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I Don't Have The Bandwidth: 12 Ways To Effectively Say “No”

Girl, "no" is a whole sentence. Use it often.

Workin' Girl

Have you ever gotten to the point where you just can't take it anymore? I mean of anything--conversations, social media, family, work, etc. It's that place where "I'm too tired for this," and "If another person asks me for anything," meet and collide. Too often we run on fumes trying to overproduce or over-function for those around us because they are depending on us. Black women especially struggle with saying "no" for fear of looking problematic or angry.

People-pleasing is at the root of always being available or saying "yes", even if it is at the sacrifice of our own mental health. I will admit that it took me years to learn how to say "no" and to create boundaries around myself and I, still to this day, will fall victim to others' demands if I am not diligent. However, it is important for me to prioritize my energy, my space, and my mental health. Get in the habit of radically accepting the fact that "no" is a complete sentence.

Why Do We Say "Yes" When We Really Mean "No"?

Boundaries are necessary to put into place when you are used to being the dependable one in any group setting. We all know that if we don't set these boundaries to take care of ourselves, we will be no good for anyone else. They are, in fact, an act of self-preservation in the name of self-care. Having some safeguards to protect what little energy you have left is a helpful way to make sure you have enough energy to process your own thoughts. So why do we say "yes" when we really mean "no"? According to an article in Psychology Today, we say "yes" for three reasons:

  • wanting to maintain a certain image to others and themselves (e.g. "I am unselfish, cooperative, accommodating"; "I am indispensable");
  • fearing the loss of something (a spouse's love, a friendship, a job)
  • believing that they cannot or should not say "no"
For women, we say "yes" because society has conditioned us to be agreeable. But for Black women, there are other things at play as to why we say "yes" when we really mean "no".

An article in Health.com explores the idea of Black women reclaiming their power by asserting themselves in various ways and saying "no". The article points out other contributors to Black women's reluctance to say "no". Tichianaa Armah, MD, Medical Director and Vice President of Behavioral Health at Community Health Center, Inc., told Health.com:

"There's a connection [of BIPOC women's] hindered ability to say no because of financial constraints."
"[That's] because Black women and many BIPOC women do not have the cushion that comes with intergenerational wealth or assets that many white women have."

Long story short, we have to deal with respectability politics in order to not get labeled as if life is not stressful enough.

Effective Ways To Say "No"

Even still, that is not enough reason to not stand up for yourself and create boundaries to enforce how people engage with you. If you don't have the bandwidth, here are a few ways to say "no" to get your point across tactfully.

  • " I don't have the bandwidth for that right now. Let's circle back to this when I have less on my plate."
  • "I am too tired to absorb that information at this moment."
  • "Let's stick a pin in this for now and think about revisiting it later."
  • "I can't download what you are asking me to do."
  • "Thanks for reaching out to me, but I am going to pass at this time"
  • "Unfortunately at this time, I am unable to do that. But here are some people I can refer you to."
  • "It's a 'no' for me at this time."
  • "I don't think I am the right fit for that. But, thank you for bringing that to my attention."
  • "At this time I have a lot going on, so it is probably better to find a different resource."
  • "Honestly, I am not going to be able to give my best effort."
  • "I would love to help out, but I would be over-committing myself and that would not serve either one of us."
  • "I am going to have to respectfully decline at this time."

I could go on and on with a million ways to say what needs to be said but never underestimate the power of simply saying "no". This is all you need to clearly get to your desired outcome. Never feel like you have to explain why you said "no". It truly is no one's business, but I have found it is always best to be honest if I ever felt compelled to further reinforce my answer with a reason.

Even if that reason is, "Because I don't want to." Rarely does it ever get this far, I find that most people are generally respectful of my wishes. If they push any further, I stick to my guns and reaffirm that I said what I said, no more discussion. We teach people how to treat us. If we don't put ourselves first then why would anyone else?

There is one resource that I think is appropriate to mention if you are still feeling like you need more, it is the book, The Book of No - 250 Ways to Say It, Mean It and Stop People Pleasing Forever. It is a great resource for finding the strength inside to show up for yourself and set boundaries. If there is anything you should walk away with from this article, it is to say what you mean, be firm, and have no regrets.

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