You’ve no doubt encountered times when agreeing to do a favor made you unable to complete your task or took time away from taking care of yourself (skipping meals, or not getting enough sleep are some examples). Still, we all face fears about saying no—fears about hurting feelings and being disliked.
A lot of people just don’t like the idea of having to tell people they can’t do something or they feel obligated when a colleague asks for a favor; or feel pressured when someone senior to them needs something done.
There are even some workplaces where saying no is frowned upon; and in, say, the police force could be a sackable or disciplinary offense.
After having worked for some time with people that saying no either feels impossible or just isn’t allowed, we created a body to address it.
In some cases, it is indeed, how to say no without ever saying the word.
Of course, there are times when saying the ‘n’ word is a necessity.
But in our experience, there is so much anxiety around the possible consequences of using it, that people don’t say anything at all, or agree to things they’d rather not, or get landed with work that isn’t theirs and so on.
That can’t be good for anyone, but especially the person who finds themselves staying late at the end of the day to get their work done after they’ve finished everyone else’s; or who swallows their resentment when they are ‘volunteered’ for something they don’t want to do; or who quakes at the idea of having to be a bit tougher with a supplier or even someone they manage.
There is such mixed messaging out there when it comes to saying no. Shonda Rhimes tells us to embrace YES and dedicate an entire year to it, while others have declared vehemently that life is truly about saying no.
I’d like to believe my philosophy sits somewhere in the middle. I think we all far too often say “no” to the things that scare us and “yes” to the things that don’t serve us. It’s also hard to differentiate between the two.
This is why I truly believe that saying no is an art. It’s not something that is mastered overnight, but with practice, you get better at it. It’s something I’ve been practicing for the last few years and while it still isn’t easy, I’ve certainly improved.
I’ve said “no” to more money than I ever thought imaginable because the brand was not the right fit and “yes” to brands who had zero budget but whose values aligned(DTM lapels, The kits place, etc). I’ve said “no” to countless meetings and “yes” to spending time with loved ones. I stumbled a lot along the way, but I’m getting there.
What I’ve learned is that saying no means saying yes. It means saying yes to you, and your values. It means saying yes to the people you love and your responsibility to be a kind, compassionate human.
It doesn’t get you out of paying your taxes or showing up to the things you hate doing (we all have those things), but instead asking yourself if you have the choice between saying yes and no, is yes really the answer?
I find there are a couple of questions and tips that have helped me learn the art of saying no and knowing when it might be time to say yes. I thought I’d dedicate this post to sharing those tips with you:
1. Is Fear the Root?
This question goes both ways. Are you saying yes because you’re scared the opportunity will never come again? The answer, in this case, is to say no. Are you saying no because you don’t think you’ll perform well enough or do the job perfectly? Challenge yourself and say yes!
2. Will you Feel Resentful?
Oh mannnn!! this is a hard one! The number of times I’ve said yes to something only to feel resentful or angry in return. It was oftentimes because I agreed to do something for way less value than I felt I deserved. If you’re going to be angry, resentful or avoidance of something because you don’t feel you are being valued or compensated appropriately, WALK AWAY. Fast! It took me learning this lesson 10 times over to finally realize that my time was not worth being wasted on things that did not serve me or my business.
3. How Much Time Do You Have?
Realistically look at how much time you have. Set boundaries! Are you willing to work on weekends? Weeknights? What does your work schedule look like? How much time are you spending with your loved ones? Do they feel they are being acknowledged? If no, it’s time to reassess how you spend your time and if you are prioritizing it well. Which brings me to…
4. What Are Your Priorities?
When was the last time you sat down and looked at your priorities? We oftentimes move through life in auto-pilot without actually taking the time to see if we’re living life according to our values and passions. I suggest setting aside some time to write down your passions and then numbering them according to what you want to prioritize in your life. If an opportunity comes along that isn’t in your top 5 priorities, say no. It can oftentimes be a map to navigating those challenging situations where you’re not sure if it’s the right opportunity or not.
5. Can You Provide Alternative Offering?
This is probably the easiest way to say no and good practice if you’re just getting started. Maybe you can’t offer what is being asked of you, but you can bring some kind of alternative solution? I do this a lot for work where I turn down an opportunity but suggest people who might be a better fit. I also do this frequently for blog consulting. While I’d love to sit down and talk with every person who wants to start a blog, it’s not realistic for me. Instead, I send them over to The Blogger Project which offers tons of resources on starting a blog. My suggestion is to create a couple of canned responses for those situations that may frequently pop up that don’t align with your time or priorities but perhaps you can offer help in another way.
6. Practice Practice Practice
Saying “no” is uncomfortable (as is saying “yes”) occasionally. But it gets easier with practice! I’m a lot more comfortable saying no now that I’ve done it many many times. It also helps to know-how. Providing an alternative offering is always a good idea, but if you don’t have time for that, know that’s it’s okay to just say no. If you say it with compassion and understanding, people will respect you. If they don’t, that’s on them, not you. It’s probably a practice that they still aren’t comfortable with.
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I’m not here to tell you that you need to say no to everything. I do think there’s value in saying yes. But I also think you should be saying no far more often than you are saying yes. If you are overwhelmed with work or maybe are over-saturated with play (it happens!) consider what you’re saying yes to and what you might want to consider saying no to. I also think it helps to have people say no to you because it teaches you to get a lot more comfortable with rejection and understanding that rejection does not mean you are unworthy. Rejection is bad timing or the wrong fit. It has nothing to do with you. Once you experience a lot more of that you’ll then get much more comfortable giving it in return.
But as I said, it takes a ton of practice! It’s an art, not a science.