How do you say no to people who get angry at you for saying no? This is a question I received in writing. Every now and then, I will post one of the great questions I receive by email or in workshops.
Saying No when you need to is an essential life skill, leadership skill, and wellness skill.
When other people get angry about your boundary, it means they can see your boundary. Stand up and take a bow. You have been heard! It does not mean you should change your boundary for them. But very often, people do.
It’s normal for other people to try to push and manipulate your boundary. Expect it. It’s helpful to think ahead about how the people in your life might try to manipulate your boundary. If you were going on a trip to somewhere warm and sunny, you would pack your bag for the weather you expect. You may pack sun lotion, a bathing suit, sandals, a hat, etc. It is useful to “pack” for your boundary as well. Think about what “might” happen. Expect to be pushed.
Say “no” and remember the anger is not yours. If I can anticipate it, I may say, “I’m sorry if this is disappointing, but I have decided this is No for me.” I have written a little song that I sing to myself about being sorry if I disappoint. Whenever I have a No that is hard for me say, I sing this song to myself. It helps me.
Of course if you are not a songwriter, you could sing Tom Petty's song I Won't Back Down: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvlTJrNJ5lA
Sometimes people use anger because they want you to change your No to a Yes. If they are trying to use anger to change your No, remember, they are not in control of your Yes and No decisions. You are.
You are not causing the anger. You are not in control of their feelings.
If someone wants to be angry, he can go take care of the anger away from you. You could say, “I can see that you are upset. My No is not changing on this topic, but I’m going to give you some space to take care of your feelings.” Do not try to manage their feelings about your boundaries. You are allowed to have boundaries. You decide where they are.
Your job is to take care of your own emotions.
Sometimes we want to make everything OK for everyone. Self-soothing – managing our own feelings – is an important life-skill.
Sometimes an angry person is not willing to use other solutions. She wants you to do something, and you have said No. You may suggest there are other options to consider.
Anger is often made of other emotions, such as sadness or fear or a combination. It helps to acknowledge someone’s feelings, but please do not try to change their feelings, just as other people do not change your boundaries.