Five Ways to Say No

say no to yes Do you ever find yourself attending an event or participating in a project that you don’t really have time for, aren’t interested in, or won’t benefit from in some personal or professional way? It happens to all of us. It can usually be traced back to that moment when you agreed to do the project, or attend the meeting, even though you already knew you didn’t want to. Or maybe you did think you wanted to attend – it seemed like a reasonable thing to do, or you wanted to support the person or group hosting the event, or you just said yes without really thinking too clearly about how you’d feel on a Wednesday night, late in the semester, the week after attending a conference.

Why Do We Say Yes?

We say yes to things we think we want to do, those we think we ought to do, and those we think we have to do. Sometimes the distinctions between those categories aren’t as clear as they should be, because we haven’t paused long enough to reflect on the invitation or request. We say yes to things because we want to be useful, or we want to be liked, or we want to be a team player, or because we are already in the habit of saying yes. That’s how your week fills up and you wonder what time is left for you and your priorities and projects.

Five Guidelines for Saying No

  1. Wait before giving an answer. If saying yes is your default response, then simply giving yourself some time (half an hour, a day, a week) to decide lets you consider what would be involved in saying yes and whether you really want to. Try it: “Let me check something and I’ll get back to you.”

  2. Don’t say maybe. Have you ever said “maybe I’ll stop by” when you knew you wouldn’t? If it’s really a no, then say no, not yes or maybe, which will just create guilt or stress for you, and confusion for others who don’t know whether to believe you. Try it; “Sorry I won’t be able to make it. Hope it’s a great party!”

  3. Don’t over explain. Most of the time, the person making a request or extending an invitation is mostly concerned with their project or event. They don’t need or even want to know why you’re saying no, because they are already thinking about who else they’ll invite to be on the committee. Once you’ve decided you don’t choose to do something, that’s the only information that matters. Your “other commitment” or “full calendar” might be a different meeting, your writing time, or time you set aside for grooming your cat. It doesn’t matter what your priorities are. Don’t put your decisions on the table for other people to evaluate. Try it: “I’m sorry, I have another commitment that afternoon and won’t be able to attend the meeting.”

  4. Acknowledge the other person. Sometimes we say yes to things because we’re loyal to a particular person, group, or cause. Being sure to acknowledge them or the project lets you express support or enthusiasm without saying yes to an event you don’t choose to attend. Try it: “This sounds like a really worthwhile event. I’m sorry I won’t be able to attend.”

  5. Offer an alternative or a resource, but only if you mean it. If you don’t want to go out this weekend, but would like to next weekend, say so. If you know someone else who could contribute skills to the project, suggest their name. Try it: “I can’t take on this commitment right now. but James might be interested, and I know he’s done similar work before. Do you want his email address?”

Saying no more often frees up your time and energy so that you can say yes to the things that matter most to you.

[Creative Commons licensed image from flickr user teresatrimm]

What will you practice saying no to this semester? Let us know in the comments!

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