20th September, 2022

How to Tell People What They Don’t Want to Hear

With Rachel Morris

Dr Rachel Morris

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On this episode

In this episode, Jane Gunn joins us once again to share her advice on how you can say no. Most people don’t want to hear rejection. Jane talks about what you can do to avoid triggering others with what you say. Avoid a cycle of conflict by taking your time to respond and not react. She also discusses the many fears you might have as a professional saying no. Learn to set your boundaries and maintain them when you know how to say no.

If you’re worried about how your refusal or rejection might cause conflict, then listen to this episode and learn to say no.

Show links

Reasons to listen

  1. Understand the importance of a clear and thought-out message when you are saying no.
  2. Learn how you can create a psychologically safe environment where you can say no without fear of judgement.
  3. Find out what you can do when someone isn’t happy with your refusal.

Episode highlights


Hearing Both Sides


Strong Perceptions


Problem-solving Process


The Principle of Self-Determination


Clearly Saying No


Standing By Your Values and Virtues


Opening Up Conversations


Psychologically Safe Environments


Responding to Unhappy Reactions


Making Asking Easier


Jane and Rachels’ Top Tips

Episode transcript

Jane Gunn: I have a couple of mantras, whatever is unspoken is hardest to change, and we speak least about the things that matter most. It’s back to the message. Are they getting the wrong message from me? Because I’m not saying what I really am thinking, and it’s not always okay to share what we’re thinking. Sometimes we then have to go, God, goodness me look at what I am thinking. Why am I thinking that about that person?

Is it easier to say nothing, and carry on being a martyr if you like and not say anything? What are the consequences of that? I suppose at the end of the day, Rachel, what am I most afraid of? Am I afraid of feeling rejected? Am I afraid of upsetting someone? What is the fear? How do I face that fear?

Rachel Morris: Anyone love disappointing people, telling them no, or giving them difficult feedback? It’s something which I find really difficult, and I’m always getting it wrong. The problem is that our fear of doing it causes us to keep what matters most unspoken. If we’ve not directly addressed the issue to avoid upsetting people, the issue just leaks out in another way with unspoken resentments, or passive-aggressive behavior, or letting people down when we’ve said yes, when it really should have been a no.

I’ve noticed that this is one of the key issues for professionals in health and social care, and the good news is that it’s totally normal to feel like this. The bad news is that this is something we need to get right for all sorts of reasons, building trust within a team, making things better for ourselves, our team’s customers and patients. I think it’s one of the most difficult leadership skills to master, so I’m slightly obsessed with this right now.

In this episode, Jane Gunn, the Barefoot mediator joins me again to discuss how to tell someone something they don’t want to hear. Jane shares all sorts of wisdom tips and advice from her years working with and mediating between professionals in high stress jobs. So listen to this episode to learn how to share stuff without triggering the other person into a meltdown, and get some really helpful tips and strategies, which will save you all sorts of pain in the future.

Welcome to You are Not a Frog, the podcast for doctors and other busy professionals in high stress, high stakes jobs. I’m Dr. Rachel Morris, a former GP, now working as a coach, trainer and speaker. Like frogs in a pan of slowly boiling water, many of us don’t notice how bad the stress and exhaustion have become until it’s too late, but you are not a frog burning out or getting out and not to your only options.

In this podcast, I’ll be talking to friends, colleagues, and experts and inviting you to make a deliberate choice about how you will live and work so that you can beat stress and work happier. If like me, you’ve really enjoyed some time off over the summer, but a slightly dreading the onslaught of work and family related tasks that seem to multiply at this time of the year, then help us at hand.

We’ve created a free toolkit to help you take stock of where you’re at. Then, plan how you will start to deal with that really important stuff you need to do, rather than burying your head in the sand and just firefighting the urgent stuff. So click on the link in the show notes to sign up for your free overwhelmed busting toolkit. Now, here’s this week’s episode. It’s great to have with me back on the podcast Jane Gunn. Welcome back, Jane.

Jane: Hi, Rachel.

Rachel: So good to have you back. Now, Jane is known as the Barefoot mediator. She’s a lawyer and expert in conflict resolution, and you’ve got 25 years experience as a mediator. Jane, you’re currently the president of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, so I’m presuming there’s not a lot of conflict that you haven’t seen.

Jane: That’s right, actually, yes. Pretty much across the board.

Rachel: It’s wonderful to have you back, Jane, and what we’re talking about today is when we say no, how to deal with the conflict that that can cause. So my current obsession is about how we can deal with the overwhelm, and how we can embrace our limits. I think the way we do that is by setting boundaries and saying no, because actually, we have got to the point in healthcare and it’s not just healthcare, I think it’s across the board, other organizations.

I’m sure you’re seeing this, where people literally can’t work harder. They are completely saturated, and so we’ve grown up with too much work, just work a bit harder. That’s what we’ve grown up with all our lives. That’s not working anymore, and so the only way to deal with it is to start to prioritize and if you prioritize, that means there are some things you have to say no to.

Then, of course, if you say no and set boundaries, you get the consequences of that. What I realized is that, actually, it was certainly what I’ve seen in healthcare be really interested to know what you’ve experienced, both within healthcare and and in other organizations. People are fine at setting boundaries, and they know what they need to say no to. But when people don’t like it and it causes conflict, or they have to tell somebody something they don’t want to hear, that’s going to upset them.

That’s when the boundaries completely crumble, and they end up reversing the decision and just going with it, and then the overwhelm continues. Now, is that something you’ve seen? Am I on the right tracks or is that completely?

Jane: Well, it goes both ways, doesn’t it? Yes, so supposing you’re a person who has set a boundary for yourself, and you’re like, really, you know this is ridiculous. I’m going to burn out if I carry on like this, so I’m going to have to set some boundaries. You’ve got to have that conversation with whoever is expecting you to deliver something, whatever it is, and say that you need to step back.

