I’ve been reflecting a lot on the art of saying “no.” It's a critical success skill yet so many people, myself included sometimes, really struggle with it.
I work primarily with entrepreneurs, people with health challenges, and people in social change circles. A lot of these folks struggle to say “no” to social engagements, family support asks, volunteer opportunities, and the next grassroots action. Yet, to do anything big, like heal from a complex illness, start a business, write a book, or get a new job you love, requires a decent amount of regular, focused attention. It requires at least some amount of solo time and energy conservation too, things that can really seem out of reach when we’re always attending to the needs of others. I’ve seen even very enlightened people, who have done lots of self-growth work, really struggle with this.
If you’re like, “yeah,” sigh, “that’s me,” your first step is to get a sense of why you say “yes” more than you want to.
Some typical reasons include:
- You don’t want to disappoint anyone
- You prefer to avoid conflict
- You feel like it’s selfish not to say yes
Next, you'll want to get crystal clear on what you actually want to say “yes” to. This is something a coach can support you with but you could start by making a list of three things that you really want to accomplish and three values that you want to put into practice in the next six months. Keep the list handy, like on your phone or in your wallet so you can refer to it easily. The list might look like:
- Launch website
- Make appointment with accountant
- Update resume
Values to practice:
- Standing up for myself
- Love of my family
- Financial responsibility
This list can be a barometer for you to use when making decisions about how you’re spending your time and energy. You'll want to make the list relevant to the context in which you struggle the most to say “no.” If you really struggle with saying “no” at work, for example, have the list be all work related.
When someone asks you to do something, you can consult the list and ask yourself, “Will this support me in doing what’s on the list?” If not, you can feel a little better about saying no.
Then, when someone asks you to do something, practice pausing before you respond. If possible, consult your list. At the very least, take a deep break and ask yourself, “Do I really want to do this?”
Whenever possible, ask the asker if you can consider the request and get back to them. This is a helpful practice anyway because it can give you time to check your calendar, consult your list, and gather any other information that could help you make a more informed decision. Asking if you can get back to someone is an especially good practice for people who say “yes” a lot and end up bailing a lot. Over time this can drastically reduce the overwhelm and scheduling conflicts that lead to bailing.
To discover what makes it uniquely difficult for you to say "no", so you can build a practice to say it more regularly, with ease, set up a strategy session with me here.