I used to suck at saying no, but trust me: when you say yes too often and your life no longer feels like your own, you learn really fast!
For me, it wasn’t so much a fear of disappointing people that fueled my “Sure, why not?” attitude–it was my nonexistent sense of individuality. Saying yes was my way of figuring out what I did and didn’t want, like and don’t like. But when it came time to set boundaries, what felt like a gradual shift to me was sudden and shocking to everyone else.
Here’s why saying no is important:
- If you say yes too much, the quality of every aspect of your life will suffer.
- You’ll become scattered, stressed, and unable to focus on what’s truly important to you.
- People will start to consider you enthusiastic, but unreliable.
- Feelings of overwhelm, inadequacy, guilt and frustration will consume you.
- Follow-through? What’s that? You’ll completely lose faith in your ability to reach your goals.
Regardless of why you always say yes, the most important thing you can do is equip yourself with ways to say no that won’t hurt or offend anyone. This is especially crucial in the beginning, since no one will be used to you saying no. Eventually, as you establish your boundaries, it will get easier on both sides.
Ease Into Saying No
When I first started saying no, it wasn’t pretty. At first it was more of a “Nnnyes.” When I was finally able to get the entire word out, I wasn’t prepared for the second half of the equation: the part where I’d spend so much time justifying my “no,” I’d be too exhausted to accomplish what I wanted to with that time.
If you really suck at saying no, the best thing you can do in the moment is say, “Let me get back to you.” This will give you the opportunity to make an informed decision and practice a concise, firm “no” beforehand.
When it comes to the actual act of saying no, here are my favorite strategies to help you get a grip on your life again:
Saying No at Work
With the level of job insecurity flying around these days, it’s completely understandable to feel as if saying no at work will negatively impact your career. As it turns out, the opposite is true! By focusing on quality over quantity on the job, it shows you care about not only the outcome of the projects others are trying to add to your plate, but also about the overall reputation of your company.
Start off by showing you understand the importance of what they want you to do, or appreciation for being thought of:
- “I’d love to help you out, but…”
- “It sounds like a fantastic project, however…”
Then let them know why you’re saying no:
- “I already have several time-sensitive projects on the go…”
- “It’s not my area of expertise…”
End with offering them a back-up plan:
- “I could put you in touch with…”
- “Debbie in PR is well-connected to the companies you’d like to partner with. Here’s her cell.”
There will be times when you really do want to work with the person in the future, so let them know you hope to be free for their next project (don’t say you definitely will–you don’t want to make a promise you can’t keep).
Saying No at Home
Saying no to friends and family is especially tricky; you don’t want to hurt their feelings or disappoint them, but at the same time it’s important to voice your wants and needs and do things that are important to you too.
There are those friends and family members who are consistent when it comes to returning the favor, so you can easily say to them, “Sorry, I already have plans,” or, “Work wiped me, I really need to recharge,” and ask for a rain check. They’ll understand and appreciate the give-and-take of your relationship as much as you do.
Then there are those who are dramatic and needy by nature. It’s pretty much guaranteed that they won’t accept an answer like the above–they’ll want to make new plans right on the spot or try to talk you into doing what they want anyway. Remain firm with your answer, and don’t feel the need to continue justifying your reasons. Trust me, they’ll try to counteract everything you say just to get their way. They’ll get the picture eventually. If they don’t, respectfully say, “This is who I am. Take it or leave it.” If they “leave it,” it’s their loss.
The hardest part of saying no? The unavoidable guilt as your family member or friend gives you the “humane society” face–the big eyes, the chin quiver, the crack in their voice that makes you feel like the biggest tool on Earth. But here’s the thing: you’ve said no respectfully, and for good reason. It’s your time to do exactly what you want with, so why settle for anything less?
The only thing worse than someone being disappointed in you is being disappointed in yourself.
How has saying no changed your life for the better?