But it goes the other way as well, I suppose, and that if you are the person receiving that message, how do you receive that message from someone else that they’re saying, actually, I am overwhelmed. But that’s the challenge then is it’s a two way conversation. How does each side of the conversation handle that message? Because it can feel like a criticism to a boss, if you like, to someone who’s being told by this person, or I don’t know I can push any harder.

I don’t think I can do everything that you expect me to, and there are consequences these days in that people will eventually either leave. They’ll go off sick, or they may lodge a complaint or a grievance if they feel that there are grounds for that, so there are consequences as well on both sides. If you’re the person setting the boundary, you know that is going to damage my relationship with the organization or the partnership.

Are people going to perceive me differently? Am I going to be perceived as not pulling my weight? That’s the real challenge. So it’s trying to work out what is it we are afraid of, and articulate articulating that and being able to talk about that as well as. It’s not just the message itself. It’s what are we afraid of in delivering the message that is going to cause pushback, or is going to make us worry about how we’re then perceived because all of us want to feel that we’re well regarded.

If we feel that we’re not well regarded and all that people are then talking about us behind our back, is that going on or then people saying, oh, gosh, did you know? Also, you may be misunderstood. So you may say, I literally can’t manage any more work. That may be interpreted as, oh, so and so is on the edge of a nervous breakdown or something. So there are, is it going to be misinterpreted or misconstrued, and that can be awkward and distressing as well.

So it’s getting the messaging right and feeling on both sides that you’ve been heard. I wrote a blog this morning, which was actually more about politicians listening, but it was how do you say what needs to be heard and how do you hear what needs to be said. Hearing what needs to be said means did I accurately hear what that person was trying to tell me rather than my interpretation of it, my assumptions, my judgment about that person.

When I speak, am I absolutely certain that my message is clear and unambiguous, and it’s being heard in the way I intended it to be? Both of those principles apply to both sides of the conversation, but we both challenging.

Rachel: It is, isn’t it? This area’s really fascinating to me, since I just came to this realization. It’s not setting boundaries. It’s actually dealing with the pushback from boundaries. I ran a recent webinar about this, and in the webinar, I ran a poll because I was really interested because in healthcare, what you can often do is trumped everything by saying patients will come to harm, because you can’t say, oh, it’s not like anybody’s gonna die.

Well, someone might die because of that time you’ve said no on that decision. So I’m interested actually, how common is that? So I did a poll on why do you struggle to say no, and it was because I feel guilty, because I’m worried about upsetting people, because I’m worried about what people might think of me, because it will cause patient harm or other. Now, out of a few 100 people on this webinar, how many percentage do you think said it was because it will cause patient harm?

Jane: I would say less than 20%.

Rachel: Three.

Jane: Which is less than 20.

Rachel: 3% said that saying no, they worry about saying no, because it will cause patient harm. The vast majority, it has to do with guilt, or what people will think of them.

Jane: Yes. I think it’s interesting to think, I mean, I’m a lawyer by training. You’re a doctor, but I think in these professional roles, our perception of ourselves, and how we come to be in that job. We’ve had to push most of us quite hard to achieve something with possibly type A personalities or whatever. We’ve pushed really hard the sense that we are hard workers, and that we don’t give up is something which can act to our detriment, I suppose, that we’re just used to carrying on really, and that is medical training.

That is legal training. You work all the hours, but there has to be a limit to that somewhere that isn’t there. You can’t just keep adding. You can’t just keep adding burdens to the donkey’s bag.

Rachel: You can’t and I think what’s happened in health care at the moment is that we have been absorbing all the extra work and all the extra work and all the extra like a big massive sponge. But since COVID, the sponge is so full now, so full now that actually, literally primary care can’t absorb any more then that spilling over into secondary care. We see that secondary care can’t absorb any more, and you’ve got the ambulance.

That’s why you’ve got the ambulances queuing, and so then, the ambulance now takes so long to get to people because there aren’t any ambulances, because they’re queuing in secondary care, because primary care is totally, totally at capacity and patient demand and expectation has gone through the roof. Same patient population, but they’re contacting. But the demand is through the roof, and so you’re at capacity.

There are only 24 hours in a day, so no matter how superhuman you think you are, and how efficient you are, actually, you cannot fit in any extra work. Doctors, I’ve lost count of the amount of doctors I’ve been coaching that are really very upset and saying, what’s wrong with me? Why can’t I cope? I’m thinking that’s the totally wrong question to ask.

You’re having a normal physiological response to what, the stress you have been under, and the demands that are being placed on you, which absolutely outweigh your ability to deliver what you can and you’re blaming yourself. So I guess this saying no, that goes back to the saying no. If I say no, people think I can’t cope, and we think can’t coping, and we know, for years, people have described other people as acopic, or you’ve got this perception of certain maybe patients that can’t cope with anything.

So in healthcare, this not being able to cope is really, we’re very scared of ever thinking that that that could possibly be us.

Jane: Yes, I think that’s the challenge, isn’t it, is that you don’t want to seem as though you’re the one that needs help, because you’re the one that offers the help. Yet, I suppose that another level is, if you really are at capacity, are you able to serve your patients well? If you are on the verge of burnout, if you are not thinking well, if you’re not sleeping well, can you really be offering the right level of care?

Now, I’ve been working with a GP practice recently. They’ve been going through my course and a number of things have come out of that, really, Rachel. One is there should be an attitude of encouragement. What about if you asked your colleagues every day, how are you feeling today on a scale of one to five? If somebody says, oh, I’m a two or I’m a three, say, oh, okay, what do you need? Do you simply need a hug?

Do you need to tell someone what a tough day you had before you came in? Is this something good or is it something else? Because I just don’t think we ask those questions of ourselves or of each other. I talk in my course about, are you on someone’s back? Or do people within a team feel that someone’s on my back and I mustn’t give up or do you feel that people have got your back?

It’s a very different thing because if people have got your back, they’re looking out for you and you’re looking out for them. You’re looking out to see how do you need to be supported.

