The art of saying no

too busy 2I’m sure we all know someone who never says no. Some of those people complain, some of them let other people down on other commitments (like getting home to their family!) and some of them keel over with the excessive workload. I bet most of us have been guilty at some time or other of saying we’ll do something when we just don’t have the time.

Do you have difficulty saying “no”? Are you always trying to be nice to others at the expense of your own work? There are many reasons why we find it hard to say no, the most common being:

  • You want to help – or are a natural ‘rescuer
  • Or the flip side of the coin, you think it would be rude to say no
  • You don’t want to be seen to be unhelpful – perhaps you are worried that saying no may mean a lost opportunity – or even future opportunities
  • Fear of conflict

However, this is where we often set up limiting beliefs; saying things that are not true as if they were facts; “If I say no, he’ll just get angry with me”. “If I don’t help her to complete that project, she’ll never ask me to help again”. It could just as well be said that “If I say no he’ll know I’m prioritising effectively” or “How great that she asked me to get involved! I must make sure we get the opportunity to work together soon”.

Saying no well is about how you say it and about respecting and valuing your time and space. If you reasonably say no, and give your reasons, people tend to be understanding.

If you are saying no to someone you are accountable to (such as your line manager), find out further detail – deadlines, scope, stakeholders, etc. This gives you greater information on which to base a discussion around why you can’t undertake the work; explain what work you have in hand that would preclude you from taking the extra work on/getting involved, ask if there is anything they would wish you to reprioritise or to delegate, but stick to no if you are being asked to take on work over and above what is feasible to achieve during your availability. At best, you will get the work done at the expense of other work/your work:life balance. At worst, you could jeopardise your reputation through poor quality work.

too busy Here’s some non-confrontational phrases that you could use:

“I can’t commit to this as I have other priorities at the moment.”
“I’d love to help, but I don’t have anything I can put on hold at the moment
“Now’s not a good time as I’m in the middle of something. Could I get back to you later?”
“I’d love to do this, but I’m too busy at the moment – could I get back to you next week to see if you still need some help?”
“Let me think about it first and I’ll get back to you.”
“I’m not the best person to help you with this. Why don’t you try …?”
“I’m sorry, but no.”

If someone asks you a question, you don’t have to respond straight away – If you are asked to do some work, and you have a fair idea that you can’t do it, don’t get flustered into a weak response that turns, unwittingly, into a yes. Tell them you need to review your workload/diary and will get back to them by 3pm/at the end of the day/tomorrow (give them a set timeline so that they don’t sneak up on you unawares again!)

  • If your response is not listened to/accepted, just repeat your response – walk away if you have to, or change the subject
  • Be empathetic “I realise my answer isn’t useful – I can see you’re really stacked at the moment. I so wish I was available to help”.
  • Say what you can do, along with your ‘no’: for instance, you could suggest someone else who may be available; Offer to give them some limited time to help them put together a plan of attack – but be clear about the limitations; offer them a member of your team to help out; say when youcould help out further down the line.
  • If you would really like to do what they’re requesting, but don’t have the time (or they are having trouble accepting that you don’t), it’s fine to say, “I can’t do this, but I can…” and mention a lesser commitment that you can make. That way you’ll still be partially involved, but it will be on your own terms.
  • Be firm — not defensive or overly apologetic — and polite. This gives the signal that you are sympathetic, but will not easily change your mind if pressured.

keep-calm-and-just-say-noRemember, there are only so many hours in the day. Whatever you choose to take on limits your ability to do other things. So, even if you somehow can fit a new commitment into your day, if it’s not more important than what you would have to give up to do, you really don’t have the time to do it.

“Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough.” – Josh Billings

Blondie – I Didn’t Have the Nerve to Say No

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One Response to The art of saying no

  1. Pingback: Change something! 10 ways to be happier at work | Future Focus Thinking

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