How to Say No

“Would you like another piece of fruitcake?”

“Can you help me move this Saturday?”
“Can you train the new intern?” 
 
“Can you organize the bake sale again?” “Drive me to the station?”
“Cat-sit?” “Come out for drinks after work (for the third night in a row)?”
 
Maybe you’re the type who feels good about doing things for other people. Or maybe you worry that saying no will hurt the other person’s feelings. Or maybe it’s just a matter of pride. If someone asks you to do something – say, volunteer at your kids’ school, or take on an extra project at work-the reason has to be because you are valued, because they think no one can do it as well as you. Right?
 
Well, no.
 
Whatever your reason, saying yes when every fiber in your being is screaming “No!” doesn’t do anyone any good in the long run. Think about it. If you really don’t have time to train that intern on top of your regular duties at work, and deep down you resent being asked, the intern won’t get good training. Or if you don’t really feel like going out for drinks after work (again), you won’t be good company, and both you and your friend will have a terrible time. Remember, try as you might, you’ll never please all of the people all of the time, and it’s frighteningly easy to forget about pleasing yourself at all. The more you say yes when you want to say no, the harder the habit can be to break – and the closer you’ll be to a breakdown. You might think you’re being nice, but don’t discount the fact that people may be taking advantage of your “good nature” (otherwise known as “lack of backbone”). Some people are very good at recognizing a sucker in their midst. Don’t let that sucker be you.
 
So if you’re a yes man (or more likely a yes woman, since for whatever reason, women seem to have a harder time with this), it’s time to start training yourself to say no. This could take a little time. The first thing you need to do is get into the habit of never responding to any request right away. It doesn’t matter what the request is, your immediate answer should be “let me get back to you.” Why? Think about all the times you’ve agreed to do something because you felt pressured to give an answer on the spot, only to kick yourself for it fifteen minutes later. It’s time to eliminate this pressure. Depending on the time frame and urgency of the request, give yourself anywhere from an hour (unless someone is on fire, no request is so urgent that it can’t wait an hour) to a week (for the really big decisions) to get back to them. This will not only Stop you from blurting out those knee-jerk yeses, it will give you a little time to stop and think what was asked of you and decide if this request is worthwhile, or a complete waste of your time and energy.
 
If you aren’t sure, one way of gauging whether something is too much of a sacrifice is to imagine someone just made this same request of your best friend. What would you suggest she do? Most of us would never let our best friends overcommit or get pushed around. If you wouldn’t let her say yes, why let yourself?
 
The next step in deciding what your answer should be is to take stock of your priorities. You might think you know what these are – for example: family first, then your own health, your friends, your home, then your job, your hobbies and finally the community at large. But it’s useful to stop and rank those priorities if you haven’t for a while. Write them down. Have you been devoting more time to raising money for the new library but making it to yoga class less and less frequently? If your activities are at cross-purposes with your priorities, it’s time to start saying no to the things that are tripping you up.
 
Still, even once you’ve made up your mind to say no to something, it can be hard to actually get the words out. I understand, really. But get over it. You don’t have to say no the way a two-year-old would. There are a variety of polite methods to employ. “I’d love to, but I have another commitment already” is a good one. Or, “I’m sorry, I just can’t right now.” Remember, you don’t have to describe why not. This may take some practice, but you should restrain from saying why you are saying no, or making up any type of excuse. No means no, remember that. You have your reasons, and they should be respected. Plus, it’s a much more powerful no if you leave your reasons vague; if your excuse is too specific, it will be easier for the person to poke holes in or argue with it. Let people believe whatever it is they want to believe; it’s better to keep ’em guessing.
 
Of course, you don’t have to say no to everything. But the truth is, it’s healthy to say no now and then. Try it out and see how good it feels “No, I will not babysit your two-year-old twins tonight.” See, felt good, right? Now light some candles, draw a bath, and turn off your phone instead.
 
Should you feel guilty? No.

Excerpt from the book:  Consider it Done, how to accomplish 228 of life's trickiest tasks.

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