Rachel: I think this concept of air cover when you’re saying no, the fact that your colleagues have got your back, so if you say no, and there’s some consequences, like you get a complaint or something that other people have got your back. I think the issue with it is that if you’re asking what do you need, that’s a bit dangerous, because actually, if that person needs is a bit of time off, or someone to help them out by taking a little bit of work off.

Then if you’ve asked them or what do you need, and they reply, you feel that you’re the one that has to provide it. That’s quite scary, because actually, when you’re at capacity asking someone else, what do you need? The risk is what they need is going to impact on you and cause you to feel even more stressed. I think probably, that doesn’t happen all the time, probably happens less than we think is gonna happen.

Often it’s oh, I just need a cup of tea and someone to chat to rather than I need you to do that home visit for me, but there is that risk that’s gonna happen.

Jane: There is, but I mean, even if you don’t ask, the situation doesn’t get resolved. So we have a say in mediation, if it’s an issue for one, it’s an issue for everyone. Just because you hide an issue, or you don’t speak up about it, it doesn’t mean it’s gone away. It’s still there. It’s just that you haven’t been open about it, and you haven’t enabled other people to bring their thinking to it.

So it is this idea of a problem shared is a problem halved or solved or whatever. If you bring everybody’s attention and thinking to it in a non judgmental way and say, here’s something we need to talk about, what are some of the options? So again, when we’re looking at problem solving in the mediation context, we go through a process where we look at what are the issues? What’s happening now? What’s the narrative? What’s the story about it?

Then, we look at how do we explore that. So what are people’s actual experience of it? How do we go a little bit deeper to understand what’s really going on? Then, we look at what are some possible solutions. I think when we’re all busy, we’re very good at one of the things I’ve been fascinated by recently is looking at the difference between linear and lateral thinking. So we tend to think in a linear way. Here’s a problem. Here’s a solution. Here’s the solution someone else suggests, so you suggest.

Let’s crack on with that, rather than okay, that’s one option, but what are some other options? I love to give in my training the image of people arguing about an orange. When I asked people, what would you do about two people wanting the same orange? They say, well cut it in half. We need to compromise, don’t we? So that might be, well, if you’ve got too much work, and I got to little, let’s help each other out.

But you have to say then actually, the question to ask is why? Why did they want the orange? What are some of the solutions to that? So if it was, well, I just wanted a piece of fruit. Could one of you have an apple and one of you have an orange? If it turns out that one person wanted the orange because they wanted to bake a cake, they just wanted the rind or they wanted to make marmalade.

Again, they just wanted the rind and the other person wants to make orange aid. They could both have 100% of what they wanted. So in doing this exploring and asking why and what’s important to you about that, then you can look up more options, because if it means I don’t get home in time to pick my kids up from school or whatever, I don’t know what it is. What’s the thing that really bothers you?

Is it, I’m too exhausted when I get home? Or is it I feel under stress when I work? But actually, what is the thing? So you can say, yes, I feel overwhelmed, or I feel I need to set a boundary but why. What specifically is that about? What’s the problem you’re trying to solve or the feeling you’re trying to recover? What are some of the solutions? What are some of the options for you that you yourself or that other people could help you with?

Rachel: I love that. Someone said to me on a recent group coaching call, we were doing a course about how to be overwhelmed, and very good question is, well, I’m a GP partner, and if one of my colleagues comes to me and they are burnt out and recognize that and we never need to take time off. The problem is we’re all on the edge of burnout. So what do we do about that? What’s the solution?

That is very linear thinking, like you said. Okay, what is the solution? I can’t think of one, but I did hear someone say that physician burnout is not a problem, because the problem has a solution. What it is it’s a dilemma. For dilemma, you need strategies. You need, actually, lots of things to do, things you can do, and so you look at it from lots and lots of different perspectives, not just from one perspective.

I think that the other problem is that when you do ask someone, what do you need? They tell you. You’re also thinking, I’ve got to fix it, and that is just that typical doctor. I’m sure lawyers are just like that, because I then feel responsible, and I can see this for myself. I can see this in, say, my parents, and my friends who are doctors. If you tell someone, if they tell you they’ve got an issue or problem, I immediately go to write, what can I do to help?

What’s the solution? I don’t necessarily see all my friends doing that. They just sit there and listen, go, that’s awful, and stuff their sense of responsibility. So that means when someone says no to us, we initially, we actually are responsible for that, for making sure that their boundary is definitely held. Or when we say no to someone else, we feel absolutely dreadful, because we are so used to saying yes, and trying to fix things for other people.

So I think it’s almost harder for those of us that feel like rescuers and feel like fixers to say no, and maybe to hear the no. Because when you hear no from someone else, it still becomes your problem even even more of the time. Is that making any sense?

Jane: Now, that makes a lot of sense. I think that’s certainly one of the challenges I find in training people in mediation is that they think it’s their job to solve the client’s problem. Actually, one of the core principles of mediation is self determination. It’s up to you. So all I do as a mediator and what I think or hope I’m enabling people to do when I go into a practice is to say how would you empower others to think about this.

It doesn’t mean you don’t take some responsibility as a practice for resolving an issue, but it does all mean that you each individually take responsibility as well for saying, this is about how do I solve this. So it can involve more of a sort of coaching approach, if you like. Yeah, what it is, then it’s about dialogue, and it’s about it is about listening. So, tell me what the problem is specifically, and what outcome are you trying to achieve?

A year from now, if you were not to feel like you’re feeling now, what would you have done differently? Those kinds of questions really helping the person because when you are in that kind of situation where you’re overwhelmed by a problem or a situation, you can’t think clearly. So it’s the thinking clearly about, okay, what really is the problem? What are some of the ways out of it?

Sometimes you need to go deeper into the problem to come out of it, or you need to go deeper into yourself to understand what is this about me that makes me experienced this problem in this way. So, sometimes we’re trying to solve a problem on the surface when we need to dig a little bit deeper and say, what’s this really about? Therefore, what are the possible ways forward?

