How to say no to requests Without damaging your relationships
Do you find it difficult to say no to your partner, your friends and acquaintances?
How can you say no to requests without feeling guilt, conflict, remorse, or damaging your relationships?
“Only when you give yourself permission to stop trying to do everything, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your greatest contribution to the things that really matter” – Greg McKeown
Refusing a request or invitation can be extremely difficult. After all, you’re afraid of not being liked and you’re screaming with every cell of your being to say no, but you just can’t muster those two little letters.
Though I’ve trained for it for a decade, I, too, am guilty of saying “yes” too quickly. I’ve persevered through many conversations, social gatherings, and networking events wondering what made me agree.
Before the invitation came, it seemed like a good idea. But when I got there, I had pangs of conscience. I could list at least five other things I could do that would benefit me more. So why did I still say yes even though I knew it?
If you can understand this struggle with saying no,
Here are some tools to help you say no without conflict, guilt, or regret:
1. Manage expectations.
“Poor planning on your part makes it unnecessary for me to face an emergency.” – Bob Carter
When someone asks you to do something, you hear yourself say, “No problem, I’ll do it tomorrow.” And this despite the fact that you can hardly cope with your current obligations. It’s human nature to please others, and you’re afraid of damaging your reputation if you say no.
Defer your standard response of over-committing yourself the next day and instead ask:
“When is the last time you need this?” My calendar is full until Tuesday. Would Wednesday morning be okay with you?”.
You’ll find that unless there’s really urgent need to do it sooner, they’re likely to agree. But that should be the exception and not the rule. In your eagerness to get along with others, you don’t want to trade quality for quantity. You’re remembered for your last post, not for something you did well a few weeks ago.
2. What if it’s my boss?
“A key to successful relationships is learning to say no without guilt so you can say yes without resentment.” Bill Crawford
It’s all well and good saying no to your co-workers, but what happens when your boss or someone more senior than you makes the request?
You can respond to this by saying, “Here are the top priorities I’m working on right now. If I take over, then I have to give something up. What do you want me to focus on – what is most important to you?”.
That way there is no guilt. You’ve made your situation clear, and now it’s up to them how you want to proceed. You are responsible for ensuring that the quality and delivery are correct. After all, your reputation is at stake if you don’t deliver to high standards.
3. Apply the yes sandwich.
“Half the problems in this life can be traced back to saying yes too fast and not saying no fast enough.” Josh Billings
Often it’s not the fact that you said no, but maybe the way you said it.
My co-author Nadia Bilchik and I published the book Own Your Space: The Toolkit for the Working Woman in 2016, in which we talk about the Yes Sandwich. This approach allows you to decline a request in a way that softens the blow and helps you not take your “no” personally.
It consists of three layers:
Start by positively acknowledging the other person’s intention.
Here you kindly say no.
Offer an alternative (this is optional)
Let’s say you’re invited to a webinar, online networking event, or after-hours event; you could say it:
1. “Thank you for inviting me and for thinking of me.
2. “Unfortunately, I don’t have time for my family right now, or I already have other commitments.”
3. ‘Please think of me next time because I would love to support you.’
Another way to think about saying no is to separate the decision from the relationship.
Peter Bregman spoke about this concept in his book Four Seconds. He said that we often confuse the decision with the relationship with that person. We feel that denying the request is the same as denying the person, but it’s not. First, decide objectively how you want to proceed, and then find the compassion and courage to say no.
That way, the person doesn’t feel hurt or offended, and you’ve given them the space to approach you again without feeling offended.
4. Protect your downtime.
“The oldest and shortest words – ‘yes’ and ‘no’ – are the ones that require the most thought.” Pythagoras
Saying no not only means you’re protecting your weekday calendar from you, but also that you’re setting limits on your recovery time. If you’re asked to attend a family dinner or an online trivia game, ask yourself these questions before you answer:
– Do I say no out of fear or guilt? If yes, then it’s probably a no.
– Does it give me energy or does it drain me?
– What am I giving up if I say yes?
– Does that excite me?
The crucial question to ask yourself comes from author Derek Sivers:
“Is that a ‘HELL YEAH!’ or a no?
When you decide what you want to do, anything that doesn’t really excite you should automatically be answered with a no.
Derek says it:
“When you say no to most things, you make room in your life to fully immerse yourself in that rare thing that makes you say ‘HELL YEAH!’ We’re all busy. We’ve all taken on too much. Saying yes to less is the way out.”
Don’t fall into the trap of giving away a yes because your calendar is empty at the time of the request. How many times have you agreed to an event because you thought you had no plans, so you can do it too. But then the date in question comes along and you curse yourself for saying yes.
5. Create a mental buffer.
“Sometimes no is the kindest word.” Vironika Tugaleva
If it’s too easy for you to say yes to a request right now, have this standard phrase ready:
I’ll check my calendar and get back to you.
This allows you to pause and review your priorities and capacities. Once you have decided what is right for you, get in touch with the time frame that fits into your schedule.
6. Have a burning yes.
“You have to decide what your top priorities are and have the courage to say no to other things with a smile and without apology. And how you do that is when you have a bigger yes burning inside you.” Stephen Covey
The more clarity you have about your priorities, the easier it will be for you to say no. When you recognize what matters most to you, you realize what to ignore. Take the time to write down your long-term and short-term goals for all areas of your life.
If you know your goals, you can behave correctly in the moment. They give you direction on how to behave when faced with choosing how to spend your time. Use them as a compass to make sure you’re saying yes to the things that are important to you.
7. Manage your limits.
The ability to say no depends on controlling your boundaries.
Border control is the degree to which you feel in control of the boundaries between your work and personal life. Individuals with high border control may divide their time and attention between work and family. They choose when to focus on work and when on family, or mix the two.
People with little border control are cannibals and avoid saying no to avoid conflict and guilt. They are also more stressed than people with higher border control. You must maintain healthy boundaries. You can’t possibly say “yes” to every request and invitation that comes your way, and if you try, you’ll just burn out. If you haven’t already done so…
8. Final Considerations.
Saying no is difficult, but like training your biceps, you also need to strengthen your no muscle.
Remember, when you say yes to someone, you’re unintentionally saying no to what matters most to you. Ask yourself:
– What is important to me?
– What is important to me?
– What am I obliged to do?
The results you have in your life now and what you are committed to. If you’re in shape, you’ve made a commitment to your health. If you make time to write each day, you’ve committed to your practice. You have to know what is important to you, because when the moments of decision come, you will confidently stand by your no.
When you start to doubt yourself and need to justify yourself, console yourself with the wise words of Warren Buffet:
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
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