Have you ever been invited somewhere, and you say yes and then dread it as the date approaches? Or perhaps said yes to a project that you truly have no interest in? Or maybe said yes to going out with someone that clearly was not the right person? We’ve all done that so don’t beat yourself up about it. The bigger question is why? Why did we say yes when we wanted to say no? What would happen if you chose no? Would someone not like you? Would something not get done? Would you possibly be ready for something better?
Research conducted at the University of California in San Francisco shows that the more difficulty that you have saying no, the more likely you are to experience stress, burnout, and even depression. Confident people know that saying no is healthy and they have the self-esteem to make their no’s clear. When it’s time to say no, confident people avoid phrases like “I don’t think I can” or “I’m not certain.” They say no with confidence because they know that saying no to a new commitment honors their existing commitments and gives them the opportunity to successfully fulfill them. That sounds so simple, doesn’t it? I go back to the question…Why did we say yes when we wanted to say no?
Let’s see if you see yourselves in any of these reasons:
- Desire to please. “What will she think of me?” “I know it would make them happy.”
- Fear of hurting someone. “I don’t want to disappoint her.” “I’m afraid I’ll hurt his feelings if I don’t go.”
- Guilt. “I’d feel so selfish.” “How could I turn them down?”
- Surprise. “Well, I guess I could do it.” “I don’t know…well, O.K.”
- Deference to authority. “She’s the boss.” “Yes, sir!”
- Reciprocation. “I may need the same sometime.” “She’d do it for me.”
- Duty. “I ought to…” “I should…” “I owe it to them.”
- Need for power. “If I say ‘no’, they’ll think I can’t handle it.” “Now he’ll owe me a favor.”
I’m sure we can all see ourselves in at least one of those scenarios … but don’t despair because help is on the way! First let’s decide when you should say no. Research shows us three different reasons:
- Say “no” when the person doing the asking isn’t that important to you. You don’t have to meet everyone’s needs.
- Say “no” when an important personal principle is at stake. Compromising your values is not a reason to say yes.
- Say “no” to people that matter to you — when the issue is relatively trivial. This is where you say yes to an invitation when you feel like staying home or maybe you already have plans. Say “no.”
Saying no often gets a bad rap. Many people associate it with being rude or inflexible, however it doesn’t have to be done in that way and can mean both doing what is right for you and other people. Once you get the hang of it, you will know it is actually a powerful tool that allows us to focus on more of what we do want in our lives which in the long run is better for everyone. As Steve Jobs points out, saying no doesn’t have to be negative. Saying no to something doesn’t make it bad or wrong; it could be good, it’s just not for you. If you try to please everyone, you’ll end up disappointing everyone … including yourself.
So, let’s come up with some tips on how to say no…
- Keep your response simple. If you want to say no, be firm and direct. Use phrases such as “Thanks for coming to me but I’m afraid it’s not convenient right now” or “I’m sorry but I can’t help this evening.” Try to be strong in your body language and don’t over-apologize. Remember, you’re not asking permission to say no.
- Buy yourself some time. Interrupt the ‘yes’ cycle, using phrases like “I’ll get back to you,” then consider your options. Having thought it through at your leisure, you’ll be able to say no with greater confidence.
- Consider a compromise. Only do so if you want to agree with the request but have limited time or ability to do so. Suggest ways forward to suit both of you. Avoid compromising if you really want or need to say no.
- Separate refusal from rejection. Remember you’re turning down a request, not a person. People usually will understand that it is your right to say no, just as it is their right to ask the favor.
- Don’t feel guilty for saying no to your children. It is important for them to hear no from time to time so that they develop a sense of self-control. It is hard to negotiate adult life without this important skill. This is where we learn to set boundaries.
- Be true to yourself. Be clear and honest with yourself about what you truly want. Get to know yourself better and examine what you really want from life.
Ok so it all sounds great, but I needed a tool that would help me say no to all the shiny objects in business and I’m going to share this secret with you. In order for me to stay focused and be able to say no and … as a by-product, it helped with some of my time management challenges, I came up with my “Strategic Triangle”. Here’s how it works.
As we all know, a triangle has 3 sides, no matter what kind of triangle it is. On each of the three sides, I put the things that I need to do in my business for growth. My sides are speaking, coaching and training. In the middle of my triangle, is my family. No matter what, I don’t compromise them at all. I know what’s important to have harmony in my business and my personal life.
Now here’s the fun part. If anything is presented to me that doesn’t fit into one of the sides, I can’t do it. However, if something truly amazing comes my way and I want to do that, I must eliminate one of my sides … because a triangle only has 3 sides.
So, when someone asks me to do something and that something is not on my triangle, I get to say no … but I don’t really have to say no, I show them my triangle and that speaks volumes. No is stated, I feel good about it, I don’t lose my confidence, and everyone understands.
And if nothing else, always remember that NO is a complete sentence … no explanation needed.