Rachel: Well, you’ve really got me thinking now, because when we’re sort of teaching people to set boundaries and say no, one of the things and it’s going back to the point you made earlier, which is actually getting the why right. Why am I saying no to this? We teach people to really think about that to think about the, I am choosing to x so that y so I’m choosing to say, No, I can’t do this because of what. I’ll give you an example actually.

I’ve heard of dreadful example the other day of a trainer was telling me that the train had been sent on an urgent visits. They had a palliative care patient. The trainee, this is a GP trainee, was having their lunch break in the staff room, and a phone call came from a mother with a child with a very high fever. The receptionist went in and asked because the trainer was on call, but she was out and uncontactable, just for that minute, asked if the trainee would take the phone call from this worried mother with a child with very high temperature.

The trainee said, no, it’s my lunch break. I heard that, I was really really shocked. But actually, there might be very good reason. He might have been had a very, very long, so he might have literally just sat down, had his lunch break, and the no could have been. I literally can’t think I need to get some sugar in me for 5, 10 minutes, and then I can take a phone call, but it’s just a straight no. It was all sorted out.

There’s no patients or anything like that. But I was thinking, we hear that story and go, that that’s awful. But he could have said, no, actually, I’m choosing to have my lunch break now and just finished my lunch so that I can get back, phone this patient and then carry on and give a service to everybody else, but there was no explanation of it. It was just, no, it’s my lunch break rather than actually, I need this lunch break. Can you tell her I’ll give her a call in five minutes? You know those things.

Jane: [inaudible] are out there, Rachael, is sharing what we call your reasoning and intent. I can’t do it now, because, but here’s what I will do exactly, as you’ve said. I can’t do it now, because I do need five minutes break, but I will ring her back, and could you take her number and whatever. Yeah, again, you need to take responsibility for sharing that information. Has what I said been received in the way I needed it to be received?

Because the message there is not clear. Possibly, the receptionist goes away with a message that said, the doctor said no. The doctor said they won’t talk to you. So how does that get translated back to the patient? It doesn’t get translated on the doctors on his lunch break, or it might just get the doctor said they won’t speak to you.

Rachel: Or more likely, what happened when they go to another doctor in the surgery go, they’ve said no, will you do it, please? Then, of course, the trainee might think well, I guess I am worried that they think badly if I said no, but I just said anyway. But of course, they now think badly. Of course, they do, because actually there was no explanation. So I guess it’s back to your point of saying what needs to be heard and hearing what needs to be said.

Jane: Yes, yeah. It’s understanding how our message is interpreted. We say things or we hear things, but our brain is interpreting them. What do I think that means? We interpret it only in the context of how it matters to us. We’re only in our own little self absorbed bubbles, so we hear our own story that if you like.

It fits only in our story, and we don’t really think to think outside that bubble, and why might it be important to that person or we just become or we are fairly self absorbed really as individuals and the more pressure we’re under, the more we are absorbed by our own situation, rather than being able to look outwards and say, oh, I can see you need some help, but I’m really busy or we just answered from that very narrow perspective without explaining the context.

Rachel: I think we can get it wrong in two ways, like you said, that narrow perspective you just say no, because it’s my rights, my rights and etcetera with no explanation and then obviously, people think badly and it’s not great or I think we can go the other way around, can’t we? We can do the whole fawning sort of, so you don’t actually say a clear no. You’re like, oh, well, I am oh my I think I might.

Okay, all right. Well, I’ve said no, but I will do what about this you know and then you just go the other way because you’re so worried about what people think of you that you then fudge it. You don’t say clear no which is no good for anybody really, because then you’ve got no ones that were there. I know that’s part of our fight, flight or freeze response as well. I’ve got [inaudible] not just fight, flight or freeze. It’s fight, flight, freeze or fawn.

Jane: Yes, I call it appease. You’re actually right. If you get known as the one who always gives in and then of course, the danger is the reception ago, good old Jane, oh, good old Rachel. She’s the one who always picks up the cutler lunchtime calls. So that’s the danger isn’t it that you get then we fear we’re going to be used and abused by others because we are the ones that do the appeasing or the fawning or giving in. So that’s one of the reasons to be very clear what your reasoning is, and what your intention is and what your boundaries are.

Rachel: Yeah.

Jane: Never easy Rachel. I don’t think any of this stuff is easy, but it’s about once you’ve got some clarity around it, and everybody got some clarity around how to communicate. It’s slightly easier, I suppose.

Rachel: I think there’s two issues. I think that no matter how well you communicate your no, and how well you set your boundaries, and how well you explain why, there will still be some people that are a bit hacked off about it, because nobody likes to be said no to particularly if you want something.

Jane: Yeah.

Rachel: That in my mind is not a reason to then cave in. It’s like when you tell your toddler, no, you can’t have the second doughnuts. They have a tantrum. That does not mean you should give it and it just means you’re being a good parent, right? So how do you help people cope with that pushback and that kickback of being able to hold the line and accept it even when people aren’t happy with them?

Jane: Well, it requires a strength of personality, doesn’t it? It does. You have got to be strong enough to do that. One of the things I’ve been, again, working with GP practice on is values, and this is interesting, because most businesses have a set of values and they say, oh, these are our corporate values. Most often, they don’t really know what that means. But actually, having a set of core values means that we know what they are.

We’re very clear what they are, and we know what they interpret into in terms of how we speak and behave towards each other. When we have a situation like this, we know or we can measure whether we’ve held true to our values or not. So having clarity about values, we did two exercises with the GPs I was working with. One is what are your virtues because I think sometimes we’re always busy looking for what our faults are, particularly those of us who are feeling less confident about ourselves.

