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How to say no

A small word like “no” can have a huge negative impact on our mental and physical health, energy level and the accomplishment of meaningful personal goals.

Getting involved in business, community and social projects can be a great way to expand your personal relationships and your areas of competence; but it can also catapult you into a busy, busy life where you are so occupied with other people’s projects that you don’t realize you are neglecting your own ambitions and the needs of those closest to you.

There is a reason people say that if you want to get something done, you should ask a busy person. It’s usually because a busy person hasn’t learned to say no.

It’s so much easier to say yes to other people’s requests. We don’t hurt their feelings, it avoids conflict, it satisfies our need to be liked, and it actually feels good at the time. Every time we say yes, we are momentary heroes. But most often, what we agree to do at the moment torpedoes what we really want to do the most.

Just because someone asks you to or three times doesn’t mean you have to change your answer to a yes. A polite no is a complete sentence; but you might want to add a comment that doesn’t leave the door open for a change of heart later, such as “but I’m flattered that you asked me.”

Definitely don’t say “Let me think about it, and I’ll get back to you later.” They will have false hopes, and you will have an even harder time saying no as they continually press you for your decision. And giving an excuse such as, “I’m too busy right now; perhaps in the future” would leave the door open for negotiation. You may get, “That would work out okay; the project doesn’t start until the spring.” Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Holding a definite “No” in abeyance is both stressful and energy draining.

If you feel you must give a reason for saying no, mention how saying yes would impact other people. Few people would argue against spending adequate time with your family or fulfilling ongoing obligations, for instance.

It’s important to have your personal goals as well as your personal policies in writing and in your mind. Focusing on your goals insures that you have a good reason for refusal always on the tip of your tongue. For example, I can readily respond with sorry, “I’d love to help you out; but I have a commitment to get 10 more e-books to the publisher in the next couple of years and I just don’t have the time to spare.”

Saying no at work tends to be more of a struggle for women than for men, according to studies done by Katherine O’Brien at Baylor School of medicine in 2014. Age is also a factor. Seniors find it easier to say no – probably due to experience and because they have less need. The majority of people are somewhere in between, with the less assertive people being more likely to say yes.

Practice should help everyone. Thinking how you would word a refusal, and actually speaking it out loud a few times, will at least make it more familiar and a little easier. And the more you say no, and discover that people don’t resent it half as much as you had imagined, it won’t be such an ordeal.


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Say no by first saying yes

You have probably heard it said that every time you say yes to a request or a supposed opportunity, you are saying no to something else. In other words, since you only have 24 hours a day and no more, spending any amount of time on another task makes that time unavailable for something else. This means you might have to say no to something you might have otherwise have preferred to do – like spend time with your family or relax by the pool.

You are already doing this whenever you eat in a restaurant or shop at a department store. When you select your meal, you are saying no to everything else on the menu. And when you choose a jacket, you are saying no to all the other jackets on the rack.

This is true; you are saying no by default. But it makes more sense to turn this around by say yes to the things you want to do first – before you receive those requests. You do this by having personal and organizational goals, and blocking out the time in your planner to work on those goal-related activities. Whatever time is left over is the time available for others requests or unexpected opportunities.

The problem is that most people still work on a reactive, first-come, first-served basis, with no specific plan for getting their own priorities done.

You cannot work effectively from a “To do” list since there is no time estimate attached to each item. And we all underestimate how long we think it list of activities will take.

The solution is to schedule directly into your planner those things that you want to say yes to, blocking off enough time to do them. If you block off enough time to include the inevitable interruptions, you will be able to tell by the remaining blank spaces in your planner how much discretionary time you still have available for other things.

This works best with a paper planner; but you can still do it with your electronic handheld device. Regardless, these appointments with yourself to get things done are not carved in stone. If even higher priorities come up, you can still say yes to them by displacing those already in your planner. But it’s a lot easier to say no if you already have your commitments in place.

This allows you to plan well in advance, accommodating the more urgent items in the immediate future. You already know what you want. So make the commitment to get them done. Say yes to yourself so you are able to say no to others.