We’ve all been there. You’re facing a week of tight deadlines and back to back meetings, when someone you like asks for your last minute help on a crucial project. Whether you’re in a hurry, surprised, trying to be agreeable, or simply underestimate your current obligations, saying yes to projects we can’t complete is damaging. And no matter how much we know we need to, saying no still fails to get easier. Because delaying too long or saying no at the last minute can harm relationships and opportunities, saying no effectively is a critical skill to learn. Most of us feel guilty and anxious when forced to turn something down. It’s important to remember, however, that rejecting a request is not the same as rejecting the person. While we all feel a desire to be accepted by our peers, this desire should not overpower our decisions in life. The following five approaches will make it easier for you to confidently say no, without sacrificing good relationships.
A simple way to start saying no is to impose a waiting period on yourself. If you feel your life is over scheduled, force yourself to wait 6, 12, or 24 hours after being asked before committing to anything new. This way you have something to say should someone ask for your help, and you also have a minute to yourself to decide what’s really important. Saying something like, “I’m waiting to hear if a few projects are confirmed, I can let you know as soon as possible” is direct, and it will give you time to consider the project.
The best way to say no is to narrow down which activities or commitments you are least invested in. Take into account which responsibilities you agreed to first, then pick one or two that you simply don’t have time for. Saying no at first can be challenging. But by saying no to a few things you genuinely won’t be able to fit in, it can be easier to stick to your guns. Plus, you allow yourself the time and space to complete your other commitments with one hundred percent attention. Once you have some practice considering what you don’t need or can’t include in life, it will be easier to say no right when someone asks for your help and you’re overstretched.
Once you have said no, minimize any excuses you might use. You are never required to have proof that you’re busy and working hard on other things. If you don’t give excuses, you leave less room for interpretation. In addition to that, you don’t give the person another chance to ask you. Be direct, and stick to your decision. If the person pushes, just say that you simply have too much on your plate, but thank them for the opportunity.
Minimize Work Intrusions
Once you’re more comfortable saying no out of necessity, try to minimize unnecessary work commitments (if your position allows). Some meetings don’t require you to be there, and could give you an hour or two to work on other valuable projects. State firmly and directly that you are overbooked. It’s also okay to give yourself time away from emails when you’re not at work. Don’t forget that letting your boss know you’d like to get your current projects right can actually work in your favor.
Find Your Boundaries
As you use the first four steps to say no in your life, you’ll start to figure out exactly where your limits are. As you discover how many things you can comfortably juggle, you’ll be able to better define your boundaries. You should quickly be better able to recognize when you start to feel over scheduled, and it is crucial to listen to this feeling. After applying these approaches, you’ll know where your limit is, so set boundaries at those limits and stick to them. Though saying no is a challenge at first, it is worthwhile to stay the course. Saying no lets you perform at a better level, and will ultimately make you a happier person.
Featured photo credit: smlp.co.uk via flickr.com