So what are your virtues? When you then look at all of your virtues together, you realize what a unique team of people you are and how you can support each other because you’ve got lots of different virtues. Then, what are your values which do reflect both, reflect each other? Values are important for the whole practice, because then, really, if you if you’ve done that exercise right, it’s about what do we believe is important.

Why do we believe those things are important? How do we behave in accordance with those values every day? If we don’t, what are the consequences of that? What do we expect to happen? So, it’s just a way of thinking through what are the things that up for us as a practice are really important in how we show up. I mean, it’s good to have all sorts of values, but if you have a value, like trust, for example, or excellence, or whatever, you’ve got to be able to describe that.

What does that really mean? What does it specifically mean in terms of what people expect of me? Or how I will behave to them? So what assumptions are underlying that as well? What am I assuming about someone if I trust them? We did unpack trust this week. Trust is really interesting, because there are so many layers to it, but it takes some work to do this.

I work with all kinds of organizations and teams and understanding how you would use values to enable you to manage some of these challenging situations, because you’ve got a benchmark then, and at least a benchmark for a discussion about, when we’re under pressure or are we not upholding our values? Are we not behaving in accordance with those?

So again, it’s something that takes time to do, but it’s a really, really useful exercise to be able to, yeah, have something to measure against.

Rachel: That’s really interesting. I’m just thinking, so how does values apply to an individual that said no to something quite right, knows they’re wise, and then got some pushback, someone upset with them or thinking badly of them. Actually, I think it’s a sort of double level thing, isn’t it? So in immediately, you will feel bad. You’ll probably feel guilty. You’re worried you’ve made the wrong decision by saying no. You’ll probably feel anxious.

I think, possibly, the first thing to realize is that is just your amygdala going, ah, someone’s upset across with me, I must have done something wrong because that feeling of anxiety and worry is normally a flag that there’s a danger or a threat, but also, we tend to go, oh, it’s something that I’ve done. I’ve done something wrong. So just recognize that all that feeling of upset and worry, that’s normal.

But then as you dig down to the values, that’s really helpful because actually, it’s my values that say, ah, trustworthiness. Actually, sometimes saying no is the trustworthy thing to do, because if you say yes when you don’t mean it, you’ve got no intention of doing it. Well then, saying no is a untrustworthy thing. What about excellence? If I say yes to too many things, I know I can’t be excellent at what I do.

Therefore, saying no will uphold your value of excellence. So you ignore first that flagging amygdala, oh, my feelings are like this, and dig down to actually the values that you have upheld by saying no, honesty, integrity, family because you’ve said no means you can go home. Then, that shoot, that is really helpful that may help just deal with this upsetting of people that are very uncomfortable feeling when somebody is thinking badly of you.

Jane: To be open and honest about how you’re feeling, so there’s nothing wrong with saying, this is how I feel. So when you said you couldn’t do that, my immediate feeling was and then question that or talk about it even, that left me feeling vulnerable, or whatever it is. I think sometimes we don’t dig down to that level and say, this is what I’m feeling. Then, the reason I’m feeling that is, and what I need to do is, where I’m trying to get to is, I need to do X or Y.

So we don’t dig down to the layers of conversation that explore here’s what I’m thinking and feeling about that, here’s something that’s happened or something issue. Here’s what I’m thinking and feeling about it. Here’s where I’m trying to get to, and here’s some of the things I’ve thought about it. Then, one of the things we do in mediation training is to then give the power back to the other person and say, this is what I’m thinking. What are you thinking?

Because we often then tend to what happens is if someone doesn’t feel they’ve been heard, they simply go round again. They simply sort of say again what they didn’t feel was heard. So they think I didn’t get the response I wanted. My communication didn’t get the response I wanted, so I have to try something else, which is say it again, say it louder, or walk out or whatever.

But if you can explain it in that holistic way and then give it to the other person and say, your turn, your turn now to comment on this. It gives the power away. You don’t have to keep enforcing your power. You’re saying that right, your turn now. You tell me what you think, what you feel.

Rachel: That’s really interesting. So if you say no to someone or set a boundary, and you get that response of yes, saying it again, they then request it just in a different way or louder, or say a hang on a sec or storm off. It’s not that you’re with the wrong, it’s just they haven’t, maybe they haven’t felt heard or just they just don’t like what you’ve said, and then you get into the saying it again, saying it louder.

I think probably what we do get instance then self justification about stuff. So I’ve said no, but I’m not going to give you 20 million different reasons why I say no, rather than just sort of stating it. Then yeah, so I’m trying to justify rather than actually going back to that person saying, what do you need? What are you thinking now?

Jane: Also if you notice, an angry or a defensive response from someone, the thing you’re dreading that makes you have a knot in your stomach, and you think I’m just upset them. Again, you can comment on that. I noticed that you look really upset when I said that, and I’m wondering why. What were you expecting? But again, you can open up and ask them to converse about it because we interpret someone else’s behavior if they cross their arms or frown or something, and we don’t always know what that means.

It’s our interpretation, and again, our interpretation from our amygdala state, which says, actually, I’ve just witnessed something which threatens my sense of safety with that person. But if you explore it and say, I’m just curious to know what you’re actually thinking yourself. Here’s what I’m thinking. That can tone it down a bit, I suppose. It’s a way of we call it nonviolent communication. How do you communicate?

It’s a well known phrase nonviolent communication, but it’s a way of trying not to trigger the other person in the way you say something. I think sometimes when we’re very anxious, or we’ve got an important message, the way we deliver is interpreted and not even consciously but subconsciously by the other person as triggering, and then they respond from that trigger.

Then, you end up in this sort of cycle of conflict, and it’s just understanding that misinterpretation that’s happened and then, ironing that out thinking right. Oh, let’s go back a step and say, I’m trying to say this, what are you trying to say?

Rachel: That’s really interesting, because we teach a lot about, again, the story in your head, what you’re assuming about the other person. If you have said no to the other person, and they react badly, often we’re assuming very acting badly, because they think I’m dreadful, or they’re reacting badly, because they’re just being selfish, but probably none of the above.

