and ‘nice’ to everyone at all times, even at great cost to yourself), but some of them are simple, such as:
If you are one of these people, there is a formula you can follow which will ensure that you are clear, direct and yet respectful.
How to say “No”
This is based on a right to say “no” to what feels uncomfortable or what you are not ready to do.
1. Acknowledge the Other Person's Request
E.g. “Thank you for inviting me to your party.”
This softens the “no” response you are giving. Your “no” response will not sound so harsh, which helps to keep the communication smooth and pleasant, even though you are not giving them the answer they want.
“I realise that you need help with…”
2. Clearly Say NO.
E.g. “Unfortunately I will not be able to..."
Be absolutely clear that you are saying no. Do not let it be open to interpretation because the person making the request will either hear what they want to hear (that ultimately you will say yes) or they will pounce on your hesitation and try to push you to say yes.
Don’t say things like:
“I’m not really sure if I can…”
If you know that you want to say no, do not put it off until later, because you will end up back at the beginning having to say no all over again. So instead of saying no just the once, you will have to do it twice!
So don’t say things like:
“Let me think about it…”
3. Give a Brief Reason for Declining
In some instances, you may want to give the other person some explanation for turning down their request, but this is optional.
It is often helpful to give an explanation because when people realise there is a genuine reason for your saying no, they often feel better about being turned down. The general rule of thumb is: Give an explanation unless it is personal, embarrassing or will hurt the other person.
Remember you have the right not to have to justify or explain your behaviour to others.
Don’t lie about why you are saying no. Rather give no reason at all, or be a little vague. It is perfectly acceptable to say something like: “Thank you for the invitation. Unfortunately I will not be able to attend.” (No reason). Or “I really appreciate your including me in the running group, but sadly I will not be able to join you because I have another commitment.” (Vague explanation).
4. Suggest an Alternative Proposal
Do this if possible, and preferably where both your and the other person's needs will be met.
Thank you for inviting me to your tea party (acknowledgement), but I won’t join you this time because I am anxious about coming into contact with a lot of people and getting COVID (brief reason). I would love to see you though, so how about coming over to my place for a cup of tea in my garden? (Alternative option).
So if you are experiencing anxiety because you feel obliged to attend social events, remember that it’s ok to control your own life and just say no. I trust that the 4-step process will help you.
Thank you for the Feedback
Thanks to Tess, Joao, Sharon, Diann, Reg, Suntosh, Liz, Cheryl, Anne, Evelyn and Tori for the feedback after my last newsletter.
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You may have been forwarded this email by a friend. In that case, allow me to introduce myself. I am a psychologist, speaker, trainer, coach and hat lover based in Kloof, a suburb of Durban, South Africa. I also do online counselling and coaching and I have clients all over the world.
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