Learning to say no in your personal and professional life can be one of the greatest talents you ever master. I’m ok with saying no to people. In fact, I say no often. I don’t do it for sport or to be mean, but I do so when necessary. I say no often enough that friends have asked me to teach them how to do it. Believe it or not, I’ve even said no to that. The reason? Because I didn’t believe that person really wanted to learn to say no, and my time was valuable enough that I didn’t want to waste it.
But for those who do want to learn how to say no, here are some tips.
- Saying “no” is respectful.
Has someone told you they would do something and then failed to follow through? Maybe they got busy, lost interest or simply didn’t care enough to meet their commitment. Wouldn’t you rather have known that they weren’t able, interested or committed right from the beginning? The same is true when you’re the one saying yes or no. By saying no to something that you know you’re not going to give your all, you demonstrate respect for the other person. In the long run, he or she will appreciate that you didn’t say yes to something to which your heart wasn’t or couldn’t be fully committed.
- “No” doesn’t necessarily mean “never.” (But it might.)
No doesn’t have to mean “never.” No might just mean “not right now.” If you can’t commit to something right now, but you sincerely have an interest in participating, explain that this “no” is a “not right now.” Here’s a great example: I was asked to be on the board of directors of a nonprofit for which I volunteer. I said no. The person who asked was shocked, especially because one of my dearest friends is the executive director. But I explained that saying no didn’t mean I would never do it, only that I didn’t have the ability to give to it completely right now. The person understood, and I’ve left the door open for further discussion.
But no just might mean never, and if it does, make sure your no is a firm one. You don’t want to give someone the false impression that you’re interested or you have time to commit in the future if you never will.
- “No” allows you to build a reputation people respect.
Being a woman of my word is one of my top priorities. If I commit to something, I keep my word. If I’ve committed to something that I should have said no to, I end up killing myself to meet my commitment and shortchanging something or someone else (most of the time that someone is me), or I wind up doing a half-assed job that harms my reputation as a woman of excellence. Either way, the outcome is never as good as I intended, because I wasn’t honest with myself or the person making the request. By saying no when you need to, you show your peers that they matter enough for you to be honest with them. You also show that you’re worthy of respect when you recognize that you have to take care of yourself first.
- Saying “no” means you’re saying “yes” to something else.
If you say no to one request, then you have the opportunity to say yes to something else. It’s that simple.
- Saying “no” takes practice.
It’s not easy to do, and some people will not take to it kindly. I have a few horror stories! But what’s important is that I was true to the people with whom I was working and to myself. Nothing feels better than that. The more you say no, the easier it becomes. In fact, the first time you say no to something you really didn’t want to say yes to, you’ll feel GREAT! So practice it. Saying no respectfully is both an art and a skill. It won’t happen overnight.
I’d love to hear how you learned to say “no” and what impact it had on you. If you’re just learning to say no and have questions or need advice, let me know that too. We’re here to help.