Probably, they’re reacting badly just because they’re then thinking, oh, how do I sort this problem out there? How do I get that phone calls? Oh, that’s a bit inconvenient now. But if you then assume that they’re reacting badly, because they’re cross with you, and you go, well, I’m sorry, if you’re upset with me. Again, that’s really triggering, really triggering, and we call that being over the next.

You’re assuming you know what that person’s thinking and why they’re upset, because you said no. You know, I noticed that seems a bit, I don’t know, how do we say that in a non judgmental way. I notice that you clammed up just then and looked a bit upset. Am I right in thinking that? Can I ask what’s going on? I don’t know. How would you phrase that, expert?

Jane: Well, I think yes, it is difficult, isn’t it? Because it does depend on each person. I always say the answer is always it depends. It depends, because it just depends on who you’re talking to. It isn’t about giving people scripts, but I think, something about oh, I noticed. I noticed you frowning, or it looks as though you weren’t very happy to hear that, or I don’t know, as much as anything. It’s the tone of voice you set it in, isn’t it?

It’s like talking to children and dogs, frankly. If you seem to be either you’re noticed or you look for a cross, rather than I’m curious, you looked a little bit crossed there when I said that. It’s like, what’s the tone of voice? Is it a curious tone of voice or is it an aggressive tone of voice? Again, if you go back to the amygdala, and it’s all important. That’s what our brain is interpreting that before our logic has clicked in and gone. Oh, hang on a minute.

There could be another answer to that. We’ve already responded to it, or rather we’ve already reacted to it, rather than giving ourselves time to respond to it. It’s that immediate reaction, which is very subconscious, that we’re not aware of we make it in a microsecond.

Rachel: It’s just strikes me that this is getting very complicated, because what’s happening? We said, we know we’ve got limits. We know we’re overwhelmed, so we prioritize and set boundaries, which means we have to say no to things, which means that then other people might have a reaction from we say no. Then, our reaction to their action of saying no can actually trigger things to make things even worse, right? Is that what we say?

Jane: Why we don’t say it? Yes. Well, that’s the whole thing we’re exploring, isn’t it, Rachel? Are we opening a can of worms, I suppose, is the challenge we’re always worried about? Is it easier to say nothing and carry on? Being a martyr if you like, my mother always used to just being about it. That’s it, isn’t it? Is it easier to do that sometimes to just carry on, and not say anything? What are the consequences of that?

Then, what kind of culture does that create? What kind of environment does that create? So there is a sense of individual responsibility, but there is also a sense of joint responsibility and saying, if we encourage or enable or allow people to store things up like that, why there’s this term, which is quite commonly used as psychological safety. Have we created an environment of psychological safety?

In other words, people feel safe sticking their head above the parapet and saying, all is not well here, or have we created more of an environment where that’s not okay. I think, yes, it’s an individual level, we’re talking about this, what can an individual do, but at the end of the day, it is a group issue. It’s a practice issue about the environment or the culture we have created here.

Is it one of psychological safety and what does that mean in enabling people to speak up? If we don’t create that, what’s the possible consequence of that short term, long term and so on? Because in the environment working at the moment, things are just going to get worse, aren’t they? So, there is a sense in which people will just leave. The end point is if you don’t enable people to solve their problem, they have an opportunity to go, and you probably lose your best people, because they’re the ones that think, I don’t need to do this.

I think there’s other options and opportunities out there for me. So it’s a joint responsibility of seeing if we want to keep our best people, and we want to be the best team that we could possibly be. What do we need to do to create that environment? Yes, it’s down to individuals to point out the impact on them, but it’s a joint thing, not just an individual thing.

Rachel: Yeah, that’s so true. I think with psychological safety in teams, you always think the reason for psychological safety is so that people can speak up and whistleblowing, points out the problems, which I mean, that’s the extreme reason, but I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. One of the main reasons is that so that people can say no to each other, and that still be okay, and people not judge you for it and the relationship be there and you’ll fight, I think you do lose.

You’re really competent, really good people, because they are not willing to speak up and say no, but I do think the responsibility is 50-50. I do think, obviously, you need the good team. But I think that, I don’t know about lawyers, maybe lawyers are better because I got this thing in my head, correct me if I’m wrong, that lawyers are quite good at arguing conflict. That’s their job. I probably completely wrong on that.

Doctors argument saying no, when it’s literally no, the guidelines say I can’t prescribe, that really good at breaking bad news to patients because you have to. But it’s saying no, maybe it’s same with lawyers, as long as you’re good at arguing in court, but not with each other.

Jane: I think that’s right. We’ve got certain skills. As people always ask me, are you good at mediating at home? I say, well, not necessarily. I’m an interested party, and we’re good in the way that we’re trained with things. But then, we have to step outside our comfort zone, and all of this is about stepping outside, something that feels comfortable and saying this just feels really uncomfortable, but I think I’ve got to do it.

Rachel: I think the boundaries and saying no, the more I think about it and more I look at this, it’s such a professional skill, because otherwise, you will be overwhelmed. It’s a huge skill for resilience, and I’ve never really linked it so much with that nonviolent communication before. I think that’s really, really helpful. If we can say no in a way that is understood by someone else, so they understand our needs, and shows that we understand them, and we’re not assuming anything about them, then actually, that’s going to be really great.

But at the end of the day, there will still be some people that don’t like the fact that we have said no to them, right? It’s not because you’ve said it in the wrong way. It’s not because you’ve assumed anything. It’s just because they wanted something and you said no, and then, they might just think that because you can’t control what other people think of you.

Jane: At the end of the day, and I think that’s the that’s such a wise comment, Rachel, you can’t control other people. You certainly can’t control how they think. All you can do is control your own thinking and your own responses and make sure they are responses and not reactions. I’ve thought about this, and here’s my response to that. Then at the end of the day, you can’t you can’t change people.

