Tips for saying “no”

Why Can’t I Say No When Saying Yes Causes Me So Much Stress?

Saying ‘No’ or ‘Not Yet’ or simply ‘I have too much on my plate at the moment and can’t do this now’ is enormously difficult for many people. Often they appeal to other people about the reasonableness of the demand but regularly they see everyone else doing a lot and may not even stop to consider that they have choice.

Whatever process you go through, the cost of putting aside what you know to be right or good for you is enormous. It also sets up an expectation from others that you can be cajouled into doing something even when you tried to say no. Why is it so difficult to say no? Basically, it causes anxiety which is compounded if others resist our choice, criticise us for it or directly or indirectly threaten us with something that is important to us.

Here are some tips for saying no:

  • Firstly decide clearly in your mind that you want to say no. A half-hearted response to a demanding person or situation wil be difficult to maintain.
  • Look the person in the eye and say ‘No, I can’t do that now’ or ‘Unfortunately, I can’t meet that deadline but I can do…..’ – in other words, take responsibility for your choice to say no and say exactly what you are doing.
  • Don’t appeal to outside circumstances hoping that the person demanding your time will be sympathetic to you. It is your responsibility to decide and whilst offering the reasons for your choice might include more detail, the desired outcome alone should not be due to the person demanding, changing their demand – you have a part to play in this too.
  • Extend your response from ‘no’ to ‘I have thought about this in some depth and unfortunately the answer is no’ (or not by this time). When you say ‘no’ on its own, it can come across as reactionary or uncompromising. To say that you have considered it before deciding puts you on much firming footing.
  • Accept that you may feel uncomfortable when you say no or negotiate deadlines with others.

When you have been doing something wrong for a while, doing it right is going to seem wrong. Ultimately, you are responsible for your health and wellbeing. Although it is important to compromise with others and consider their expectations and priorities, you alone are responsible for yourself. Burnout is a reality which often creeps up on people unawares – and on hindsight can often be linked to difficulty in saying that small word ‘no’.

Communications Skills in the workplace and life