Have you figured out how to say no? Picture this; It’s 4:59pm on Friday. You’re finishing up the last of your day’s work, relieved that in less than 60 seconds, you’ll be free to go home and decompress from a long week of meetings, errands, and workplace drudgery. After dedicating your time and energy to the people around you, it’s finally time to look after yourself.
And then you hear it: “I just need one more favor from you.” And without thinking or even knowing what the favor is, you agree to it.
We’re all guilty of saying “yes” when we really want to say “no,” but rarely do we consider the consequences of saying “yes” to everything that comes our way. Is saying “no” really as bad as it seems?
The answer is… well, no!
Why don’t we know how to say NO more often?
Before we get into how we should say “no” more, first we must examine why we don’t in the first place. Why do we say “yes” to everything? What is it about the word “no” that scares us so much?
We’re afraid of missing out. Our fear of missing opportunities in our career, relationships, or other parts of our lives has become such a ubiquitous part of the human experience that it’s even got its own buzzword: FOMO. We tend to think like opportunities only come once in a lifetime, and turning down that company Christmas party or a blind date might completely change the trajectory of our lives. The truth is, opportunities aren’t nearly as life-or-death as they might seem. Refusing one offer doesn’t mean we’ll be doomed to an eternity of loneliness and regret. Even more importantly, when you say “no,” to something you don’t want to do, you’ll be able to use that time and energy doing things you do want to do. As Steve Jobs once said, focusing on what matters is about saying “no” to all the things that don’t matter.
We don’t want to disappoint or upset people. When people invite us somewhere or ask us for help, especially people we care about like friends or family, we have a hard time saying no because we’re afraid it might hurt our relationship with those people. After all, nobody likes rejection, but we may be putting unnecessary weight on ourselves. For perspective, think of all the times people have told you “no.” It might have stung, but you probably moved on pretty quickly. Other people will, too.
How to say NO even when it’s hard
It’s worth noting that, sometimes, it will be to your advantage to say “yes” to things you don’t want to do. Whether it be staying at work late for a few nights to work on a project you’re passionate about to schmoozing at a cocktail party full of important people you’d like to meet, something will come along sooner or later that you should accept. The lesson of this article isn’t to switch from saying “yes” all the time to saying “no” all the time; it’s about forming the habit of deeply considering your own wants and needs relative to what’s being asked of you to make informed decisions that are best for you.
That said, here are some strategies to help make that habit a little bit easier.
Take some time to think about it
It’s easy to agree to things when you’re put on the spot, but a simple “let me check my schedule and get back to you” or “I’d like to give it some thought before I commit” goes a long way with people. That gives you time to weigh the advantages and disadvantages while you’re calm and can give your decision the consideration it deserves.
Be polite… but firm
Saying “no” with grace can be the difference between a smooth conversation and an incredibly awkward or contentious one, but finding the balance between being polite and standing up for yourself can be tricky. A good rule of thumb is to start with an expression of gratitude (“thanks for thinking of me!”), followed by a solid “but, no thank you.” If the asker persists, just repeat that you appreciate the offer but can’t accept it, and that’s your final answer.
Offer alternative solutions
Maybe you can’t help your coworker because you’re swamped, but Tim in Accounting can! If you have an alternative solution, suggest it to the asker. Not only does it make you look committed to them, it helps to pass the buck of responsibility to someone else better-equipped to deal with the problem than you.
Finally, sometimes people simply won’t take “no” for an answer, so prepare a few explanations ahead of time for these people. Try things that put the burden on you, like, “With my schedule, I would be unreliable, and I wouldn’t want to do that to you.”