Practical Strategies to Help You Say No

Businesswoman says no at her office concept

Regardless what you are being asked to do, it’s not easy to say no. Even the strongest resolve to decline can be broken down. You may find it easier to turn things down if you remember that saying no isn’t just about not wanting to do something. It is also about giving yourself the gift of devoting your time to more productive or rewarding pursuits. Use the four practical strategies below to learn to say no.

Why You Should Say No

Say no to honor your time. Saying no isn’t necessarily about just making a decision to refrain from being involved in something. On the contrary, saying no is about valuing your own time. In law, it’s also about valuing what your professional time is worth. That certainly isn’t to say that you shouldn’t ever quickly answer a question for a prospective client, a family member, or a friend. But some people will expect you to answer every question they have and expect you to take the time to answer frequent follow-up questions. Saying no is about protecting what your time and skills are worth.

The word “no” creates boundaries. Saying no creates and enforces limits in each of your relationships. It is up to you to create those boundaries. Work on remembering that it does not matter what people think or how they react when you say no. You cannot control how others feel. You can only control what you say (no) and do (stick to the no). Every time you say no, it becomes easier to say no in the future.

Learning to say no can make you more successful. No, really. It can. Turning down unnecessary tasks can make you more productive and focus on important projects. The problem with multitasking is that although we tend to feel like we’re accomplishing more, we’re not focusing enough on each task. Multitasking results in failed projects, errors, and can actually cost us more time in the long run. Saying no can cut down on the tasks that vie for your attention. You don’t feel rushed to finish. You do a better job. You can spend any additional time that you have on projects that will increase your bottom line.

Saying no is good for your health. What happens when we say yes more than we say no?  We end up with more on our plates than we can feasibly handle. While a little bit of pressure is good for us, too much stress can cause big problems. Depression, sleeping problems, weight gain, ulcers, and heart disease are just some of the potential physical problems that you’ll face because of too much stress. So, to protect your health (and your sanity), you should say no more often.

When we say yes, we unknowingly encourage people to continue to ask us for favors. Sometimes we say yes to people because we just want to make the requests stop. However, our logic is a bit flawed. When we say yes, it encourages people to continue to ask for favors, and it gets even harder to say no.

4 Practical Strategies to Help You Say No

It is easy to resolve to say no, but much harder to put into practice in our daily lives. So, to make it easier, we’ve compiled a list of ways to make it easier for you to say no.

Use Your Calendar

At the beginning of each week, take some time to set up your personal calendar. Make appointments with yourself to make sure that you have dedicated time to your needs and desires. This can mean many things for many people. Maybe you schedule time for exercise. Maybe you schedule time every day to take your dog on a walk in the evenings.

It sounds simplistic, but it works. The next time you’re asked to do something and you want to say no, you can check your calendar and say no. You can just say, “Unfortunately, I can’t. I have a conflicting appointment.” If they press for information, just shrug and play the lawyer card and say it’s confidential.

Reassess the Harshness Bias

The harshness bias is a term used in psychology. It occurs when we say yes because we’re afraid that saying no will make us seem to be mean. We don’t want people to see us for something that we’re not. This causes us to take on more work than we should in many circumstances.

If you really can’t take on the extra work for any reason, you’re not being harsh. You’re being honest. To be at your best, your attention cannot be spread too thin.

Think About the Future

Sometimes we say yes when we should say no, and we don’t think about how that yes will affect the immediate future. Take a moment to think about whether you really should say yes.

Don’t get buyer’s remorse. Take a cooling off period and think before you answer. Saying “Let me look at my schedule and get back to you on that,” is much better for you and the person asking for something. If you say yes and don’t have the time and resources to dedicate to the project, you’re not benefiting the person who asked for your help. That could affect them and affect your reputation.

Learn to Say No to Unethical Requests

Although it should be easy to say no to unethical requests, it can actually feel much harder. People who you love and respect may make requests of you that are less than ethical. There are also people who cave to requests of wrongdoing even by people they hardly know, simply because they feel bad if they say no.

Saying no in this situation requires two things. It requires that you provide empathy for the person that’s requested you to participate in an unethical situation (particularly if it is someone you admire or love). Second, it requires that you follow through and say no even if it is hard or brings about an unwanted reaction from the other person.

You can say something similar to, “I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. I can’t do that. It’s not right.”

There will likely be pleading and cajoling. They may get angry. It’s not going to be easy. Just keep in mind that if they truly value your relationship that they will not continue to push the issue.

It’s not easy to say, and it’s not easy for others to hear, but saying no is a necessity for everyone. Say no. It’s good for your health.

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