Just Say “No”

Posted on April 17, 2008. Filed under: Stop the Drama | Tags: , , , , |

Today is about Stopping the Drama

Photo by Clearly Ambiguous

Learning how to say “No” is a critical skill for leading a simpler life. People make demands on your time, your attention, and your energy and will continue to ask for more until your tell them “No”. While it is such a simple word, it can be so hard to say because we want to help out, and don’t want to disappoint others. However, having a simpler life requires having more time, and being in control of your time so you can spend it doing things that add value to your life. Instead of running around meeting the needs of others, it’s better to be relaxed, spend time with people you love, and give yourself enough time to get the things done you need to do. While saying “No” can be hard, I do have a few points to share that will make it easier.

  • Don’t give a reason, just say no. If you give a reason, then that opens the door for negotiations to overcome your reasons. At work, I get asked to give a lot of talks. They often provide no real professional benefit, are inconvenient, and I don’t want to do them. I asked an older colleague how she handles requests she doesn’t want to do, and she told me “treat it like when you were dating; you just said no and didn’t need to give a reason” I don’t know why that resonated with me, but it made a lot of sense. So when a request comes in that I don’t want to do, I thank them for the request and say no.
  • If you must give a reason, then make it impersonal. My sister once asked if she could borrow my passport since we look alike and she needed an I.D. to get into a club. It was not a hard sell to tell her I don’t give my passport to anyone. You can use other excuses that say “it’s not you it’s me” like “I don’t loan money to friends or family”, “I have already decided where I will be making donations (or volunteering my time) this year”, “I need to slow down and am not traveling for holidays”, “My kids are allergic, and we cannot keep any pets in the house”. You get the point, these are all general statements, that are great ways to say no, and would not be offensive to most reasonable people.
  • Consider the cost of saying yes. What will it cost you in time, energy, lost opportunities to do something else, time with your friends and family? I once heard someone say “if you had six months to live, how would you send your time? If the thing you are being asked to do is not on that list, then don’t do it”. Fortunately, most of us have more than six months to live. However, the point is well taken. Life is short and you should not spend it wasting time on things you do not enjoy. If a request does not make it on to your “six months to live” list, then don’t do it.
  • Let go of guilt. Most of us want to please others and when we can’t we feel guilty. However, a huge plus-side of guilt is that it is an emotion that is entirely within your control. Other people can make you feel sad or happy, but only you can decide to allow yourself to feel guilty. Exactly what is it that you owe the other person? Why do you feel obligated to them? Why is it so important to please them? Will fulfilling this request really please them that much? Do you think that you are so special that they cannot get someone else to do this task? If you don’t want to do something that is being requested of you, don’t feel bad that you cannot address someone else’s needs.
  • Get it over with quickly. I am guilty of procrastinating on saying no because it is unpleasant and I don’t want to let someone down. Also, I want to make it seem that I have given some thought to the request. However, if I let too much time pass before I give an answer, I feel more obligated to say yes because they have less time to find someone else to do the task. If you know the answer is no, just say it as soon as possible and get it over with.
  • Practice saying no. You can start with small requests that are easy to turn down. You can get used to saying no by starting with simple requests and learning that people will not think less of you, they will still like you, and they will be able to get someone else to do it. After you have had some practice and learned that the world won’t stop with the little “no”, then you can move up to saying “no” for bigger requests.
  • Don’t succumb to flattery. Whenever someone starts out with a statement about how great, smart, knowledgeable, informed, eloquent, or beautiful I am, then I know it’s going to be a major request. Don’t fall for it! In fact, I get annoyed. I am not so easily swayed that basic flattery will get me to engage in an activitiy that causes me to fall behind at work or spend less time with my kids — unless their flattering statements are true :-). Although they may tell you that you are extremely bright, smart, efficient, effective, organized, and thorough, trust me there is someone else out there who is equally talented and can take on this task instead of you.
  • Take time to appreciate the benefits of saying no. My biggest challenge is getting requests to go give talks, which often require travel and being away from work or my family. When I say no to these requests, I still keep the date in my calendar as a reminder of what I was asked to do. When the day comes, and I end up using the time to catch up at work, or play with my kids, or eat dinner with my family, I remind myself that this is what I could do because I was able to say no to a request for my time.

Anne

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    Musings on how a disorganized woman with a full time job, three kids and a real need to relax is trying to make life simple.

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