Saying no isn’t easy, especially when we think it makes us appear rude or uncooperative. Unfortunately, a reluctance to say no can adversely effect both our mental and physical health. Sometimes saying no isn’t an option, for example if your boss asks you to do something that’s within your job duties. But many times we sign up for activities that leave us feeling stressed, drained and even resentful. Read on for ideas on when to say no and how to do it tactfully.
When to Say NO
It doesn’t make you happy. If something isn’t making you happy or fulfilled, it’s time to re-evaluate how much time you devote to that activity. Obviously we have to do some things that aren’t fun or exciting, but we often find ourselves doing things we hate out of a sense of duty or because we don’t know how to say no.
You’re doing it for the wrong reasons. There are times when we do things because we want to increase social status or garner attention. In other words, we think it will make us look good to others. Be honest with yourself about why you’re doing something and if the reasons aren’t clear or are superficial, it may be time to say no.
You’re being taken for granted. Never saying no means you’ll likely end up being taken for granted. People know you always agree, so they’ll stop asking others and come to you first. But if you say yes every time, your efforts won’t be appreciated. When you prioritize activities, you’ll send the message that your time is just as valuable as anyone else’s.
Saying no won’t hurt your career. At work we often have to do some things we don’t like. If the task or responsibility falls within your job description saying no could be harmful to your career. However, if it’s something extra (like planning a party or running errands) you can back out gracefully without offending others. Many times women in particular are expected to do extra things like cleaning and mediating disputes. But this extra work can actually damage your career progress. Once your co-workers and boss learn you won’t bend over backwards to please everyone, they’ll start turning to others for miscellaneous tasks. Being assertive and focusing on your job will earn you more respect from colleagues.
How to Say NO
Don’t apologize. You can say no politely without apologizing. Some examples: “That sounds interesting, but I can’t participate,” or “Thank you but I’m not interested.” Notice that these responses include something to smooth over the decline (expressing interest or thanking the person) but not an apology.
Be concise and clear. Keep your response short and to the point. Also don’t give false hope if you know you don’t want to participate in the future. Sometimes it’s tempting to say “maybe later” or “another time” but these statements just ensure you’ll be asked again.
Stop feeling guilty. After saying no to someone, we often feel bad. But ask yourself if anyone is really being hurt. Can someone else do the job? Most likely, the answer is yes. Will the world fall apart if you don’t participate? Probably not. Once you’ve said no a few times, the guilt will lessen and eventually go away completely.
You don’t owe an explanation. It’s almost a reflex to offer up an explanation for why you can’t do something. We use explanations and excuses to smooth things over and because we feel saying no isn’t enough. We have to justify ourselves. You should only offer an excuse if it’s absolutely needed. But in most cases you don’t owe an explanation to anyone. As stated above, be concise and clear.
Learning how to say no isn’t always easy. It may require undoing years of being wired to always say yes. But if you can learn to say no, you’ll experience less stress overall and have more time for what really matters.