There a lot of people out there who find it hard to say just one simple word… “no.” Some people would rather rearrange their entire week or month just to avoid having to say that word. Others may avoid the person so they don’t have to give them an answer. All of these are passive… unassertive… and prevent us from being able to say what we really want or feel. In the end, you realise you’re spending a lot of time and energy on everyone else but yourself. While you think you’re agreeing and saying, “yes,” you’re still actually say no. Only this time, you’re saying no to yourself, no to your time own time and no to your wishes.
Why Saying No is Hard
You don’t want to say no – sometimes there are situations where you do want to help, and don’t want to have to say no even though you genuinely don’t have the time or resources. It’s hard to say no when you do actually want to help, but sometimes your work load may just be too high.
You’re afraid of hurting someone’s feelings – For some, they may worry that they’re coming off as rude or hurting someone’s feelings if they say no. These people try to be as agreeable as they can so they aren’t alienated from a group or friend. These same people may worry about this leading to conflict or there being negative consequences for themselves down the line.
FOMO (Fear of missing out) – some people may fear that they’re missing out on a situation or opportunity if they say no.
The Art of Saying No at Work
Saying no doesn’t have to end in conflict, nor burning bridges or missed opportunities. There are a few simple ways you can say no assertively in tough situations.
1) Think about – For those people who do want to say yes, or are unsure, it’s okay to give yourself a day to think about the request. You may need to check your schedule, or see what other things you’ve got on your plate at the moment. REALLY think about and ask yourself, “Do I have the time/resources to do this right now? If I say yes to this, what will I be saying no to instead?”
2) “I appreciate the offer/invitation, but unfortunately I can’t right now” – If you’ve decided you do have too much going on at the moment, let them know. You’ve let the person know that you do appreciate them thinking of you for the offer or invitation. You’re also letting them know that you may be open to similar opportunities in the future, just not right now.
3) Don’t over share – Once you’ve said no, leave it at that. The more reasons you give, the more it looks like you’re rambling, and the less assertive you appear. If you give a reason why you can’t do something, the other person may start coming up with alternative solutions for that one problem. If they really press you for reasons why, you have every right to just leave it at, “I’m just not able to make it, but thank you very much.”
4) Mark things off your calendar you don’t enjoy – We all have some obligations that we just don’t enjoy. See if you can mark some of these things off your calendar. If there’s an upcoming event or networking lunch that you’ve been invited to, and you genuinely don’t want go, don’t. This leaves your time free to accept other invitations and requests that you would actually like or enjoy. Unless you enjoy it or it helps you to improve on a skill, either say no or change how you view it.
5) Once you’ve set boundaries, stick to them – When we say no to other people, we are establishing boundaries with them. It teach people how we want to be treated and what we are and are not willing to do. For some people, there may be an adjustment period as you begin to say no. They aren’t used to you declining things. If you often go back on things you say no to, people will continue to expect you to say yes, even after you’ve said no.
6) Offer an Alternative – If someone wants to meet with you, but right now you can’t, offer an alternative time that you would be happy to meet with them. If they’ve asked for help, but you either can’t contribute much to it nor have the resources, let them know of someone who could be of assistance to them.
Nicole Paulie is a Counselling Psychologist, and co-author of “How to be Happy and Healthy – The seven natural elements of mental health.” She provides therapy in the Dublin city area. Contact us to learn more or to book an appointment.