Social worker: You can say no to things and still be Iowa Nice

DECORAH — The phrase “just say no” was part of a major anti-drug campaign in the 1980s, but saying no to certain situations in life is still difficult for many people, especially those of us who were raised to be “Iowa Nice.”

Amber Sherman, a licensed clinical social worker in Iowa, says it can be really hard to reject an offer, an invitation, or a request for help.

“A lot of people struggle with saying no and knowing that ‘no’ is a complete sentence, that if I tell you no, I don’t have to follow it up with all kinds of excuses,” Sherman says. “The answer is just no, I don’t want to do that thing.”

Sherman says saying no should always an option and it’s something we all likely need to do more frequently.

“We want to say yes to everything. We want to be everything to everybody, but that’s not sustainable,” Sherman says, “and it also really doesn’t feel good when we say yes to things we’d really rather say no to.”

It may be easier to not make waves, but Sherman says setting boundaries and saying no is important to our mental and emotional health, even if it might make us feel guilty.

“So if your order is wrong, do you just eat it, or do you say in a respectful, kind way, ‘I think I ordered this. Would you mind correcting my order?’” Sherman says. “I think that even just small things like that are a big deal, and learning that early on and practicing it every day is really important.”

If there’s a collection being taken at the office for someone’s birthday or work anniversary, Sherman says there can be great pressure to participate, but if you don’t want to do so, don’t.

“I think, ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ is okay, like, that’s not something that I do,” Sherman says. “Even thinking about what are your personal policies around gifting, and so choosing not to participate is something that should be respected.”

Sherman is manager of the Employee Assistance Program at Gundersen Health System, which has clinics in Fayette, Decorah, Waukon, Lansing, Postville and Calmar, and a hospital in West Union.