Rachel: I’ve got two strategies. I’d love to know your strategy. The first one is, we did a podcast with Georgina Scull, and she’s done a podcast and written a book about Regrets of the Dying. One of the main regrets of people in their last year of life is that doing stuff to please other people. Often, decisions that it didn’t make or things they didn’t do was because they were worried what a certain person might think of them. By the end of their life, they weren’t even in touch with that person anymore. They’d loom big in their life, but like now, they were like, I don’t even know where they are. Why did I care so much about what they think? So that’s just some sort of getting into perspective in five years time, am I really going to care what that person thinks? It feels like this massive thing to me now.

Jane: Yeah.

Rachel: The second one, and I’ve done a recent podcasts on it on this, and there’s a lot of reasons why this works is actually just saying eff it.

Jane: Yes, yeah.

Rachel: Sometimes that’s all you can say, isn’t it? Right?

Jane: There’s a book on that. There is a book on that.

Rachel: There was a book and it’s the podcast by the guy that write the book. It’s John C. Pocket. Honestly, he’s a very well thought through philosophy, which is to help you get rid of your attachments, the outcomes of things.

Jane: Yes. So I think sometimes what you’re saying are both of those things, I suppose, is saying, let’s get things into perspective. Is this person at the end of my life? It is like that thing? When I lie on my deathbed, am I going to say I wish I’d worked even harder? No, I’m not. I’m gonna say, I wish I’d spent more time with my children, or I wish I’d spent more time traveling.

We got to sit, get things into perspective, and that’s exactly the same, and the same with that approaches. Yeah, sometimes I just have to say, so what.

Rachel: I think this takes practice is well. If you practice it, it gets easier to remember listening to this podcast, or reading a bit, can’t remember what it was. It was this bloke that was absolutely crippled with anxiety about asking people things in case they said no, and so he couldn’t ask any girls out on dates in case they said no, and he’s like, right. I’ve got to sort this out, and so he decided every day to do something where he knew someone was gonna say no to him.

He lives in America, where you get the refills of your coke at Burger King. So he went up to the counter at Burger King and asked for a refill of his burger and stuff, and he went to people and asked if he could sunbathe in their front garden for a couple of hours, and really ridiculous things. The really funny thing is half the time people said, yes.

Jane: I know, I’m just imagining that. I’m imagining that and also is going through my mind. What are some wacky questions? I love it.

Rachel: You should do that, but it just struck me that and he’s like, by the end of the year, he just did. He was asking for all sorts of things and people saying, no to him, did not bother him, and what people thought of him just did not bother him, because it’s like, okay, well, that passes, that passes, and that’s absolutely fine. Actually, we can say no to our families, because we do care about what they think of us, but we know they love us, and they stuck with this.

Generally, that’s fine. I’m a sort of person who’s very sensitive to what people think and feel like, I’ve been mucking things up most of my life and keep putting my foot in the mouth and all that sort of thing. But I generally think my life would be much better if I just could say a little bit more effort to stuff and I’m really trying to and it helps.

Jane: I think we should definitely go away and I asked for these things that we think people would say no to. That sounds like really fun.

Rachel: Would you go into McDonald’s and ask for a free a refill of your burger. If you’ve managed to do it, I want to know about that.

Jane: I remember my brother-in-law in the days when you used to ring, and he rang up and said to the woman, he was just bored. He said, I’m looking for a recipe for a chocolate cake. Can you help? She said, yes, I can.

Rachel: I love it. I love it. I mean, I think in therapy, I was hearing about some sort of trauma or childhood trauma therapy recently. If people felt that they didn’t have any control as a child and weren’t able to say no, they get into practice saying no to small things. So maybe that’s what people need to do is just like, find something really, really simple. I was coaching someone once, and she had left this practice, because it was awful, awful, awful practice.

They phoned her up and said, we really need someone’s work on Friday mornings, and she said, yes. I said, why did you say yes? You’ve just left. Because they asked me. Literally, we so like that if someone asks us.

Jane: Yeah.

Rachel: It’s just crazy. So practice saying no in some really silly way, and then presumably, that muscle gets a bit a bit stronger.

Jane: I’m imagining going round now with a badge, which says, just say, no.

Rachel: I know, it’s something that if we get this, right, because I think what happens with me, if I say no, and I’m already feeling bad about saying no. If I get the pushback, my reaction is then 10 times worse. But if I say no, and I’m feeling good about saying no, and I get pushed back, I’d be like, yes, sorry. I just sorry, just not what I would do, and then I don’t make things that make things even worse, really.

Jane: Yeah, and that’s a fear, isn’t it? So I suppose at the end of the day, Rachel, what am I most afraid of? Am I afraid of feeling rejected? Am I afraid of upsetting someone? What is the fear? How do I face that fear? Because it’s understanding what it is and also where it comes from. Where does that fear come from? So when I was a child, if I upset my mother, she would just go quiet.

She would stop talking to me or communicating with me and I think that’s where part of my trauma comes from actually. To have a parent who just stops communicating with you, who basically blanks you for two days is very traumatic. So I, then, develop this strategy as I got older of running conversations through my head and thinking, I need to say this to her, but if I said it in this way, or this way, or this way, which is most likely to trigger this unfortunate behavior.

So I think, at the back, and that’s one of the reasons I’m quite interested in these skills is because I had to practice it from quite a young age to offset my in particular pushback, and on your reasons. For all of us, how we behave to people comes from what we’ve experienced in the past, and probably in our childhood.

Rachel: But I think you’ve also just come up with another very helpful principle. Actually, when your Mum can cope with that no, it wasn’t because of you, not because of you little kid, it was because of her, what’s going on there. I think we always think when people react it’s about us is what we’ve done something but it’s much more about them, really. 99 times out of 100, it’s really is them, not you, but all you see is the negative reaction.

