It’s Ok Not to Say ‘It’s ok’


First Call When Situations Arise

In the workplace, I am often one of the first to be called when situations arise and balls get dropped because of my willingness and readiness to jump in and help out wherever is needed. While being flexible and willing in the workplace is often highly looked upon a valued, I found that it was making me an angry and resentful person, but it was due to two things I was doing.

There was an occurrence at work recently where I had proactively addressed and made provisions for the time I would be away only to receive a phone call, on my scheduled time off, to ask for my help remedying a situation.

In the past, I have disregarded my personal life and previous plans because I didn’t want my boss to be upset or I didn’t want to screw over a colleague. But inevitably I would wind up mad and resentful because I had to rearrange my plans or forgo things I really wanted to do.

When this particular request arose, I knew it was an opportunity to put into practice some new responses.  Saying ‘no’ was not only what I wanted to say but it was also the healthiest response.

Saying No

It wasn’t that I couldn’t help or was trying to hang someone out to dry, but it was more about drawing a personal boundary in this instance.

After mulling over how to best phrase my answer, I constructed a response that was gracious but firm ‘no.’ It was going to be uncomfortable saying ‘no’ because it would be unexpected and may feel callous on the receiving end.

But I felt good about saying ‘no.’  I wasn’t frustrated or irritated with the other person because I was drawing a line that I felt was appropriate.

As I prepared to call back with my answer I ran through a couple of scenarios of  possible responses just to preapre myself.  I knew there would likely profusely apologizing from this person for even putting me in this situation and I couldn't land on a good response.

It would have felt disingenuous to respond to an apology by saying ‘it’s ok’ so I asked my husband “what do I say when they say ‘I’m sorry?’” to which he responded;

"It’s ok not to say ‘it’s ok’"

It’s Ok Not to Say ‘It’s ok’

It felt like I had been waiting my whole life to be given permission to not automatically respond with ‘it’s ok’ when someone apologized.

It was an ‘ah ha’ sort of moment. Just like saying ‘no’ isn’t mean, not saying ‘its ok’ when someone apologizes isn’t rude or ungracious.

Instead of defaulting to saying ‘it’s ok’ I planned to respond with a simple but true statement; ‘I understand.’

Responding with ‘I understand’ felt sincere. After all, I truly did understand and was sympathetic to the predicament. However I didn’t feel that being called during my schedule time off and being asked to remedy a situation, in which I had made provisions for prior to my time off, was the most professional or respectful thing to do.

While I understood, saying ‘it’s ok’ felt disingenuous, so I simply didn’t say it.

The Cloud of Emotion

At times I am guilty of allowing my emotions to cloud situations.

While I may draw a line in the sand and say ‘no,’ I may still be irritated over the situation and what was asked me in the first place. Or when someone apologizes and I say ‘it’s ok,’ I tend to get mad at the other person because I feel like they never should have put me in the situation to begin with.

Part of it’s the south I’m sure, I cannot fathom being seen as rude or unaccommodating, almost to my own demise at times.

But what I found that day when I said a firm but kind ‘no’ which was followed by a sincere statement of ‘I understand’ when apologies were made, was that it felt really good.

I didn’t feel taken advantage of, I wasn’t mad at myself for not saying ‘no,’ I wasn’t irritated with this person,  and I wasn't in a funk for the rest of the day due to someone elses lack of planning and for calling me to the rescue.

It felt liberating; I hung up the phone and didn’t think twice about the incident the rest of the day.

What to Practice

So that’s my challenge to you, try those two responses, especially if they’re not your norm.

  1. Practice saying ‘no.’

  2. Don’t feel like you have to automatically says ‘it’s ok’ if someone apologizes.

You’re not likely to change other people’s actions or responses. If someone is always dropping balls that you’re being asked to pick up, they’ll keep asking you until kingdom come regardless of whether you’re on vacation or out sick.

Say ‘no’ next time. No one will die, though they may act like they will.

The same goes for apologies. Often, people apologize because they are uncomfortable.  If they’re not used to you saying ‘no,’ that response will likely make them uncomfortable.

But don’t be rattled by it, hold to your ‘no’ and simply tell them you understand if the profuse apologies start rolling.

Though it may be uncomfortable, it’s liberating. Momentary discomfort for a lifestyle that’s liberating is definitely worth the trade off.