Over the years I’ve wrestled with saying “no” to many requests. When I was two years old, I’m sure I didn’t have that problem. Just ask my family! As I grew up, I think the people pleaser in me showed up, and “no” seldom found its way into my vocabulary. As an adult, I have a distinct memory about learning how to say “no.” I was doing volunteer work at a local museum for a major fund-raising event. I was responsible getting volunteers for my committee. I still remember the woman I asked who instead of just saying “no” said, “No, I can’t help you now, but when the event takes place I’ll be glad to work.” Gosh, that no really didn’t sound so much like a no.
Yes can be the right answer many times, but none of us has unlimited time available to say yes to everything. It’s knowing when to say yes or no and then how to say it that makes the difference.
Here are seven ideas to help you say “no.”
1. Does the request move you closer to your goals? If it does, that’s great. Commit the time needed. If it doesn’t, it should be easy to say no.
2. How does the time commitment for a “yes” affect your priorities? Sometimes we might like to say yes, but the time away from our stated priorities is a sacrifice that we aren’t willing to make. One example might be that your priority for family time requires you to say no to requests that interfere with that. And, don’t forget that commitments to yourself count as priorities; don’t give up time you need to rejuvenate or “fill the well.”
3. It’s OK to think about the request. You can tell the person you’ll give some thought to their request and then get back to them. This gives you time to consider the request, see how it fits into your goals, priorities and commitments.
4. Don’t apologize for saying “no.” Often people will say, “I’m sorry, but I can’t because….” It’s not necessary to give a reason why you can’t. It’s your time you are guarding. If you feel the need to explain, a simple “I can’t at this time” should work.
5. Offer an option. If you want to be involved in an activity that will take too much of your time, think of how you can do something small that will be less stressful. That’s what the woman who taught me how to say “no” did. For example, if you’re asked to be responsible for arranging for snacks for your child’s soccer team for the season, offer to bring snacks for one game. When my quilt guild was in need of volunteers for its show, I offered to design the brochure and advertising materials, something I could do on my own time.
6. Try to be aware of when someone is going to ask you for something. If you are on a committee or part of a group, it’s much easier to let the chair/group know ahead of time that you are already committed and can’t take on something else.
7. Practice saying no. Try it when you are asked for personal information when you shop. Try it with telemarketers.
And, once you’ve said no, just move on. In all likelihood, you’ll feel better and much less stressed, and the person who asked just moves onto the next name on her list.
How good are you at saying, “no”? Please share your thoughts below.