7 easy ways to say ‘no’

Big red NO button

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Sure, you’re all grown up (and then some, honestly), but do you still have a hard time saying ‘no’ to people? Has saying ‘yes’ become a habit? Are you always trying to be nice to others at your own expense?

Well, you’re not alone. Fortunately, there are some simple ways to break yourself of the ‘yes’ habit, so you can stop feeling stressed out and stretched to the limit.
Always saying yes?

In the past, I was not good at saying no, because I didn’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings.

For example, whenever I got requests for help, I would attend to them even though I had important work to do. Sometimes the requests would drag to on for two or three hours or even more. That meant that at the end of the day, I would forgo sleep to catch up on my work.

This problem of not knowing how to say “no” also extended to my clients, business associates, and even salespeople.

After a while, I realized all these times of not saying “no” (when I should) were not helping me at all. I was spending a lot of time and energy for other people, and not spending nearly as much time for myself. It was frustrating especially since I brought it upon myself.

I slowly realized if I wanted personal time, I needed to learn to say “no.”

Why we find it hard to say no

To learn to say no, we have to first understand why some part of us is resisting uttering that simple two-letter word in the first place. Here are some common reasons why people find it hard to say no:

1. You want to help. You are a kind soul at heart. You don’t want to turn the person away and you want to help where possible, even if it may eat into your time.

2. Afraid of being rude. I was brought up under the notion that saying no, especially to people who are more senior, is rude. This thinking is common in Asian culture, where face-saving — in other words, not making others look bad — is important.

3. Wanting to be agreeable. You don’t want to alienate yourself from the group because you’re not in agreement. So you conform to others’ requests.

4. Fear of conflict. You are afraid the person might be angry if you reject him or her. This might lead to an ugly confrontation. Even if there isn’t, there might be dissent created which might lead to negative consequences in the future.

5. Fear of lost opportunities. Perhaps you are worried saying no means closing doors. For example, one of my clients’ wives was asked to transfer to another department in her company. Since she liked her team, she didn’t want to shift. However, she didn’t want to say no, as she felt it would affect her promotion opportunities in the future.

6. Not burning bridges. Some people take “no” as a sign of rejection. It might lead to bridges being burned and relationships severed.

If you nodded to any of the reasons, I’m with you — they have all applied to me at one point or another. However, in my experience dealing with people at work and in life, I realized these reasons are more misconceptions than anything.

Saying “no” doesn’t mean you are being rude; neither does it mean you are being disagreeable. Saying “no” doesn’t mean there will be conflict, nor that you’ll lose opportunities in the future. And saying no most definitely doesn’t mean you’re burning bridges.

At the end of the day, it’s much more about how you say no — rather than the fact that you’re saying no — that affects the outcome. After all, you have your own priorities and needs, just like everyone else. Saying no is about respecting and valuing your time and space. Saying no is your prerogative.

7 easy ways to say ‘no’

Rather than avoid it altogether, it’s all about learning the right way to say no. After I began to say no to others, I realized it’s really not as bad as I thought. The other people were very understanding and didn’t put up any resistance. Really, the fear of saying no is just worry getting the better of us.

If you are not sure how to do so, here are 7 simple ways for you to say no. Use the method that best meets your needs in the situation.

1. “I can’t commit to this as I have other priorities at the moment.”

If you are too busy to engage in the request or offer, this will be applicable. This lets the person know your plate is full at the moment, so he/she should hold off on this as well as future requests. If it makes it easier, you can also share what you’re working on so the person can understand better. I use this when I have too many commitments to attend to.

2. “Now’s not a good time as I’m in the middle of something. How about we reconnect at X time?”

It’s common to get sudden requests for help when you are in the middle of something. Sometimes I get phone calls from friends or associates when I’m in a meeting or doing important work. This method is a great way to (temporarily) hold off the request.

First, you let the person know it’s not a good time as you are doing something. Secondly, you make known your desire to help by suggesting another time (at your convenience). This way, the person doesn’t feel blown off.

3. “I’d love to do this, but…”

I often use this as it’s a gentle way of breaking no to the other party. It’s encouraging as it lets the person know you like the idea (of course, only say this if you do like it) and there’s nothing wrong about it.

I often get collaboration proposals from fellow bloggers and business associates which I can’t participate in, and I use this method to gently say no. Their ideas are absolutely great, but I can’t take part due to other reasons such as prior commitments (#1) or different needs (#5).

4. “Let me think about it first and I’ll get back to you.”

This is more like a “maybe” than a straight out “no.” If you are interested but you don’t want to say “yes” just yet, use this. Sometimes I’m pitched a great idea that meets my needs, but I want to hold off on committing as I want some time to think first.

There are times when new considerations pop in and I want to be certain of the decision before committing myself. If the person is sincere about the request, they will be more than happy to wait a short while. Specify a date or time range (say, in 1 or 2 weeks) where the person can expect a reply.

If you’re not interested in what the person has to offer at all, don’t lead him or her on. Use methods #5, #6 or #7 which are definitive.

5. “This doesn’t meet my needs now but I’ll be sure to keep you in mind.”

If someone is pitching a deal or opportunity that just isn’t what you are looking for, let him or her know straight-out that it doesn’t meet your needs. Otherwise, the discussion can drag on longer than it should.

It helps as the person know it’s nothing wrong about what they are offering, but that you are looking for something else. At the same time, by saying you’ll keep him or her in mind, it signals you are open to future opportunities.

6. “I’m not the best person to help on this. Why don’t you try X?”

If you are being asked for help in something which you (a) can’t contribute much to (b) don’t have resources to help, let it be known they are looking at the wrong person.

If possible, refer them to a lead they can follow up on — whether it’s someone you know, someone who might know someone else, or even a department to contact.

I always make it a point to offer an alternate contact so the person doesn’t end up in a dead end. This way you help steer the person in the right place.

7. “No, I can’t.”

The simplest and most direct way to to say no is, of course, to just say no. We build up too many barriers in our mind to saying no.

As I shared earlier, these barriers are self-created, and they are almost always illusions. Don’t think so much about saying no, and just say it outright. You’ll be surprised when the reception isn’t half as bad as you imagined it to be.

Once you learn to say no to requests that don’t meet your needs, you’ll find how easy it actually is. As a bonus, you will get more quality time for yourself, your work and all the people and things in life that are most important to you.

Celestine Chua

Celestine Chua

Celes Chua writes at The Personal Excellence Blog on how to achieve our highest potential in life. Read her readers' favorite 101 Inspiring Quotes of All Time and get her free ebooks here.

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