Do you have difficulty saying no to other people?
I’ll admit it – I don’t like to say no. Whenever someone has a request, I’ll say yes where I can help it. Part of this is because I don’t like to leave people in the lurch. The other part comes from not wanting to disappoint others.
However, while saying yes seems like a ready solution, it’s not necessary the best answer all the time. Just like saying no has its implications, NOT saying no *has* implications too. Think about it:
- When you say yes to something you don’t enjoy, you say no to things that you love
- When you say yes to a job you don’t love, you say no to your dreams
- When you say yes to someone you don’t like, you say no to a fulfilling relationship
- When you say yes to working overtime, you say no to your social life
- When you say yes to Quadrant 3/4 tasks, you say no to your Quadrant 2, high value activities
How To Say No: 11 Tips
There are many things I have said no to others before in my life and that I continue to say no to on a regular basis. Without doing that, I would never have been able to have time to start my personal development business, write hundreds of free articles on my blog, coach my 1-1 clients, grow my business, spend time with my friends and family, and live the life I love today.
It’s an ongoing process to learn how to say no, and it can be easy to tough to get started. But as long as you realize the importance of saying no, you’re on your way there. Here are my 11 ready tips on how to say no—they will come in handy whether you’re saying no to your boss, a friend, a colleague, a family member or a stranger.
Remember there’s nothing wrong with saying no – it’s about learning how to say no. Hopefully with this guide, you’ll now know how to do so easily from now on.
1. Be clear of your vision
Many people thought it was a big loss to quit my up-and-going career in a Fortune 100 company back in 2008. But it wasn’t a loss to me at all. To me the real loss would be if I had continued on staying in a job which was not going to lead me to my dreams. I was very clear of my end vision, which was to help others grow and live their best lives, through different mediums such as my blog, training, coaching and others.
To continue in my job would prevent my dreams from coming to live. To stay on for another 1, 3, 5 years would only put me in the same position with respect to pursuing my passion 1, 3, 5 years later – at ground zero. I didn’t want this. To spend my time doing something which wasn’t that – there was really no point. This was why it was so easy for me to make the decision, because I knew what was at stake if I continued to say yes to my current job.
Think about what your vision is: be it for your life, for your career, for your relationships, or for that particular situation you are dealing with. Once you know it, it’ll be extremely easy to say no, because now you have a clear reason to do so. The clearer you are (of your vision), the easier it will be to say no, because now you will know what you want to say yes to.
2. Know the implications of saying yes
We normally say yes to the little requests streaming in because it may seem like a small deal. Just chip in and help if we can – what’s the problem? It doesn’t take much time, maybe just 10-15 minutes, or 20 minutes max. Right?
Yet, these little moments pile up over time to become big clogs. There’s a reason why top executives, despite managing large companies and businesses, can have time for themselves, their families, friends and work all the time, while some people who are always busy day-in and day-out never seem to progress in their life situations. It’s as if the latter group is busy running to stay in the same spot. That’s because the former knows the implications of not saying no.
Whenever you get a request, think twice before you say yes or no. What’s going to happen if you say yes to it? What are the long-term implications? What is there to gain? What are you going to lose if you agree? Do you really have to say yes? What limiting beliefs do you have that are making you say yes?
I believe that time is more precious than money, because while you can earn back money, you can never get back time. Because of that, I really value my time – it’s my most precious commodity and I’m very conscious of how I spend it. You should too.
3. Realize that saying no is okay
Saying no is okay. We keep thinking that it’s not okay, that the other person will feel bad, that we’re being evil, that people will be angry, that we’re being rude, etc. While these stem from good intentions in us, the thing is most of these fears are self-created. If the person is open-minded, he/she will understand when you say no.
There have been past situations where I was worried about saying no, because I was afraid the person would be disappointed, or that he/she would be unhappy, and bridges would be burned. And while it took me time to convey the message, nothing bad happened from saying no.
Saying no is okay and it’s part and parcel of life. People say yes and no all the time every day in this world. You’re definitely not the only person saying no to someone else. So don’t worry about it. Being respectful in your communication is more important (see #6).
4. Use the medium you’re most comfortable with
Use the appropriate medium to communicate the message – face-to-face, instant messaging, emailing, SMS, phone call or even others. There is no one best medium because I’ve used different mediums before and it depends on the context and your relationship with the person.
5. Keep it simple
Keep it simple – let the person know that you can’t do it, and give a short explanation why you’re saying no. Sometimes a simple “No it’s okay”, “I’m sorry it doesn’t meet my needs at the moment”, “I have other priorities and I can’t work on this at the moment” or “Perhaps next time” work just fine. There’s no need to over-explain as it’s not relevant for the party anyway, and it might lead to the other party trying to challenge your stance instead when all you want to do is to communicate a message of “No, thank you”. If there are certain things which you’re open to discuss/negotiate on, put them up for discussion here.
6. Be respectful
Many don’t say no because they feel it’s disrespectful, however it’s about how you say it rather than the act of saying no. Be respectful in your reply, value the other party’s stance and you’ll be fine.
7. Provide an alternative if you want
If you like, propose an alternative.
If you don’t think you’re the right person for the request, then propose someone whom you think is a better fit. If you’re not free to be engaged at the moment but you’d like to be involved, then propose an alternate timing where you are free. If there’s something you think is an issue, then point it out so you can help him/her improve.
I usually do this as an act of good will, but if I can’t think of any alternatives then I don’t. Don’t take responsibility for the person’s request because then you’re just trying to overcompensate for not being able to say yes. Saying no is not a problem nor an issue (see #3).
8. Make yourself less accessible
If you face the situation where too many people keep asking you for help and it’s just overwhelming you, make yourself less accessible. Don’t respond immediately to every single request, because it just sends the message that you’re always around all the time for help, which may not be true. Instead take a longer time to revert (as your schedule permits), be more concise with your replies, and limit your availability. This way, others will value your time more.
Read: Put First Things First (Habit #3 of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)
9. Write down everything first
This is very helpful for me when I’m at a block on how to say no, usually when it’s a request I feel ambiguous about.
Write out everything that’s on your mind, which includes what you really want to say to the person. While you’re doing this, sometimes you may uncover pent up frustrations. That’s good. Keep writing.
While you may start out confused on how exactly to say no, the answer will start formulating itself mid-way through your message. Continue typing and it’ll soon be clear on what you actually want, and how to say it. Once you’re done, now review what you wrote and edit it to fit your final message.
10. Delay your response
If you’re not keen on the request, delaying your reply is a way of showing lack of interest. I usually archive my “no” mail, think over them for a couple of weeks and reply them after that. By then the other party would know that I’m not very keen, and they would not be so persistent in their responses as well.
11. Sometimes, no reply is also a form of reply
Running Personal Excellence (my blog), I often get pitches from other businesses or bloggers to review products, services, events, among other things. If I try to reply to every single one of them I wouldn’t have time to do anything else. So most of the times I reply only to those that are relevant to me. As for the rest, I don’t respond, which in itself is a reply.
If a particular request isn’t important to you and you’re stretched for time, don’t worry too much about it. Life goes on for everyone. But if the person took some time to write a personal, customized message, it’ll be nice to just send a short note to say no so you don’t leave the person hanging. If you have already said no and the person still persists, then not replying is the way to go.
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Check out the follow-up sister article, How To Say “No” To a High-Pressure Sales Person (Or Anyone For That Matter), which provides a real-life application of Step #3 of this guide. :)
It's hard to say no. Why?: Why You Need to Say No! More Often
Set a Goal For Yourself
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