Jane: Yeah. Though the other thing I did do was learn to think about just do some planning, think about I need to say this thing, it may be perceived, or I make it a negative reaction. I could say it in this way, or that way or that way. If it’s a really important conversation, you run it through with a colleague, or you just bounce it off somebody, not all the time, but there are options about thinking about how I’m going to communicate, rather than just opening my mouth and saying something,

Rachel: Oh, my gosh, that is such a helpful point, because most times when we say no to something, we’ve seen it coming, or we’ve had that situation before, unless someone jumps in the street, give me your money. It probably weren’t expecting that. But if someone says, would you take this extra phone call, or will you come out with me that night? Or would you do this or do that?

Actually, mostly you can buy yourself time, which I think is so important, press the pause button by yourself that time so you can really think it through. Yeah, write it down, write down five, six different ways you could say that and try it on a friend ago, right? Which one of these sounds best? Which one of these will clarify the message the best or just you know?

Jane: Because salespeople do that all the time. If you’re trying to sell something to someone, that’s what sales and advertising is all about. What is it that’s going to be the most influential and the best way to get someone to do the positive thing that which is buy your product or your service? So, we need to do or be a little bit more into that mindset of how do I have the right impact on someone else’s perception of me and their mindset, and so on.

That’s what advertising people would do. They would try out lots of different messages and see which one works best. Do I see it with a smile on my face? Do I not smile? If I laugh, it’s not gonna come across too well as? Is it really?

Rachel: Yeah, write down a list of phrases, try them out and see what works. Another really helpful thing I heard about with giving difficult feedback or any difficult conversation is get a piece of paper, just draw a line down the middle. On one side, write everything you really want to say, unfiltered, and on the right hand side, write how you could say that exactly the same thing, but in a really nice way.

Jane: Yes. The other exercise similar to that which I’ve done is where you’ve got a situation and you write down in the left hand column everything that’s going through your mind all the unsaid things. Here’s the thing I’m thinking about the situation or about this person, but I’m not saying it instead, I’m saying x, and why am I saying x when really my brain is saying y? Oh, what’s the mismatch there? Is it Is there something?

I have a couple of mantras, whatever is unspoken is hardest to change, and we speak least about the things that matter most. It’s like, are there some bits in that left hand column that I’m just not communicating to that other person, then what’s coming out of my mouth is entirely giving them the wrong message. It’s back to the message. Are they getting the wrong message from me? Because I’m not saying what I really am thinking, and it’s not always okay to share what we’re thinking. Sometimes we then have to go, God, goodness me look at what I am thinking, and why am I thinking that about that person? Because again, you’re saying, maybe it’s not my fault, but I’m thinking something negative about that person, and maybe I’m wrong.

Rachel: Yeah.

Jane: Maybe that thing isn’t true or isn’t right.

Rachel: We’ve right back to that nonviolent communication, aren’t we, which is, obviously, state what you’ve noticed. Like, I noticed you frowned, not I noticed you’re really angry, because they might be angry. They might be very sad. Such a statement and then ask us them, is that right or this? Is the story in my head about that? Is that right? I’ve just said no there so in my head, that I’m really worried that that’s going to be really difficult for you and upset you. Am I right? Check that out.

Jane: At the end of the day, it just takes extra effort, doesn’t it? It’s easy to just respond in the moment be instinctive, just say what’s on our mind, or stay silent. But at the end of the day, to do this stuff, you’ve got to make a choice, and you’ve got to do it consciously, and that takes time and effort. So it’s the time and effort to be thinking about it, be thinking about, do I know what skills have I picked up that helped me? Then, how can we help each other with these things, because it’s important?

Rachel: Well, it’s just a so much, that’s been really, really helpful. I’m collected a toolkit on how to say no, and set boundaries. You’ve given me like four new things that weren’t in my toolkit already.

Jane: Excellent.

Rachel: Which is brilliant. So thank you. In a minute, I’m going to find out how people can get ahold of you and a bit about your course. But let me ask you for your three top tips on how to say no, and then deal with the pushback.

Jane: Okay, so I think, be clear about your reasoning and intent and share it. I would say, have a plan, think about what you’re going to say, and then, I would say, it’s not all about you. There’s two of you. One of the things my business colleague used to say, which I loved, was test your assumptions to extinction. We make assumptions, so test your assumptions. I’m probably assuming lots of things which aren’t true. So I would say that would be that.

Rachel: Oh, I love that. Test your assumptions to extinction. Yeah. Lovely. My top tips are expect that pushback, practice what you might say, and very occasionally, you just have to say, eff it. Actually, that doesn’t matter. Let’s get some perspective. So Jane, how can people get ahold of you? Tell us a little bit about the course.

Jane: Okay, so my website is janegunn.co.uk. My email is jane@janegunn.co.uk. My course is called Barefoot Mediation. It’s barefoot because it’s about the essence of mediation and how you can apply it in your workplace and your home life at the same time learning about conflict and your own personal perspective on it, and also how you can build some of these principles into a practice or an organization or a team, so that’s why it’s called Barefoot Mediation.

Again, if anybody wants to email me, it’s an online course runs over a period of six weeks or so. I’ve had huge variety of people on it, GPs, lawyers and hip hop rapper.

Rachel: The hip hop rapper, love it. So we look out for various hip hop songs that come out or various rap tunes that come out and as bits of mediation be like, that was then.

Jane: I have a testimonial in rap from him. It’s wonderful.

Rachel: That’s fantastic. Brilliant. Jane, thank you so much for coming on, and will you come back at some point soon?

Jane: I’d love to, yeah. Thanks.

Rachel: Great. Thanks. Bye.

Jane: Bye, bye.

Rachel: Thanks for listening. Don’t forget, we provide a self coaching CPD workbook for every episode. You can sign up for it via the link in the show notes. If this episode was helpful, then please share it with a friend. Get in touch with any comments or suggestions at hello@youarenotafrog.com. I love to hear from you. Fnally, if you’re enjoying the podcast, please rate it and leave a review wherever you’re listening. It really helps. Bye for now.