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Published on November 24, 2020

How to Say No Politely And Professionally

How to Say No Politely And Professionally

Do you find that you have a hard time saying “no” when something is asked of you? I felt like this for most of my life and still fight the urge not to immediately blurt out “sure!” when someone asks me for their help. I could probe under my mental hood for why I have this innate inclination to say yes but at the end of the day, it’s simply part of who I am. I know I have a lot of company in feeling this way.

There’s a whole plethora of books and reading material on how to say no to the many things asked of us in life. Many of us are raised in such a manner that we feel we should always be helping others. That we should always be willing to lend a helping hand whenever possible. And many of us are taught that to get ahead in our work life, we should be willing to “do what it takes” and take on additional responsibilities.

You have to work hard to get to the top of your profession. And these things are true to a point. It’s when we always say yes to things that are asked of us that we risk burnout and overcommitting ourselves. With that let’s look at how to say no politely and professionally.

Why Saying Yes all the Time Isn’t a Good Thing

There’s a well-used term for people that say yes to everyone and everything. It’s called being a people-pleaser. And I was a world class people-pleaser. It’s not bad, of course, to help out when asked to or pitch in when needed. The problem arises when you say yes to everything.

In short, you realize you are living your life for others and not for yourself. Saying yes to everyone all the time can lead to some bad long term issues.

Resentment

One of the worst things that come from saying yes all the time is a growing feeling of resentment towards others. When your friend who never does his homework asks you yet again for your notes, how does that make you feel when you slide them over to him?

One time, I was training a new person on my team. I showed them how to do something. And then I showed them again. And again. After a few months, I realized I was doing a ton of this person’s work simply because they asked for my help again, claiming they didn’t quite get it.

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When I realized what was going on, I told them it was time they figured it out on their own. I woke up to how resentful I was to be working with someone who took my kindness and turned it into a way for them to do less work.

Mentally and Physically Fatigued

Something else that commonly happens when we say yes all the time is we become fatigued, both mentally and physically. If you have to lose sleep in order to check everything off your to do list and a lot of that is for other people, you’re going to wind up getting more and more tired.

I know from experience when I am trying to tackle too much, I have a hard time sleeping because I can’t shut my brain off. I can’t turn it off because I keep thinking about everything I have to take care of, much of it not impacting my own life. This is taxing to say the least.

Not Your Life Anymore

When we wind up doing more than we should for other people, we wind up not working on our own lives as much as we should.

We can get to the point of feeling like we aren’t even living our lives because we are paying too much attention and time on things that are important in other people’s lives. This is not a good place to be in at all.

An extreme example of this is someone that is taking care of another person who can’t take care of themselves for one reason or another. Of course, we want to be there for our loved ones when they need our help. That said, when one person has to take care of another for an extended period, it can feel like the person tending doesn’t have their own life any longer.

Losing Boundaries

One of the best ways to get to a place of how to say no politely and professionally is to establish boundaries. Boundaries are something I learned about later than I would have liked to but once you discover them, it’s a very freeing feeling to establish them in your life.

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Boundaries are essentially something you create in order to live the type of life you want to. It’s sort of like a set of guidelines that you have set in your life. From time to time, you share them with others depending on the situation.

Some examples may include working no more than 45 hours in a week at your job, or not staying in an unhealthy relationship. We typically learn to set our boundaries when something happens in our lives that makes us say ‘I don’t want that situation again.” Here’s a few examples of my boundaries:

I bought a truck several years ago. Almost immediately, people began to ask me help them move something. Which of course, I did at first. Once it got to a point where I was helping people numerous times a week, I decided I would help someone with my truck once every two weeks and only at a time that was convenient for me.

I enjoy having a full life. That said, I don’t like my life to be full with just my day job. Therefore, I limit the number of hours worked per week in my day job to 45. If the number of things on my plate take up more than 45 hours, and they almost always do, I prioritize working on what’s important first and foremost.

Now, let’s find out how to say no politely and professionally in order to keep our sanity.

How To Say No Politely and Professionally

The key to saying no politely and professionally is to frame the “No” in different manners so you’re not just awkwardly staring back at someone and then mumbling a “I can’t do it”.

There’s different ways to say no to various people you interact with in a way that works for you, and still be polite and respectful towards the other person. Here’s a few to consider.

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To Your Boss

Saying no to your boss can be intimidating. And unless you enjoy eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner at your desk, sometimes you will reach a point where you have to tell your boss thanks but no thanks.

To your boss, you want to paint the picture that you are honored to have been considered for the additional work, but other priorities will make that not possible right now. Something along the lines of:

“I really appreciate you thinking of me for this project. Currently I was planning on spending this week/month on projects X,Y, and Z. As I recall those were high priorities”.

“Wow, thanks so much for bringing this to me. Right now I have a full load working on project X & Y. Would you prefer I set aside that work and spend my time on this new project instead?”

To Your Colleagues

I love helping out my colleagues and really appreciate their help from time to time as well. However, sometimes I am not able to lend a helping hand due to the workload I have at the moment. In this case, you’ll want to keep it pretty close to the truth whenever possible.

“That’s a very exciting initiative to be heading up Brian, you must be stoked! Thanks for asking for my help with the survey piece of it. Truth be told, this is not what I’d consider an area of strength for me, I’d probably slow things down. Lisa is pretty good at those, you might ask her”.

“You know I normally love doing this type of work Beth and I really appreciate you asking for my help with the layout part of it. Unfortunately, the timing isn’t good, our boss Mark has me working on a presentation to the ELT for next week”.

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To Your Clients

Saying no to a client can be tough. After all, they are the ones paying you. The main thing here is to make sure your client feels heard and understood. Once you fully listen to their input or want, share with them how you are addressing this very issue from another angle.

“You know Bob, I completely get what you are saying and couldn’t agree more. I was thinking that we would be able to address the 36-45 age range when we highlight the positive results in compound XYZ”.

“Karen that is great, I appreciate you pointing that out and bringing it up to make sure we address it. Mandy on the team has been looking into that as well, I’ll ask her to share her thoughts on what she has discovered in our meeting on Thursday”.

In Your Personal Life

With people in your personal life, it’s best to say no and the reason why. Maybe you’ve already got something else planned, or it could be you just don’t want to. Of course, you want to be respectful of people’s feelings; but with your closer, more personal relationships, it’s best to be honest about why you are saying no.

One of my rules to help keep me on the path of not always saying yes is that I am always happy to help someone, providing they are doing the main work. After all, someone is asking me for my help in their life, so they should be the one doing the heavy lifting.

This has come up in many situations. When my oldest daughter would complain about not having any money, I’d offer to help her make a budget. She would need to set a time and place and I’d be happy to help her. When someone has asked me to help them move something with my truck, of course I’m happy to help – here is when I am available: You want me to help you in the yard? Sure I can certainly do that. However I am not available today, I already have things planned.

Bottom Line

With a little luck, you’ve learned something about how to say no politely and professionally. Helping others out from time to time is great, it’s nice to know that you can count on others when needed and visa versa. It helps us feel connected and part of something greater than ourselves.

Unfortunately, it can become too easy to say yes to too many requests for help. This can lead to resentment and burnout. When someone asks for your help, take a moment to consider if it’s something you genuinely want to do and can do, or if it’s better to say no politely and professionally.

More About the Art of Saying No

Featured photo credit: Amy Hirschi via unsplash.com

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Mat Apodaca

On a mission to share about how communication in the workplace and personal relationships plays a large role in your happiness

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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