Updated: Feb 4
The people we surround ourselves with are the ones that we have to say no to the most, yet this is where people have the hardest time setting boundaries. Due to the fear of hurting feelings, not fitting in, or the strong desire to avoid conflict- many people neglect to develop the critical skill of standing up for themselves to the people they care about.
Consequentially, they continuously mould themselves to fit the interests of others and wind up in a place that's far from who they are and what they want for themselves. And this is where people get taken advantage of. It's not easy, but we must become our most loyal advocate even when it's to our best friend, spouse, or parents. This post is a template for how we can do exactly that.
Some Background on Human Psychology
First we must understand a concept about human nature best described by the idiom which dates back to 1546:
'Give someone an inch and they'll take a mile'.
Definition: If you yield even a little, you’ll be taken advantage of. Compromise a little, and you will later compromise more.
People will try to get away with as much as they're allowed to. When someone wants you to do something, they push you right up until you start to firmly resist and then they ease off. And then they will push you a little farther next time until you resist again. This process goes on until suddenly you're in a situation you have no idea how you wound up in, doing things you didn’t want to do in the first place, and perhaps with some useless product you didn't want to buy.
The Inch By Inch process is used by people in all sorts of positions who are trained to not take no as an answer ('never give up!'), and that once you get someone to say 'yes', they're more likely to keep saying yes to your requests. It's also called 'the foot in the door' technique. This article highlights how salesmen should take advantage of the need for reciprocation, the appeal to authority, and our drive to remain consistent in our choices to get people to keep saying yes.
No, that's not from a human traffickers strategy manual, it's from the best selling authors in the field of influence, business, and psychology.
The tactics are the same, and they are used by anyone who wants someone to say yes to anything. Including salesmen, politicians and governments, pick up artists, interrogators, abusers, and even by your friends and family members who understand the jist enough to use it to get what they want from you.
A recent personal example is when my good friend asked me to share his business on the Girls Who Fight instagram page. I said no because I don’t solicit anything on my page, I only share the content that I believe to be relevant and valuable to my audience (no matter how much I love you). You don't see Nike shouting out their friends start ups do you? It wasn’t personal, but a professional boundary. Despite saying no, he asked me again the next week, and again the week after that. I finally said, ‘look, I already told you that I’m not going to share it, why do you keep asking me?’ He said, ‘sorry, I’m a real estate agent, it’s what we do. We don't give up at no".
As I write this post, dozens of examples of this strategy being used by the people around me flood my mind. It's interesting to note that the inch by inch strategy, or the 'no doesn't mean no' strategy, is not only used by those around us, but used proudly! The same person may very well watch a child predator explain how they used the strategy to manipulate children and think 'that's so wrong', and the next day pay someone to learn how to use the same strategies on clients at their real estate firm and think 'that's so smart!'
The point is that influence is not only a predator thing, but a human nature thing. We need to understand that even our best friends will naturally push us to do things that may not be in our best interest, and we have to have a strategy and the courage to say 'No!'. Here's the Girls Who Fight method.
#1. Trust Your intuition
The first question is 'how do we know when to stand up for ourselves?'
The only person who can answer this question is you. You must learn to trust your own intuition and translate your intuition into action. I often speak about how we have super senses when we let our eyes and ears do their job. These senses have developed for thousands of years for the the sole purpose of survival and are highly adept at threat detection. Your instincts, or intuition, are also part of these super senses that are constantly at work to keep you safe from harm and on the right path. Instincts are your internal compass, and they have wisdom that even we cannot fully understand. We just have to learn to listen.
If something inside tells you that something is not right, or as soon as someone draws you in a direction that you know you don't want to go down, that's when you draw your line. No later. And even if you've been saying yes to something that you don't want to do, it's never to late to start saying no!
#2. Say No The First Time (Nip It In The Bud)
Nip It In The Bud; Phrase
Meaning: “to avoid escalating a problem by stopping or correcting it as soon as possible. To stop something in the early stages before it has the chance to be established."
Whenever someone asks you to do something you are not comfortable with, or something you simply do not want to do, say no the first time. Or else you’re going to have to say no a second time and that will be even harder. Sometimes things don't seem like a big deal at first, but if allowed to carry on unchecked, they build momentum and inevitably grow into something bigger. Saying no to a friend's request (maybe a seemingly innocent request) can seem mean. But if you say no the first time, it saves you from having to be even more forceful with them later on. And most often, when you say 'No' firmly the first time, your friend will stop asking.
#3. Be Firm (It's Not What You Say, It's How You Say It)
To us, no may mean no, but to many people out there (including your friends), no doesn't mean no. I could give you ten phrases you could use to stand up for yourself, and all ten could be taken seriously or not taken seriously depending on how you say them. If you say no weakly, your no will be taken weakly. If you say no strongly, your no will be taken strongly. So the question becomes, 'how do I say no strongly?'
Communication experts say that 70-90% of communication is non-verbal. It's helpful here to learn how to present yourself confidently and use assertive body language. Here are some body language cues to help you communicate your boundaries assertively.
1. Use a firm and assertive tone of voice.
2. Stand tall with your shoulders back and head up. Don't hunch or slouch, and let your hands be open and active, not fidgeting or tucked away in your pockets.
3. Make eye contact with the person you're speaking to. Eye contact is a small act that tells a lot about a person, because if someone can't even keep eye contact with you, what makes you think they'll be able to stand up for or defend themselves against you?
Meet Their Level of Resistance (Back Yourself Up)
The second part of the equation here is being able to back up your words with action. Your first no can often get away with being quite polite, albeit firm. For instance, if someone offers you a drink you can say 'no thank you', and most of the time it will be respected. But if they persist in pressuring you (the closer the friend is the more comfortable they feel doing this), you need to back it up with further resistance.
