During the past few months, I’ve had some health challenges that have required a lot of appointments, treatments and TIME. I have realized, perhaps more clearly than ever before, that saying ‘No’ is not easy for me. I am a pleaser, a helper, and a peace maker. I also hate to say “no” because I’m afraid of missing out. I’m afraid I might miss a chance to shine, to learn, to meet new people, or to have fun.

If you can relate to this, I want to give you a formula for saying “No.” You can use it for business assignments, volunteer requests, or even for social engagements.

Saying “No” with Grace

Done right, you can say ‘No’ and actually win friends. Sometimes you can negotiate something a little different than the original request. Here is the process:

Listen to the task or event description completely. Don’t interrupt to talk about your schedule. Look thoughtful. Invite the person to sit down. Say, “Sounds interesting, let’s talk some more.”

Say something positive. Start by indicating that you are willing, even if you are not able at this time. Without saying ‘Yes’ to the task, indicate your overall willingness. Say something like, “I’m so pleased that you thought of me. I would be happy to help on this, but I would like to know more.”

Ask lots of questions. This step is critical, and most people forget it. Ask lots of questions so that you will uncover the real commitment of this request. Is this a one-hour task, a one-month assignment, or a one-year project? What is your role to be? Who else will be working on this? When is the deadline? What resources will you have? Etc, etc. This step also gives you some time to THINK. If you must say ‘No,’ it gives you time to create your reason.

Tell your current circumstances. You might mention the relevant work that is consuming your time right now. Don’t give too many details; you will sound as if you are whining. If the request is in your personal life, you might say, “I’ve just moved and I’m spending all my free time unpacking right now.” Don’t tell a long story. One good excuse is much better than three or four. You will sound more powerful with a simple statement.

Talk about alternatives. Make some suggestions that don’t include you. Perhaps you can recommend someone else to do the work. You might negotiate a smaller role than the one requested. Perhaps this task can be deferred until another time, or eliminated because of another solution. Or, for a social invitation, you might propose a different event—one that you actually prefer.

Give a clear answer. Don’t ever say ‘I’ll try.” As Yoda said in Star Wars, “There is no try. Only do or not do.” If you need time to think about it, say, “I’ll consider this and call you tomorrow.” Then, honor your word. Chances are, your requestor can move to the next person on the list.

If the answer is ‘Yes,” be sure to repeat exactly what you are agreeing to do: “So I understand that I am to be a quality check on the XZY Committee, and this will require just 2-3 hours per week starting next Tuesday.”

Saying ‘No’ can help you stay on track, and create more time to be successful in any venture. When you do it well, you can actually build relationships. If nothing else, it is a chance to practice integrity – keeping your word completely.

Hopefully, saying “No” more effectively frees up your time to enjoy life more.



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