Thursday, 5 March 2009

The Right Reply

How often has someone said something, and several minutes (or even months) after the event, you’ve thought of the perfect retort, a brilliant come-back which would not only dramatically make your point and utterly conclude the debate, but have everyone in earshot clutching their bellies, wiping away tears of hysterical laughter and marvelling at your wit?

Once – only once – in my life I have managed to say that perfect retort at exactly the time it was needed. It occurred soon after my first husband and I divorced and he was making plans to marry his long-term mistress. He wanted the children (8 and 4) to be bridesmaids, but, understandably, didn’t want me at the wedding and I didn’t want to be far from the girls, so we devised a careful plan which involved me dressing them in their beautiful gowns and dropping them off at the venue, then waiting in the car park with a book for three hours. He evidently felt a bit guilty at this arrangement because he asked me whether I was upset that he hadn’t invited me to his wedding.

“No dear,” I replied, cool as a cucumber, “I wish I hadn’t gone to your last one.”

LawCare’s Stress and Depression pack contains a page of advice on saying exactly the right thing at the right time, but in this case, that thing is one word – “No.” It seems to be the hardest thing of all to say, because many helpline callers tell us in despair that they are overloaded with work, and yet their supervisor/manager/Senior Partner keeps asking them to do more and more things. And then at home they get asked to be on the PTA, and to go to a Yoga class with a friend, and look after a relative’s pets while they are on holiday. Naturally, they become very stressed trying to do everything and be everything to everyone when really they just don’t have the time or the energy.

The antidote is that simple word “No.” Our information pack lists several creative ways to dress up that “No” to make it easier both to say and to hear. My favourite, which I have been known to use myself, is “I already have this, this and this to do. What task would you like me to drop in order to do this new task?” I also really like “I appreciate your confidence in me. I wouldn’t want to take this on knowing my other tasks and responsibilities right now would prohibit me from doing an excellent job.”

The advice (which was written for our pack by Coach Dianna Keel – thanks Dianna) also makes a very good point. Sometimes there is no better answer than just a simple No. It strengthens your boundaries, and people start to realise that actually you’re not a do-anything dogsbody. They’ll have more respect for you, and next time they’ll think twice before asking. As the Grange Hill cast told us in 1986, “Just Say No”.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Barristers Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

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