Raise your level of resistance to their level of persistence.
Two Verbal Warnings, Then Take Action
Give no more than two verbal warnings, and then be ready to back them up with action. Think of the first verbal warning as a softball, the second as a hardball, and the final straw is walking off that baseball diamond. Let's continue with the example above.
Betty says "here have a beer"
You say "No thanks!"
But this time, Betty doesn't respect your polite soft ball no, and she says "don't be so lame it's just a beer! Come on just do it, have fun for once!"
That's when you give your second warning, the hardball. You say "look, I already told you no, I'm not drinking and that's that. If you keep asking me just I'll leave."
If Betty didn't take your first No seriously, chances are that she will respect this one, and you can all carry on with your evening as friends. However, once in a while, your second warning will not be respected at all. And thats when you back up your words with action.
For instance, Betty gets angry and says "you're being such a loser! stop being a coward and take this shot right now!"
That's when you have to honour your word, and back it up with ACTION. You leave the party, a little bummed about leaving so early, but with an increased respect for yourself for sticking to your word and having the courage to back it up. That's worth a lot. That's how you build your backbone.
#4. Never Give An Excuse
Don't explain yourself.
As soon as you give a reason for why you don't want to do something, you give them an opportunity to argue with you.
For example, if instead of a simple and direct 'no thanks', you tell Betty "Sorry, I can't drink because my mom said I'm not allowed", you automatically give her the space to start making fun of you for following rules and the confidence that she can still convince you.
If you say "I'm not drinking because I didn't bring any alcohol or money", she'll say "no problem, you can have mine, pay me back later!"
If you say "I'm not drinking because I don't like the taste", she'll say "don't worry, we have this other type of alcohol that taste like juice!"
No matter what reason you give them, they will always have some sort of answer. It's much harder to say no when you give an excuse that's immediately rectified by a solution. Salesmen always ask people what's holding them back from saying yes, and they have scripted responses for just about any possible answer. They try to remove any reason you have for saying no, so you finally just give in.
Whether it's a boy who asks you on a date that you don't want to go out with, a salesperson who asks you to invest in a new 'opportunity', or a coach that keeps pushing you to compete when you aren't interested, learn how to say 'No' without a reason.
If they ask why, say 'because I said so.' If you find that to be too assertive, say "because I'm not comfortable with doing that". Period. No explainers. Let's start teaching people that no actually does mean no. After all, they're not your boss, and you're not ditching your shift. You don't owe anyone an explanation because no one is above you.
"Let your nays be nays, and your yays be yays"
#5. Remove The Opportunity (Or The Friend)
Our final step is to remove the opportunity for the person to make you uncomfortable all together.
Let's say that Betty is your best friend, you love her and she's normally a positive influence. But at the next party, the same thing happens. Every time she drinks, she becomes pushy and disrespects your boundaries and gets you caught up in some kind of trouble. At this point the best thing to do is stop hanging out with her around alcohol. You remain friends, but choose to socialize with her at school or the gym- wherever alcohol isn't present. Thus removing the opportunity for the behaviour without hurting the friendship.
Removing the friend
Sometimes this works out perfectly. But sometimes certain friends are a bad influence no matter where you hang out, and in these cases you should become comfortable with ending the relationship. The people you surround yourself with have a profound influence on your thinking, behaviour, and ultimately, your future.
It's called peer pressure for a reason, and it's one of the strongest forces known to man.
Recidivism rates (a person's relapse into criminal behavior after going to jail) are astronomically high, with 68% of people released from prison getting arrested within 3 years, 79% within 6 years, and 83% within 9 years. It turns out that when you surround criminals with only other criminals, they actually become more inclined to commit crime and not less. Go figure!
The Positive Side of Peer Pressure?
Peer pressure, or more fundamentally the desire to fit in with others exists deeply within the human species and it's not going away. But luckily for us, peer pressure can also have a positive influence if we surround ourselves with the right people. If you hang out with people who drink and do drugs, chances are that you are going to do drugs too. If you hang out with people who love working out, chances are you’re going to start going to the gym.
Let the influence of other people work for you, not against you.
It’s okay to say no to going to the places where things happen that you're not comfortable with, and it’s okay to stop hanging out with friends who are bad influences on you. Neither of those things mean you are rude, a bad friend, or lame. They just mean that you take the protection of your health, happiness, and values seriously and that you demand that they be respected by others too.
When do you drop a friend?
Sometimes it's unclear if we're doing things because we truly want to, or because we're being influenced by our peers. This is where it's extremely helpful to define what it is that you want and where you want your life to go.
You have to know what you want so that you can see when you're not getting it.
If you don't know what you want and what values are important to you, you'll end up morphing to the interests and behaviours of everyone around you, and these will usually not be in your best interest. We need to follow our own path instead of drifting along the path of others.
Take a few hours to write out a list of things you want for your life, and things you don't want for your life. Identify the behaviours and habits that you want for yourself, and also those you don't want. Identify your values, and the values that you don't care about or don't want to have. Let this exercise be 100% a product of you, uncompromised by the influence or wishes of anyone else.
This exercise will help you understand the path that you want to take in life. When you figure it out, the best thing you can do to protect and respect it is surround yourself with the types of people who will inspire, encourage, and support your journey, rather than distract you or lead you astray. If you have one friend who keeps being a drain to the lifeboat that is your purpose, you are morally obligated to stop them from sinking your ship. It's not that you hate them, it's that you love yourself.
“People either inspire you or they drain you, choose wisely.”
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