It seems I’m not alone in my struggle to say ‘No’.
In response to last week’s blog, dozens of you reached out to share your experiences of overcommitting, your inability to decline without rattling off a bunch of excuses, and flogging yourselves to meet unrealistic client demands and expectations.
I confess that after declaring my intention to start saying No, I felt a smidge uncomfortable around community circles this week, because so many had read and mentioned the blog. While the conversations were overwhelmingly supportive, knowing that many of these people also work really hard in a voluntary capacity and juggle that work with jobs and kids, I had to fight the urge to justify myself, or wonder what they might now think of me, when they hear me say No.
On the plus side, my declaration meant I had to stick to it, which was a good thing as I could easily have had my arm twisted on more than one occasion this week.
After hearing your stories, experiences and ideas around this topic, I’ve put together these tips to help those of you who like me, are struggling to embrace the grace of No.
- Understand that saying yes also means saying no, and vice versa. If you say yes to this, what will you have to say no to? And conversely if you say no to this, what can you say yes to?
This applies to client requests, as well as personal commitments. If you agree to a work project with an unrealistic deadline, which other projects will be compromised? Will you be able to do your best work? And at what cost?
- Create a mindmap of your values and priorities for the next 12 months. Maybe your goal is to spend time with the kids, study, paint, exercise or be present with loved ones. Put this up somewhere you can see it and consider these objectives before you respond to a request for your time.
- Give yourself permission to decline requests that do not nourish you or support you in pursuit of these goals. Requests to pick your brains, favours that go beyond what is reasonable, unpaid work, things you really don’t want to do and activities (or yes, people) who suck your energy dry. To change plans, take time out, or just have a long bubble bath because you need to replenish your energy.
Wondering how exactly to say no with grace? Try these tips:
- Don’t feel obliged to answer right away. Instead, say ‘Let me get back to you’. Then check in with your priorities, values and your schedule.
- You don’t have to give excuses, justify your decision or seek approval from the other person. You just might have to be okay with a moment of awkward silence when you say:
‘I’m sorry that doesn’t work for me.’
‘I’d love to help, but I’m overcommitted right now.’
‘I already have plans.’
‘I’m focused on project X right now, so I’m not able to take on anything new.’
‘Thank you for thinking of me, but I’m not able to contribute/participate this year’
‘Thanks for asking, but I feel this is outside my expertise/capability, so I’ll pass.’
‘I have a number of projects with tight deadlines, and I’m not able to take on anything new at the moment’
‘Thank you for thinking of me. I’m sorry I’m not able to make it, but I hope the event goes well.’
‘While I support your cause, I have an annual budget of pro bono time/financial contributions to charitable/community projects and I’ve already allocated that for this year.’
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- Ask for more info when you need it. This is a way of taking back control over what you do say no to and giving a considered, intentional response.
To the brain picking requests: ‘Thanks for reaching out. Can you tell me more about what you were hoping to discuss, so we can make sure it’s a good fit?’
When you’re willing to help but not in that capacity : ‘I’m not able to do X, but I could help with Y.’
Where a client or boss is piling on more requests: ‘I’m happy to make this a priority. Which of your other projects should I put on hold?’
The flipside is that when we learn to say No, we must also get comfortable with hearing No from others. If you find yourself feeling peeved by someone else’s No to your request check in with yourself. You may find that the reason you feel triggered, is that their No has highlighted a space where your own boundaries could do with firming up.
What tools or phrases have you used to say No with grace? Share your tips in the comments below.