How to Say No

by David Bohl

We’ve become a culture of “yes people:” “Yes, I can stay late to help with your project.” “Yes, you can have that expensive themed birthday party with the live ponies.” “Yes, let’s go out for drinks on Friday.” “Yes, I’m available to help you move tomorrow.”

Why is it so difficult to turn down a commitment these days? I have a theory – I think it’s because technology makes it almost impossible for us to hide! Back in the old days, you could become unavailable for a little while if you needed a mental vacation. But now, it seems like wherever you go, someone’s showing up with an invite or a request – texting you, emailing you, leaving you voicemails, messaging you on Facebook or wherever else, ready to hold you accountable. And worse… while you’re juggling all those priorities, even more obligations and temptations keep popping up.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: we can’t be everything to everyone, and we can’t do it all. If we try to, we soon discover how it feels to be that proverbial chicken without a head. And with all this running from here to there, feeling the pressure mount to be the perfect mom or dad, friend, employee, coworker, coach, Christian, golf buddy, vacation planner, party person, and so forth… pretty soon we really DO start to feel like our heads have become detached from our bodies as we mentally unravel!

I know it’s hard to say no when someone needs your help or requests your presence. But try to view your life in a pie graph format, with slices taken out for various commitments that you must attend to. The smaller the “sliver” of pie that you devote to one activity, the less attention, concentration, and appreciation you’re able to give it. And then you’re no longer enjoying yourself and being present in the moment. That’s what they call being “stretched too thin” and I think we all know when it’s happening to us. And our family, friends and colleagues notice, too.

So let me offer a few tips on how to say “No” without offending or disappointing people.

1. Say “no” to this, but “yes” to that.

Don’t you usually find that your commitments to certain people are cumulative? You’re helping a friend work on his truck this week, and then next week he’s calling to see if you can come over and look at the brakes on his wife’s car. If it’s not a good time, then say so. “Listen Bill, I really wish I could help you, but I’m swamped with work this weekend, gotta register kids at” And while you’re letting your friend down easy, casually bring up another event or task that you two will be teaming up on. “So let me know how it goes, and I’ll see you on the fifth for our camping trip, so we finallu use that new fliet knife I got for preparing food out!” It’s always best to end the conversation on a high note, especially if you’re delivering disappointing news.

2. Put out the silent “no” – don’t make yourself so easily accessible.

A great way to get yourself labeled as a “yes” person is to be everywhere all the time. Your phone is on, you’re logged into your favorite social networking site, you’re fielding emails, you’re Skyping. This sends a message to people which says, “I’ve got nothing happening, so give me something to do!” Know what’s the best way to tell people you’re busy? Disappear! Even if you’ve just lowered yourself into a hot bubble bath, nobody except your immediate family has to know. To the outside world, you’re out of sight and that means you’re probably embroiled in some other project for somebody else. It works at the office, too. When people ask you where you’ve been or what you’ve been up to, just explain that you’re “super busy” or “crazy busy”! Trust me, there’s no better way to get the needy masses off your back.

3. Take a deep breath before you say “no.”

Being assertive has to do with making your own needs known but doing it in a calm, confident way. If you’re starting to get all stressed out about overbooking yourself, then it’s going to show in the pitch of your voice, the pace of your steps, the tightness of your muscles and the way you express yourself to others. If you feel overwhelmed, take a time out for yourself. Go for a walk, breathe a few deep, cleansing breaths, get into a few Yoga positions or do whatever you do to calm down. When you’re feeling human again, prepare your polite “no, thank you” and then ease into your regretful response.

4. Be apologetic about your no’s, and enthusiastic about your yeses.

Sometimes people get offended simply because of the manner of our delivery. One of my friends has this talent for making people feel unimportant when she’s turning down their invites. Something about her flippant, “Oh, no, we won’t be able to make it – we’re going tubing that weekend!” makes you feel a little bit unspecial. Other people just give off that snappish “I’m so overwhelmed” vibe when you approach them – and while they really may be overwhelmed, this can be unfriendly and off-putting. Knowing this, it’s worth practicing saying your “no thank you”s and “sorry, I can’t make it”s a bit more gracefully and gratefully. “That was so nice of you to think of us,” “Okay, I can’t wait to see you on Sunday instead!” and “Oh, I really wish I could come” go a long way in conveying a warm, friendly and positive attitude toward the people who count.

5. Say no with a polite explanation.

Open, honest communication is always the answer, and it’s no different when juggling your priorities and obligations to people. If you were invited to a co-ed baby shower but you already scheduled a golf outing for that day, then sure, you may feel like that’s a flimsy excuse best kept to yourself. But, a stiff “Sorry, can’t make it, CLICK” can be a tad insensitive, especially if this shower is for someone you actually do care about. So, at the very least, leave a genuinely apologetic, “Sorry, I already have plans for that day – but let’s get together soon so I can bring you your shower gift in person!”

What’s your best tactic for “letting people down easy?” Leave your comment on the Slow Down Fast blog!

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